This book brings together Satyajit Ray's major writings and talks on film making and film makers, and presents them
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English Pages 212  Year 1994
In a cinema that has presented John Wayne interpreting Genghis Khan as a medieval gunslinger, the idea that Hollywood fi
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“A lovely and loving book.”—Will Schwalbe, New York Times bestselling author of The End of Your Life Book Club "I
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Peter Weir is, without doubt, one of the most important Australian film directors of all time. His films have had a majo
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SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO V
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO LIBRARY
PUBLIC LIBRARY III
WEST ORANGE AVENUE
3 9048 05372164 /
WEST ORANGE AVENUE
WEST ORANGE AVENUE
FILMS THEIR FILMS
HYPE Rl O N NEW YORK
Mr R. N. Das who first my talks and articles on when Mr Das was the manager
wish to thank
was of Orient Longman,
together in a book
the cinema. This
to the publishers for bearing with
long period of gestation.
for the delay rests squarely
my shoulders. I had been careless in preserving my own published most of which lay scattered in the pages of film journals, film club bulletins, daily newspapers and various other periodicals. Thanks are due to the late Nemai Ghosh (of Chhinnamul fame) and Shri Sunit Sen Gupta for their invaluable help in retrieving writings,
some of the more
Finally, a special
word of thanks
helping the book along at every stage, from
as a finished entity.
Limited, India, and Merchant Ivory
Productions, Inc. First published in India All rights reserved.
part of this
manner whatsoever without
book may be used or reproduced
the written permission of the Publisher. Printed in
the United States of America. For information address: Hyperion, 114 Fifth
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
films, their films
Orient Longman, 1976.
OUR FILMS What
with Indian Films?
Extracts from a Banaras Diary
Long Time on
Problems of a Bengal Film Maker
Winding Route to a Music Film Making 48
The Odds against Us 57 Some Aspects of My Craft Those Songs
Meetings with a Maharaja
Four and a Quarter
THEIR FILMS Some
Have Seen Hollywood Then and Now 128 Thoughts on the British Cinema Italian Films I
Calm Without, Fire Within Moscow Musings 162 The Gold Rush 168 Little Man, Big Book 172 Akira Kurosawa
Tokyo, Kyoto and Kurosawa
New Wave and Old
199 Tribute to John Ford
with an aura of unapp reachability,’
Ray (1921-92), one of the and one of the most kindly giants, was revered
of his fellow cineaste Jean Renoir. Satyajit giants of world cinema, for
composer), as a typographer and
dren’s monthly magazine, as a devisor of puzzles,
illustrator, as editor
as a novelist
of our century, however,
have been more approachable, on both a personal and a professional level,
than Bengal’s most modest and most
The Music Room (1958), Devi (The Goddess, i960), Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964) and The
creator of the
Chess Players ( 1977 ).
to Ray’s Calcutta
apartment was never
closed to anyone genuinely seeking his help.
A measure of the man, and of his genius as an informal teacher, can be gained from these succinct, diverse and often intimate film essays, first
gathered together and published in India in 1976.
perhaps, are Ray’s frank, vivid and often wry descriptions of
the fashioning of his
the lessons he learned from the
shot taken for Pather Panchali; the misfortune that resulted from the hire of a crane for The Music Room; the poetic conclusion to a location
search for a maharaja’s tumbledown palace.
at film school,
but by taking, he
on the Kurosawa
hieroglyphic notes in the auditorium; and his observations
work of his Masters
Billy Wilder, John Ford,
Here is both the enchanted and the technician pinpointing the effect cinematic moment, a man kicking a broken bottle into a
are invaluable for their dual perspective.
spectator of The Gold Rush,
of a true
ravine, in Ford’s Fort Apache.
maker rarely writes about films. He is either too busy making one, or too unhappy not to be able to make one, or too exhausted from the last one he made. Cocteau could write a film maker’s diary because he was a sort of superior dabbler who never knew the sustained pressures film
of professional film making. Eisenstein used words as copiously as he used celluloid; but then he a theoretician as
a teacher and
as a film maker. Others
about their films at the end of their careers. But by and large film their
makers have desisted from adding footnotes
This reticence has encouraged the growth of a mystique
which has helped the film maker
to sustain his
concealing his vulnerability. His ego
part of his equipment. With vast amounts of
and a whole army of talents at his beck and call, he must work with a far greater sense of power than any other artist in any other field. The very word ‘Action’ with which he gets a scene going has the authentic ring of an army command. Indeed, he knows well that as long as the
But once the making rates
over, the sense of
helplessness creeps in.
