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Critiquing Hindi Cinema

Salma Siddique

By Anil Saari
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 222, Rs. 495.00


With new publications on Hindi cinema arriving with startling frequency, every month or so, it is daunting to keep track of what new is being said. However, Anil Saari’s writings on Hindi cinema are hardly recent. Born in 1945, film journalist Saari began to write on films and filmmaking in the seventies and continued to do so till his demise in 2005.   Hindi Cinema: An Insider’s View is a collection of essays and articles written by Anil Saari for over three decades in various newspapers, journals, magazines and websites. And herein lies the influence of the work. It may seem slightly dated, yet the unacknowledged influence that Saari has exerted on film criticism in India is evident. As Partha Chatterjee observes in the introduction, it is indeed remarkable that Saari was talking about the ‘hidden possibilities’ of cinema much before film scholar Rachael Dwyer wrote about them.   The essays range over a variety of themes and focuses. Saari writes with fondness about the ‘evergreen troika of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor’, each of them creating a different on-screen persona, thus holding their respective grounds. The engaging piece on Guru Dutt is perhaps the earliest that discusses Dutt’s mastery over the philosophical and the technical aspects of filmmaking. Saari puts forward what later became part of common academic knowledge—that Guru Dutt’s films bore his team’s stamp. In a quintessentially anecdotal style, the author explicates on the assumption of Dutt having directed Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam. Even the articles on Johnny Walker and Pran are peppered with anecdotes and fill in the much-needed void in works on these very talented actors.   One of his last articles, ‘What went wrong with Devdas’ is an unflinching critique of Bhansali’s self-indulgent style of filmmaking—a style—that even avid fans of the film may find hard to discount. With reference to Devdas, Saari states that: What almost invariably happens when an Indian Film director wants to create ‘poetry on celluloid’ is that he wishes to make every single moment in his film a great moment—of high emotional, grand gestures, extraordinary feelings—hoping to convey thereby that every strand of life in the film is nothing short of the exceptional and the incomparable. …The desire to make every split second in a film a great moment in itself tends to become something that is as bland and non-dramatic ...

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