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Straddling Art and Commerce


Shivani Mutneja


The present trend in Hindi cinema- of small budget films about everyday life like Bheja Fry, Khosla ka Ghosla, etc., films with political concerns as in Mumbai Meri Jaan and Wednesday has been attributed to the presence of multiplexes and corporatization of the Hindi film industry. Its interesting that some people choose to call these films India’s ‘new middle cinema’ borrowing the term from an entity that got anointed so in the ‘80s. The entity termed ‘middle cinema’ was the result of a phenomenon that started in the late ‘60s, following the success of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali on the international festival circuit. That phenomenon marked the aspiration for a national cinema which led to the decisive intervention of state in the Hindi film industry in order to reform it.   As a part of this intervention, I.K Gujral, the then Information & Broadcasting Minister revived the idea of formation of a Film Council as a ‘friend’ and ‘guide’ to the industry. The origins of the idea of a Film Council go even further back, to the 1951 S.K Patil committee report on the structure of the industry. This move was seen as an intrusion and an attempt to control the industry. The issue of Film Council was widely debated in the public sphere in the late ‘60s with strong opposition from certain sections of the industry. Nevertheless, Gujral’s initiative led to the revised policy of the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) which had existed since early sixties but had lost a lot of money in mainstream ventures, with an agenda to finance ‘realist cinema’. The head of the Corporation B.K Karanjia defined concerns: The first thing we did was to take the crucial decision to finance the low-budget films, preferably but not necessarily in black and white. The other decision was to sponsor talented and promising new comers from the film institute or outside and, more importantly, to encourage these newcomers to film the works of our own eminent writers in Hindi and the national languages.   The two landmark films that were an outcome of this policy were Basu Chatterjee’s Sara Akash and Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome, both released in 1969. While the former is now considered the first example of ‘middle cinema’ the latter was hailed as the first film of the ‘Indian New Wave’. Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti, which also made rounds of ...


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