only answerable to
all artists are,
but to the
Our Films, Their Films
man who provided the wherewithal, and to the faceless millions who form the public pulse which must now beat with his film for the film
by the wayside
and die. No wonder the film maker is reduced to a state of mute resignation. All he can do is wait for the next film to restore his ego by handing him back his mantle of authority. It
only in recent years that film makers have begun to
show signs of being articulate. Not in writing, though, and not on their own. Indefatigable critics armed with tape recorders have coaxed them out of their retreats, cajoled them into speech and faithfully recorded and transcribed every word. For obvious reasons, only directors with marked individualities and large followings have been chosen for this
purpose. If this has not led to a full-scale revelation
of the mysteries of creation, interesting glimpses of their
has at least given some
working methods, and by so
to a partial demystification
of the film making
phenomenon has Quite a number of film
sort of reverse
also taken place in critics
have given up
writing and switched over to film making. In France in the late fifties a
whole group of young
desks and started a now-celebrated film
movement. Similar things have
and elsewhere. It is interesting to observe that once the transition was made few went back to writing again. If I had my choice, most of the pieces in this book would not have been written at all. They are the outcomes of promises for articles and talks
not to say that
magazines and organisations. This
regret having written them. In the unique
circumstances in which films are
accounts of my experiences and working methods
some value, at least for those in our country who would tread the same path but are not aware of the pitfalls. Some of the problems a film maker faces are of a general for all.
nature, where one man’s solutions
often than not, a film brings with
Some may be
call for effort.
disposed of easily, others
prove wholly intract-
These usually end up by clinging tenaciously
which the director fervently hopes
film as blemishes
not be noticed.
have learnt and have been at pains not to
demanding of all ‘creative’.
activities that are dignified
by the epithet
process takes place in three broad
and editing. All three are creative; and the third one uses mainly one’s
stages: writing, filming
but while in the
head, the second calls for the use of cerebral, physical times.
and emotional going full steam at all maker who while at work bears any
resemblance to the popular conception of the
withdrawn individual is
obviously shirking and has no business to be within
miles of a movie camera.
yet to one
relenting pressure, film else does. I
survives the initial shock of un-
have been able
some of the unique excitement
The second part of foreign films.
rewards as nothing
get out of
mainly concerned with
have been making films for twenty-two
years. Before that, for
about the same length of time,
looked at other people’s films, mostly from other countries,
mainly American. In
Our Films, Their Films
with the delights
big, if infrequent, occasions filled
of the latest Chaplin or Keaton or Harold Lloyd. This was followed, in the early years of sound,
by a Laurel-and-
phase, a Tarzan phase and a swashbuckling adven-
fifteen or so, I
earned the right to
This led to a great opening up of the
comedies, dramas and
those other species which Holly-
wood served up with such expertise came tumbling my way to be lapped up with ever-increasing appetite. I noted each
pocket diary, adding brief
my own star rating.
persisted through college, with
tant change of attitude
the stars gave
to directors as
had earlier learned to recognise the hallmarks of the major Hollywood studios. I could make out an film from a Paramount one, or a Warner’s production from a 20th Century Fox one, by the distinctive quality of finish which each major studio took special care to put on its products. It was described by the word ‘mounting’, and it was fun to try and make out what this mounting focus of interest.
now gave way to a study of the halldirectors. In what way was Ford different from of.
Wyler, or Wyler from Capra, or Capra from Stevens? This was precisely the point where
interest took a seri-
dawned on me stars, more than
ous turn. It had suddenly the studio,
more than the
gave a distinguished film
more than it
the story, its
After college and graduation,
to Santiniketan for
had vague plans for a career in gradrawing but needed a foundation of discipline to be able to make any use of it. With me went my small but precious collection of gramophone rea course in Fine Arts.
cords of classical western music. because, in leaving the city, hind. As
my second love my first love be-
turned out, the only cinema in the vicinity of the
campus was two miles away, had wooden benches for seats, and showed mythological films. This put me in the doldrums until I discovered in the shelves of the arts department library three books on the cinema. They were Rotha’s Film Till Now and the two books of theory by Arnheim ,
and Spottiswoode. I
Santjniketan in the middle of the
over Calcutta in the winter of 1942. Six
got a job as a visualiser in
a British-owned advertising agency.. Calcutta
base of operations in the war, Chowringhee was chock-a-
block with GIs.
