A passionate advocate of Hindi cinema, Anil Saari emphasized the value of its popularity as well as its roots in Indian folk
theatre traditions. Hindi Cinema, a collection of Anil Saari’s writings spread over almost thirty years, shows how Saari
combined his knowledge of Indian society, history, and culture to interpret the narrative structures, aesthetics, and
institutions of Hindi cinema.
Spanning the entire ambit of modern Hindi cinema, these essays discuss issues as varied as the social consciousness of Hindi
cinema, violence in Hindi Films, and the dubious aesthetics of the latest remark of Devdas. Not only Hindi cinema, Saari
brings to bear his vast knowledge and penetrating insights on issues of tremendous contemporary relevance in Indian cinema as
well: from political themes in film to children’s cinema, from the future of parallel cinema to the renaissance in films
produced down south.
This volume also includes Saari’s tributes to and incisive comments on the legacy of actor like guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Pran,
Sanjeev Kumar and the screen goddesses Nargis, Meena Kumari, and Madhubala, among others, as well as his seminal essay ‘The
Dynamics of Tradition and Modernity in Hindi Cinema.
With an introduction by noted film critic Partha Chatterjee which helps to contextualize the writings, this book will appeal
to general readers interested in knowing more about the Hindi film industry as also scholars of film studies, postcolonial
studies, and cultural studies.
Partha chatterjee is a freelance film-maker and critic based in New Delhi.
Even the science-oriented non-resident Indian population in Silicon Valley, California, sees commercial Hindi films on
weekends to relax. As escapist entertainment and stress busters, they are second to none.
The poet, dramatist, journalist, and film aficionado, Anil Saari,. Was Hindi cinema’s most enthusiastic advocate more than
thirty years ago. Blessed with both a sharp critical faculty and brashness which stayed with him until his death in 2005,
Anil was able to see many virtues in Hindi films, which in the eyes of other critics and intellectuals, mostly
Western-educated, were nothing but crass mass intellectuals, mostly western-educated, were nothing but crass mass
entertainment-an opiate for a teeming population that was largely illiterate and impoverished. The money, according to
cynical film distributors, at a time when Anil was cutting his teeth in film criticism, came from ‘C’ grade film centres in
small towns and semi-rural Indian. He and Hamiduddin Memood were the two serious film critics from the 1970s who understood
why commercial Hindi cinema was so overwhelmingly popularly with audiences all over India. But the more overt champion of the
‘Bumbaiya what made it tick.
In his seminal essay ‘The Dynamics of Tradition and Modernity in Hindi Cinema,’ he observed:
On the one hand, its format violates the Aristotelian concept of the three unities of time, space, and action. On the others,
it cannot be completely designated as a modern variation of a well-preserved folk tradition. It is influenced both by the
world that confronts it-the Euro-American world-and the world of the vigorous of Indian folk theatre. The two worlds impinge
on the Indian’s psyche and never allow him to escape from the psychological parameters of being a villager.
His early years in the industrial city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh perhaps contributed to the shaping of his sensibilities. He
did his schooling and undergraduate studies there. Anil’s fathers, Arjun Arora, was co-founder of the Communist Party of
India (CPI) in up and an active, highly regarded traded union leader. His mother, Raj Arora, was a doctor by training. This
early exposure to the realities of the world gave him insights that not many of his tribe were privy to:
Yet it must constantly borrow from the affluent alien’s film culture. For the Euro-American civilization of today is like a
pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Indian whose psyche lies in the shadow of a long, callous history of economic
disparities; a psyche that tries to preserve itself and its shell of flash and boned from the wretched sea of poverty that
exists all around it. The dividing line is so thin and fragile that consciousness can only lead each man to conceive of
himself as an oasis in the desert. [from ‘The Dynamics of Tradition and Modernity in Hindi Cinema’]
It is to this escape from poverty and from the boredom of the humdrum reality of daily of daily life that Hindi cinema has
addressed itself with great dedication (without sounding ironic or patronizing) for the last forty-five years or more. It
did, without really intending to (the Hindi film producer was first of all interested in profit and, only as an
afterthought, in plaudits), affirm the status quo and strength the hands of all exploitative political parties, while on
screen it preached what can be called a ‘refracted egalitarianism’ leavened with religion. Anil understood this aspect of
Hindi cinema very well. His own politics, despite stout protestations to the contrary, was firmly progressive and evinced
deep social commitment. He was, more than almost any other critic of his time or since, aware of the role that cinema would
play in the building of an emerging democracy. Indian after all, attained freedom in 1947. for him, entertainment and an
awareness of socio-economic realities could go hand in hand as the vigorous, perceptive play of Bertolt Brecht had proved in
Europe. He was a great admirer of the poet-playwright who had escaped from Hitler’s Germany and survived Senator McCarthy’s
Red with hunt during his exile in Hollywood in the late 1940s through sheer cunning, literary genius not withstanding.
Anil had perhaps secretly hoped that Hindi cinema would produce its own Brecht whose awareness of life’s inequities and its
attendant politics would permeated the sensibilities of the market. But that did not happen, for the historical conditions
were wanting. He observes, not without a certain regret:
[The] overall conservative framework of values is also at the very end of the film. Its main purpose is to reassure the mass
audience that the status quo shall be maintained; that they are not being confronted with the possibility and the trauma of a
total upheaval in society which is a fairly frightening thing for the average Indian who cannot think beyond survival. It is
a psychological obstacle that has drowned successive attempts at an Indian revolution. [from ‘The Compelling World of Hindi
He was alive to the possibilities of cinema, particularly Indian cinema, and the creative energies that emanated from it
despite the financial and distribution in its path. Since Hindi films had the largest marker and hence also the largest
financial outlay, the burden on it to come good at the box office was also the heaviest. Despite such odds, talented
directors, technicians, and actors emerged at regular intervals. Entertaining and sometimes enlightening films continued to
be made. Of all the film-makers who contributed to the growth of Hindi films in the 1950s, Anil was most drawn to Guru Dutt,
whose knowledge of Hindi and Urdu was at best sketchy but who nevertheless and a knack for attracting some of the best talent
around him – scriptwriter Abrar Alvi, cinematographer V.K. Murthy, composers O.P. Nayyar and S.D. Burman, not to forget fine
actors like Waheeda Rehman, Meena Kumari, Mala Sinha, Rehman, and Johnny Walker.
Winner, National Award for Best Film Critic (1997) and author of seduced by the Familiar: Narration and meaning in Indian
‘Written in the popular mode, Hindi Cinema moves lucidly through description, analysis and anecdotal responses to uncover the
world of popular cinema from India in an insightful manner that is both entertaining and informative.’
Associate Professor of Cinema Studies, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
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