Over the last one year so much has been written and said about Indian cinema turning 100. Every news channel and magazine has milked this topic in every possible way and yet, the entire effort looks very superficial. CNN-IBN and History TV18 have roped in Karan Johar to give nuggets of trivia in a programme that is called Bollywood@100. Majority of the discussions about Indian cinema’s centenary has been zeroed down to a celebration of Hindi cinema, with a cursory mention somewhere of Ray and his Apu Trilogy. Basically these shows and features have only reinforced a wrong notion, that is rampant, that Bollywood is Indian cinema. Nothing can be farther from truth.
I am a die-hard fan of, what we call today Bollywood and, what I prefer to call Hindi cinema. 100 years on, we still keep a Hollywood-inspired name to refer to our film industry and worse, we have Mollywood, Kollywood and list of endless woods to add to the nonsense. But for all the glory and glamour of the films that have come out of Bombay, Hindi cinema is only 82 years old, considering the fact that the first Hindi talkie – Alam Ara – was made in 1931. Raja Harishchandra, made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke in 1913, was a silent film and if there had been sound at that time, Phalke would have most probably made it in Marathi and not Hindi. Today, the irony is that Marathi cinema has been dwarfed in its home ground by Hindi cinema, with its pompousness, scale and grandiose.
With all due respect to our Bombay film industry, in the last 100 years, our regional film makers have kept the aesthetics of cinema alive far more successfully than their counterparts in Mumbai. The Hindi film industry has survived on regional talents to keep itself going. The quality of films coming from these regional stables have been as good as, if not better, than the Hindi productions. What would have been Hindi cinema without visionaries like Guru Dutt (a Konkani from Calcutta), Bimal Roy or Asit Sen? How incomplete would be its music without the melodies of RC Boral, Hemant Kumar, SD Burman, Salil Chowdhry, AR Rahman and Kishore Kumar? Didn’t Hindi cinema feast on the bilinguals made by New Theatre in the 1930s and 40s, which were all made in Calcutta?
Where would our haughty heroes go without the south heroines, who not only gave the men a tit-for-tat when it came to performance and screen presence, but were also fiercely competitive superstars of their time – Vyjayanthimala and Waheeda Rehman in the 1950s and 60s, Rekha and Hema Malini in the 1970s and 80s, Sridevi in the 1990s and Aishwarya Rai and Vidya Balan in the post-2000 era. The sound engineers from the south have transformed the Hindi soundtracks over time. More than anything else, when struck by writer’s block, the film makers and screenplay writers of Bombay have borrowed stories right, left and centre from regional films, most often, without giving any credit to it. For example, did anyone know that movies like Ram aur Shyam, Seeta aur Geeta, Chaalbaaz and Kishan Kanhaiya were all drawn from the NT Rama Rao starrer Ramudu Bheemudu? Barring Ram aur Shyam, which was remade by Nagi Reddy in Hindi, none of the others ever spoke about it. But when it came to representing the south in its films, Hindi cinema mostly caricatured it.
To top all this, now the Bombay film makers go and hijack a collective birthday party and bamboozle the regional players out of all the discussions and the media too plays along. But the fact is that without the likes of Satyajit Ray, SS Vasan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Shaji N Karun and many others, whose names cannot be recounted here, Indian cinema’s glorious story would not have even come half its way.
The other day, a report in The Times of India said that the reels of the iconic blockbuster Mother India, at the National Film Archives, were damaged and were in danger of being lost forever. In Hollywood, many years back, leading directors and stars pooled in cash from their pockets to restore their classics. The script writers of the 1970s and 80s made a career out of Mother India and Salim Javed remodelled Sunil Dutt’s character Birju to create what we today know as the Angry Young Man. Forget any help from the government; it is not in a position to save itself, forget the reels of Mother India. While the superstars can very well have their IPL teams, private islands, yachts and luxury villas abroad, it wouldn’t cost them much to pool in funds to restore the films, to which they owe their careers. That would be a real ode to cinema.