The pavement book
and Time and the jam-packed cinelatest films from Hollywood. While I sat at my office desk sketching out campaigns for tea and biscuits, my mind buzzed with the thoughts of the films I had been seeing. I never ceased to regret that while I had thin editions of Life
mas showed the very
stood in the scorching
in the wilds of Santi-
niketan sketching simul and palash in
Kane had come and gone, playing for just three days in the newest and biggest cinema in Calcutta.
Although Hollywood struck an extraordinarily rich vein
and my film going had never been more frequent nor more richly rewarding, I felt only partially eduat this time,
cated. All those great
Soviet cinema stared at
French and German and
but there was no
the pages of Sight and
could get to see them.
Luckily some of the great film makers of Europe had in the
meantime migrated to encounter
my first Hollywood-Renoir and my first Holly-
wood-Clair. This was followed by a sudden influx of Soviet
Our Films Their Films
saw the first part of Ivan the Terrible on a Sunday morning in a North Calcutta cinema. The Gothic gloom of the film, Cherkasov’s grand gestures, and the music of Prokofiev stayed with me all through the day and well into the night, until I fell asleep and found them back in a grotesque dream, in the middle of which I woke up gasping for breath. It turned out that a paan I had bought from a shop next to the cinema had never forget the day
films. I shall
quinsy, swelling the inside of
throat to the
could barely breathe.
had taken out subscriptions to most of the film magazines in the English language and snapped up every film book I could lay my hands on. One of my most valued acquisitions was a second-hand copy
the time the
of the screenplay of Rene Clair’s British film, The Ghost
Goes West. This
encounter with a film
the idea to start writing screenplays as a
In the year of India’s independence
film club in Calcutta, thereby shackling ourselves willingly to the task of disseminating film culture
of book jackets. In
was now firmly established not only
but also as an illustrator and a designer
as a visualiser,
time the thought had not once
bread and butter, while films were food for the music was too.
My three years in
ears to our artistic
tage, so that in addition to
buying records of symphonies
was now regularly going
to concerts of
Indian classical music.
two years of
of our club refused to go above twenty-five.
siasm was beginning to acquire a tinge of cynicism.
could see over.
did not have
were also being subjected to a two-pronged
One came from
the film trade, which spread the
word that a group of subversive youngsters was running down Bengali films at meetings and seminars. The other came from a household which included one of our club members.
was an isolated
typical one. This
well have been a
offered us the use of his
drawing room for one of our meetings. Since we did not have a regular club room, members took turns to provide facilities in their
this occasion, in the
was summoned by the owner of the house and summarily told that he would not dle of our discussion, our friend
put up with film people spoiling the sanctity of his house.
were thrown out of the place.
our gospel over a wider
wrote an article on Bengali films which the leading English dailies of Calcutta.
came out in one of I had thought my
would shake the Bengali cinema
foundations and lead to a massive heart-searching
our film makers. Nothing of the sort happened. The piece
was simply shrugged off by the people of the trade
another piece of tomfoolery by some arrogant upstart who saw only foreign films and knew nothing of local needs and local conditions.
the trade itself ignored
who was about
few days after
got a phone call from a well-known screen to start
he would direct himself. his film,
an ambitious new film which
said he wished to see
adding that he had admired he admired
my book jackets. We made
Our Films Their Films
turned up in his
next day. With
the job of art director
Even if I felt a little deflated, I did not have the heart to pass up an opportunity to find out what ‘local conditions’ were really like. And I felt this was something I could handle in my spare time without having to give up his
my regular job. conference,
came back home and started making sketches week later, word came that the job had been
given to a well-known painter with a
flair for interior
of the screen-
had turned out in my spare time was based on a short story by a well-known Bengali writer. It concerned an overbearing English manager of a zemindari estate whose dark doings are brought to an end by a plucky Bengali youth with radical leanings. The treatment was read by a friend of mine who recommended it to a businessmanplays
who was was summoned in the
thinking of producing a film. Soon
businessman’s presence and asked to
read out the treatment. est conference table
down on one
side of the long-
had ever seen, and had to turn
chair at an angle to face the businessman
head. Across the table, facing
directly, sat a professional
cameraman who had been trained at UFA in the days of Pabst and Murnau. Behind me, peering over my shoulder, sat a
well-known director with many
my shoulder. ‘How
could see that he had designs to nip
a lower figure than the one he presumably
prescribed as the obligatory I
climaxes do you have in your story ?’ asked the maker
hits to his credit. I
had not counted, but he was
for a potential hit.
the story unfolded. Fortunately
the reading of my screenplay. said he liked the story very
finished the producer
where the hero gives the
much, and had only one small
make: in the
no further taps intruded
end with the per-
a piece of his mind, his words should
emptory exhortation: ‘Quit India.’ The film was never made.
In 1949, Jean Renoir came to Calcutta to scout locations for The River Based on the talks I had with him, I wrote .
the English magazine Sequence published
up film journalism as a sideline. I had two more subjects in mind: one on the nature and function of background music, the other on an Orson Welles film I had seen recently. I hoped to make a major contribution to film criticism by demonstrating that in The Lady From Shanghai Welles had made the first the thought occurred to
‘atonal’ film in the history
of the cinema. Neither one ever
got written. In April of the following year,
wholly dedicated to the pur-
of selling tea and biscuits.
and I was to
a full-fledged advertising suit
liner bound for England. I London in my agency’s head office. management hoped that I would come back
India on a
the trip did in fact was to set the seal of
and the idea had been some time I would make it same way, using natural locations and unknown
advertising career. Within three days of arriving
lessons of Bicycle
Our Films, Their Films
cinema stayed with me.
On the way
treatment of Pather Panchali.
did not get going until two years later, and did not
any lack of enthu-
get finished until two more, was not for
For the next twenty years, whatever
wrote on the
wrote both in Bengali and English
my own films or films of other countries. In my own work, I have realised why film
makers have written so plex
about film making. So com-
the process, so intricate
elusive the triangular
relationship between the maker, the machines and the
deployed, that to describe even a
and execution would
makers. Even with such
details of conception, collabora-
call for abilities
a lot of what goes on in the
dark recesses of the film maker’s mind would go unsaid, for the simple reason that
Pather Panchali , I realise I
cannot be put into words. In
in strange, oblique ways. Let
of the shots
of these lessons
give an instance.
day was of the who is unaware
Durga observing her brother Apu
of her presence
day’s shooting of
had barely touched on the prob-
faced or the lessons
account of the
behind a cluster of
had planned on a medium close-up with a normal lens, showing her from the waist upwards. We had with us on that day a friend who was a professional cameraman. While I stood behind the reeds explaining to Durga what she had to do in the shot, I had a fleeting glimpse of our friend fiddling with lenses. What he had done was take out the normal lens from the camera and substitute one reeds.
with a long focal length. ‘Just take a look at her with one,’ he told
have a look through the
had done a
unswerving allegiance to Cartier-Bresson,
never worked with a long lens.
vealed was an enormous close-up of Durga’s face, backlit
by the sun and framed by the swaying, shimmering reeds she had parted with her hands. It was irresistible. I thanked my friend for his timely advice and took the shot. A few days
in the cutting
cover that the scene simply did not call for such an emphaclose-up. For all
beauty, or perhaps because of it, the
shot stood out in blatant isolation from
thereby spoilt the scene. This taught me, at one stroke, two
fundamental lessons of film making: ful
if it is
do with what appears beautiful
this rightness has
to the eye;
never listen to advice on details from someone
does not have the whole film in his head as clearly as
these are not the only lessons
ful first day.
In fact, on every
film in the twenty years since I left
some glimmer of
on that fatehave worked
revealed some small hidden
mystery of the infinitely complex process that
of the things
have aimed at constantly in
economy of expression. In Santiniketan, as a student I had been drawn towards far-eastern calli-
graphy, which goes to the heart of perceived reality and
by means of minimal brush strokes applied with maximum discipline. In films, the maker is concerned both with what one sees and what one hears. In human terms, this is reduced to action and speech. These are bound up with a character’s social identity as well as his individual
identity at a given point in a given story.
Our Films, Their Films
portrayal of character through speech and action
task of writer, actor
the director has the last word on what should appear on the screen that his responsibility exceeds that of the other
right and sounds right, and the measure of truth he achieves is
Father Panchali today, I
Pather Panchali does,
was caused by
lack of familiarity with the
possible for a film to work, as
a plane of universal gestures and universal
do away wholly with
bothersome aspect of social identification. In
this is exactly
upset by errors of detail which
keep blurring the social identity of some of I
in direct ratio to his depth of observation.
vast majority of Hindi films do,
for their country- wide acceptance.
present a synthetic, non-existent society, and one can speak
of credibility only within the norms of
The reason why time
keep writing about
that perhaps at the back of
remnants of the zeal
to spread film culture that
film club into being.
there are provocations too.
true that inadequate technical resources, erratic financ-
ing, slackness in writing
and direction and
contributed to the generally poor quality of films that sur-
have no doubt that equal harm has been done
mean anybody with
keep peddling muddled notions about the art
have been provoked
self-defence against attacks for deviating
to write in
Obviously, what these
a change of
—rather than interpretations. One of the two attacks,
published in a Bengali monthly, was aimed at Charulata. I
hastened to write back at great length justifying in
cinematic terms every liberty seed
had taken. Doubtless the
on barren ground. Because even
maker who takes up a wholly misses the
to this day, a film to the letter,
surely the result of lop-sided film education, of lack of
and applies only
to a country
one of the greatest inventions of the West with the most far-reaching artistic potential, and promptly cut
In the West, the cinema has seen some clearly marked periods of revolution, in the course of which certain
developed and conventions covery of a major
Occasionally, the dis-
as neo-realism in the
making such as the Japanese in the fifties has led to some critical rethinking, but on the whole the larger truths have survived. Even forties
New Wave It
school of film
did not wholly change the face of the cinema.
vocabulary and dislodged some hal-
grammar. To most films now made in Europe and elsewhere, the norms still apply. It is only in the case of an occasional highly personal work
lowed bricks from the
edifice of film
that the critic has to take refuge in total subjectivity.
consider a far greater revolution has taken place
phenomenon of the
level of content. This
described by the term permissiveness. In the begin-
was marked by a freedom in the treatment of eroti-
cism. Latterly, this freedom has
about every bodily activity the camera ing.
great deal has been written to
capable of record-
Our Films, Their Films
14 ness as to
marking the end of the prudery that
their inception right first its
to the time the audience
glimpse of pubic hair in a public cinema. Apart from
insolent implication that artists like Renoir, Carne, Glair,
of past greats)
Mizoguchi (make up
tionships in their films, the view errs in discounting the
power of suggestion which rogative of all
inherent in is
no doubt that permissiveness
of major sociological significance as a re-
some higher form of
changing mores of Western society; but to
flection of the justify
artistic truth is as ridicu-
lous as the simulated intercourse indulged in
performers in film after film after permissive film. Apparently, such
the dread in which the stigma of prudery
held in the West today that even the distinction between gratuitous eroticism, which ticism that
and eroby most
phenomenon of major
must allude before
a serious interest in films,
This has to do with I first
could have possessed, without
on the art of the cinema, and shoved them all comfortably on to a single shelf of my book case. Today, I have a comprehensive catalogue of film books in the English language which runs to over three hundred pages. Of magazines one has strain
purse, all the English books
In Calcutta, most bookshops in the heart of the
city display film
books which are picked up well before they
have gathered dust. The number of film clubs in the
mark and keeps
has crossed the dozen
own seasonal What used
come out with
he knows the meaning of
and the chances are he
to be esoteric film
part of everyday speech. Ask any
only give the right answer
up with appropriate examples. Tickets of foreign films are swooped up in no time
but back festivals
gardless of whether the films belong to a pre-permissive
The greats of the cinema names in the pages of Sight and Sound and books. They are now part of the local film scene,
or post-permissive era.
ripples, sending the critics to their desks
then, a presage of something bright, some-
Is all this,
and positive? Something that will lift the gloom and change the face of our films? I wish I could believe so. But the rude fact is, cinema has never been saved by writers. We may- have more of them now than ever before, but at the same time there are more and thing hopeful
no revolution. a film
No. Words are
the backing of action, or there
the only action that counts
own particular field of battle. many others like him, restore even
the dignity a great art
of having a revolution.
play by snapping out his word of
If his vic-
only then can we talk
with Indian Films?
of the most significant
phenomena of our time has
been the development of the cinema from a-turn-of-thecentury mechanical toy into the century’s most potent and versatile art form.
early chameleon-like phase the
cinema was used variously as an extension of photography,
and the music hall, and as part of the magician’s paraphernalia. By the twenties, the cynics and know-alls had stopped smirking and turned as a substitute for the theatre
Today, the cinema commands the respect accorded
any other form of creative expression. In the immense complexity of
combines in various
measures the functions of poetry, music, painting, drama, architecture also
and a host of other
major and minor.
combines the cold logic of science with the subtlest
abstractions of the
goes into the
—a producer for financial paganda or an
no matter who profits,
a political body for pro-
avant-garde intellectual for the satisfaction
of an aesthetic urge
basically the expres-
sion of a concept or concepts in aesthetic terms; terms
through the incredibly short years
of its existence.
was perhaps inevitable that the cinema should have found the greatest impetus in America. A country without It
Our Films, Their Films
any deep-rooted cultural and best able to appraise the to pioneers like Griffith,
ing public with
new medium and
to the vast sensation-monger-
constant clamour for something new,
making was evolved and the tools for its production perfected much quicker than would be normally possible. The cinema has now attained a stage where it can handle Shakespeare and psychiatry with equal facility. Technically, in the black and white field, the cinema is supremely at ease. Newer developments in colour and three-dimensional photography are imminent, and it is the basic style of film
possible that before the decade
out, the aesthetics of film
making will have seen far-reaching changes. Meanwhile, ‘studios sprang up,’ to quote an American writer in Screenwriter , ‘even in such unlikely lands as India
and China’. One may note in passing that this springing up has been happening in India for nearly forty years. For a country so far removed from the centre of things, India took up film production surprisingly early.
short was produced in 1907
It is is
and the first feature in 1913. had reached the status of big business.
the world that film production in India
quantitatively second only to Hollywood; for that
But can the same be said of
are our films not
shown abroad ?
Is it solely
India offers a potential market for her
Perhaps the symbolism employed eigners?
To anyone best foreign
too obscure for for-
ashamed of our
familiar with the relative standards of the
answers must come
Let us face the truth. There has yet been no Indian film
which could be acclaimed on countries have achieved,
we have only attempted and
too not always with honesty, so that even our best films
What Is Wrong with Indian Films?
have to be accepted with the gently apologetic proviso that
No doubt ral factors.
of maturity can be attributed to seve-
The producers will tell you about that mysteri‘the mass’, w hich ‘goes in for this sort of thing’, r
and the director will say about the wonderful things he had in
the technicians will
mind but could not achieve because of
These protestations are true but not to the extent you are asked to believe. In any case, better things have been
acclaimed post-war Italian cinema reason
elsewhere. I think
a case in point.
found in the funda-
mentals of film making.
In the primitive state films were
where they were produced. As the pioneers began to sense the uniqueness of the
gradually evolved. the
the language of the cinema
the all-important function of
grasped, the sophistica-
and content, and refinement of technique were only a matter of time. In India it would seem that the tion of style
fundamental concept of a coherent dramatic pattern
ing in time was generally misunderstood.
Often by a queer process of reasoning, movement was equated with action and action with melodrama. The anal-
ogy with music
our case because Indian music
This elementary confusion,
American cinema are the two main the present state of Indian films. the
influence of the
factors responsible for
superficial aspects of
no matter how outlandish the content,
were imitated with reverence. Almost every passing phase of the American cinema has had
repercussion on the
Indian film. Stories have been written based on Hollywood
Our Films, Their Films
Even where the story has been a genuinely Indian one, the background music has revealed an irrepressible penchant for the jazz
cliches preserved with care.
In the adaptations of novels, one of two courses has
been followed: either the story has been distorted to conform to the Hollywood formula, or it has been produced with such devout faithfulness to the original that the pur-
pose of a filmic interpretation has been defeated. It
should be realised that the average American film
a bad model, if only because utterly at variance with our
own. Moreover, the high tech-
the hallmark of the standard Holly-
product, would be impossible to achieve under existing
Indian conditions. is
and a more the medium.
the Indian cinema needs today
but more imagination, more integrity,
intelligent appreciation of the limitations of
After all, we do The complaint of
possess the primary tools of film making.
mechaand the process shot are useful, but by no means indispensable. In fact, what tools we have, have been used on occasion with real intelligence. What our cinema needs above everything else is a style, an idiom, a sort of iconography of cinema, which the technicians notwithstanding,
nical devices such as the crane shot
would be uniquely and recognisably Indian. There are some obstacles to this, particularly in the representation of the contemporary scene. The influence of Western civilisation has created anomalies which are apparent in almost every aspect of our life. We accept the motor car,
European costume, But within the is
as functional elements of
limits of the
frame, their incongruity
sometimes exaggerated to the point of burlesque.
What Is Wrong with Indian Films? call
a scene in a popular Bengali film which shows the
heroine weeping to distraction with her arms around a wireless
object she associates in her
who was once
mind with her
a radio singer.
Another example, a typical Hollywood
heroine speeding forth in a sleek convertible in order to catch up with her frustrated lover
man, she abandons the car in a sort of symbolic gesture and runs up the rest of the way to foot; as she sights her
The majority of our
films are replete with such ‘visual
dissonances’. In Kalpana,
used such disso-
nances in a conscious and consistent manner so that they
became part of film should
But the truly Indian
clear of such inconsistencies
for its material in the
basic aspects of Indian
where habit and speech, dress and manners, background
and foreground, blend into a harmonious whole. It is
only in a drastic simplification of style and content
Indian cinema resides. At present,
would appear that nearly
the prevailing practices go
against such simplification.
Starting a production without adequate planning, some-
times even without a shooting script; a penchant for convolutions of plot
and counter-plot rather than the
simple unidirectional narrative; the practice of sandwiching musical numbers in the most unlyrical situations; the
habit of shooting indoors in a country which scape, to the
and at a time when all other countries are turning documentary for inspiration all these stand in the
way of the evolution of a
There have been rare glimpses of an enlightened approach in a handful of recent is
films. IPTA’s Dharti ke Lai an instance of a strong simple theme put over with style,
Our Films Their Films
honesty and technical competence. Shankar’s Kalpana
inimitable and highly individual experiment, shows a grasp
of filmic movement, and a respect for tradition which best
peak of cinematic achievement.
photography which marks the
of Paul Zils shows what a discerning camera can do
with the Indian landscape.
The raw ible that
material of the cinema
and music and poetry should
is life itself.
a country which has inspired so fail to
It is incred-
the film maker.
has only to keep his eyes open, and his ears. Let him so.
out at 5 a.m. to explore the ghats.
Half an hour to sunrise, yet more light than one would have thought, and more activity.
The pigeons not
active yet, but the
about 4 a.m.,
Incomparable ‘atmosphere’. One just wants
go on absorbing
being chastened and invigorated
The thought of having to work planning, picking and extras, setting up camera and microphone, staging
worrying. But here,
spiring setting. It is
not enough to say that the ghats are
wonderful or exciting or unique.
analysing the reasons for their uniqueness, their impact.
The more you probe, the more is revealed, and the more you know what to include in your frame and what to leave out.
In the afternoon the same ghats present an utterly different aspect. Clusters of immobile
widows make white patches
on the greyish ochre of the broad tion
ghats face east. In the
bustle of ablu-
morning they get the
movement is heightened by the play of cast shadows. By 4 p.m. the sun is behind the tall buildings whose shadows now reach the opposite
of the sun, and the feeling of
bank. Result: a diffused light until sunset perfectly in tune with the subdued nature of the activity. 3
Our Films Their Films
Morning scenes in the ghat must be and afternoon scenes in the afternoon.
shot in the
the lanes in the Bengalitola.
of Ganesh Mohalla are perhaps the most photogenic.
makes them so?
curves in the lanes, the breaks in
the facades of the houses, the pattern created
by the doors,
here the light
and one could pass off a morning
shot as an afternoon one.
chat with the people of the neighbourhood and they
promise cooperation. Where would we be without it? are in fact at the
mercy of the
with them with the utmost caution.
and must deal
smallest faux pas
and the whole arduous enterprise may be wrecked.
March j Called on the Mohant Laxminarayan of the Viswanath Temple. The purpose was to persuade him to give us facilities for shooting inside the temple (something
which had never been done mediary, had insisted that ‘project
Pandey, our inter-
shouldn’t be reticent but should
my personality’, which he was sure would clinch Two things stood in the way: (a) my lack of chaste
Hindi and the Mohant’s lack of any other language, and (
the fact that the chairs
designed for the It
we were given
seems at least two more
upon had been
comfort of bugs. visits will
be required before
to give a
nod of that im-
mobile head of his.
Stopped on our way back at the temple. Were told we were in time for the Saptarshi Arati. perience. Those
miss one of the great audio-
Extracts from a Banaras Diary
visual treats. Pity I can’t use
in the present film.
any except a decorative
Durga Temple. People who come
here with the intent of offering a prayer to the deity usually
so with half a
mind, the other half being on the monkeys.
These animals go about the place as funny, they sometimes go
your bag of peanuts
when they swing from the and perform an impromptu carillon the sight
with alarming viciousness. But bell-ropes
and sound are no longer merely comic. Rich
possibility of a scene here,
—Worked on the script.
shots establishing locale are a cliche.
But should one entirely dispense with them in a film which opens in Banaras ? The urge not to do so
As in Father
Panchali, I find
has helped in not having
Working in these circumstances one must leave a lot of room for improvisation within the framework of a broad scheme which one must keep in one’s a tight script.
—At the ghats at 5
a.m. to shoot the pigeons.
The shot was to be of the pigeons takbody from their perch on the cornices and making enormous circular sweeps in the sky, as is the way fiasco.
ing flight in a
up and Subir had
bomb which we
The camera was
barely half a minute to go,
to the fuse when, with
Our Films Their Films
but indefinable gestures.
could sense something was
mimed appeal to the bomb went off, the camera didn’t turn. And
wrong, and Subir made an eloquently
from exploding. The
pigeons performed nobly, but the then
discovered that the motor had not been connected
to the battery.
or four sweeps the pigeons were
back on their perch, and with the second
we had our shot. Took the 9 o’clock train
we picked up on the play Uncle Bhabataran; also Karuna and
(seventy-year-old resident of Banaras ghat) with us to
Pinky. Shooting inside a third class compartment. Sarbajaya
and Apu leave Banaras with Bhabataran. Train crosses bridge. S and A look out of window. B cats an orange, spits pips out of window. We give the old man an orange but he consumes
him another. Shot
subject to the Tri-X performing
— Shot scene of Harihar’s collapse on the steps
of Chowshati Ghat. Very satisfactory work. ruffled the surface of the river shots.
got a nasty cut
in the knee.
Bloated dead body in the river close to bank and camera. Bathers unperturbed. Probably a
water from the with far
Started with shot of
The idea was
in the foreground
background, and no other
have a long shot
solitary wrestler in the
But bathers had
Extracts from a Banaras Diary
already arrived and to stay
we had a tough time persuading them
out of water, and out of camera-field, until end of
the ghats to the lanes. Concluding shots of scene
playing hide-and-seek with friends. Clearing the
unwanted elements (animate and inanimate) for long shots a Herculean task. Pack up at 4 p.m. and proceed directly to the Viswanath Temple for shots and recording lanes of
up tape recorder
opposite the temple. Mrinal
in a house across the lane
ing crowd of devotees with mike and 90 just reaches the southern
door of the inner sanctum. Temple
attendants get busy stretching a cordon to keep off crowd
who push and crane their necks to get a sight of the image which is now being decorated for the Arati. We wait, sweating, acutely conscious of the
audacious incongruity of the
hold our breath. The great chant
begins. In the deafening crescendo
can just hear myself
and ‘cut’. The Arati goes on for an hour. The end finds us and our raw stock exhausted. As we are about to pack up, word arrives from the Mohant that he would like to hear the sound we have recorded. Would we be good enough to have our equipment conveyed to his apartment and the sound played back to him? shouting
takes half an hour to reach the Mohant’s place with
the equipment, another half to install to play
back and pack up.
almost expect him to tip
finally take leave of
a quarter to eleven. us.
smiles his ap-
Long Time on