Back of the Book
Over a decade in the making, this record of conversations documents the worldview of 28 leading film directors in the world’s largest film industry-from spectacular Bollywood to gritty independents to multidimensional regional cinema in the many languages of India. Tula Goenka showcases the authentic voices and vision of the filmmakers themselves, unadulterated by outside critiques, interpretations or textual analysis.
Goenka’s own hands-on knowledge of filmmaking-as-craft and the intricacies of India’s film business enhance her lively rapport with these motion picture creators. Their conversations range from individual life stories and major influences on artistic perception to twists and turns of life in the Indian film business.
Not Just Bollywood: Indian Directors Speak provides a peek behind the silver screen at the entire gamut of Indian filmmaking-not just popular Hindi cinema.
About the Author
Tula Goenka is a filmmaker, educator and human rights activist. With three decades of experience in the film and television industry, she has worked as a film editor with top filmmakers including Mira Nair, Spike Lee and James Ivory. She now produces and edits her own documentaries.
A tenured professor at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, she teaches courses in film production and Indian cinema, and routinely accompanies her students on month-long internships in Bombay. She is the founding director of the annual Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival, now in its 12th year.
Born and raised in India, Goenka is a cancer survivor and lives in Syracuse, New York, with her two children.
I live in Bollywood along with millions of other dreamers, and although it is not a geographical location anywhere on earth, it is a place in my heart and imagination. I love it, research it, and teach it. I watch more Hindi popular cinema than any other. Its music is the jukebox of my life, always providing an appropriate song for any occasion or mood. However, all Indian cinema is not Bollywood, a term used only for the last 15 years to describe popular or mainstream cinema in Hindi-India’s official, most widely spoken language from the North-and based in the bustling metropolis of Bombay, now called Mumbai.
Many of India’s 28 states and seven union territories have their own distinct language, and many of these languages have vibrant film industries with both a mainstream cinema-with songs and dance-and a more reality-based art-house one. The total combined output-not just Bollywood-is what makes Indian cinema the largest film industry in the world. In 2012 some 2.7 billion tickets were sold domestically for approximately 1,200 films. Of these, just over 200 were Hindi releases, followed neck-and-neck by Telugu and Tamil language films. The Indian film industry also has a long history, with ‘100 Years of Cinema’ celebrated across India in 2013.
As a trained filmmaker and now a professor of film production, I understand the intricate art and craft of creating a film, while also enjoying it as an audience member. In fact, I have been enthralled with going to the movies ever since I saw my first feature film, Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965) in Calcutta-the city of my birth-when I was four. To be honest, I do not recall any specific details, except breathtaking mountains, wooden boats on a lake, and many, many songs. Years later, I left for the United States to study filmmaking in graduate school, and then moved to New York City in the heady days of a vibrant independent cinema in the mid-1980s. As I achieved success as a film editor working with directors Mira Nair, Spike Lee, James Ivory and others, I also drifted away from cinema from back home; unlike today, Indian films were not released overseas then. Pirated, low-quality VHS copies did surface in Asian grocery stores but these were usually a long subway ride away, and I never got enough downtime from making movies. As I tell my students repeatedly, there really is no glitz and glamour in filmmaking. Creating illusions that become someone else’s reality is just addictive hard work.
I returned home to India after a seven-year gap in 2002-my parents and brother had also moved abroad by then-and was immediately struck by the vibrancy of Indian cinema, especially Hindi cinema (now known as Bollywood). I fell in love all over again-madly, passionately and irrevocably-with its heartfelt emotions, its domination of all forms of media, and, above all, its melodious cacophony. Excited to share this treasure trove of riches with my students and colleagues back in the United States, I went to a local bookstore to find material on the subject. Much to my disappointment, the shelves were full of texts on Hollywood and European filmmakers with nothing substantial on contemporary Indian directors. This was true on the Internet too: information and literature on Indian cinema were rare and hard to find. My family and friends seemed to not have much cohesive knowledge about the filmmakers either, and we were all keen to find out more. So I set out on this incredible journey to further explore the world’s largest film industry-in volume but not monetary worth because of foreign exchange rates-and what made it tick.
In the 10 years since I started my research, a lot has changed. Now, many books, much press, and an incredible amount of social media buzz exist on Indian cinema, especially Bollywood. It is the topic du jour, and Indian cinerna-themed college courses, doctoral dissertations, academic conferences, trade conventions, and film festivals proliferate the world over. (For full disclosure, I regularly teach a course on Indian cinema at Syracuse University, and then bring my students to Bombay for a month- long Bollywood internship program.) However, there has been little written about the broad spectrum of contemporary Indian filmmakers or the wide variety of their work.
In Not Just Bollywood: Indian Directors Speak, I have met with 28 A-list film directors, all master storytellers and game changers, whose films have consistently had a critical and/or commercial impact. (Sadly, Yash Chopra and Rituparno Ghosh passed away before its publication.) Their myriad experiences encompass the vast variety of current Indian cinema-from spectacular Bollywood to gritty independents to multidimensional regional cinema in the many languages of India. In an attempt to provide some structure to the world’s most diverse film industry, I have divided the book into sections according to language and geographical region-North, South, East, West and The World, and then listed directors in each geographical section in chronological order, based on when they made their directorial debut, rather than any qualitative judgment on my part.
Cinema is an amalgamation of art, science, technology and business, and the final product is created within a specific historical and cultural milieu, which it then in turn also influences. Each chapter offers an edited conversation with one filmmaker that explores these broad topics, and presents each person’s unique worldview in the pursuit of success. Each chapter also includes a short introduction to that director, a selected filmography, a brief list of awards and special honours, and still images, which were directly sourced. I firmly believe that these discussions are invaluable for understanding the making of Indian cinema because they showcase the authentic voices of the directors themselves, unadulterated by outside critiques, interpretations or textual analysis.
I have spoken with more Hindi-language filmmakers than those working in vernacular or regional languages since Hindi films- have more consistently broken out of the confines of local audience because of greater language comprehension and better availability, and have therefore had a much higher national and global currency in terms of impact and attention. Hindi cinema has been enjoyed for quite some time across Asia, the United Kingdom, Russia, the Middle East, parts of Africa, and the South Asian diaspora-first via piracy and other illegal methods, and now more legitimately. Since it is also the most diverse and robust section of film production in India, I have further divided these Not Just Bollywood filmmakers into three broad categories, based on their storytelling and production sensibilities-popular, art-house, and indie-even though they sometimes cross over from one to the other.
To fully appreciate the current state of Indian cinema, it might be helpful to know that motion pictures came to India soon after the Lumiere brothers-Auguste and Louis-recorded the first moving images using the cinematographe in Lyon, France, in 1895. Chafing under colonial rule and fully committed to the dream of an independent India free from the British Raj, early Indian filmmakers chose to use this Western technology to further their own nationalist goals and ideals by telling stories drawn from a rich tapestry of Indian narratives, philosophies, religions, and indigenous aesthetic styles. India’s first home grown ‘feature film, Dadasaheb D.G. Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra (1913), was released in Bombay two years before D.W. Grifhths Birth of a Nation, which is considered Hollywood’s first feature film. Filmmaking also flourished in other parts of pre-partition India, especially Calcutta and Madras.
The modern Indian nation is only a few decades old, but Indian civilisation has existed for more than 5,000 years, its culture and people a deeply entrenched amalgamation of history, faiths and traditions- Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and more. The Natya Shastra-a treatise on the performing arts of music, dance and theatre-originating around 200 BC, continues to inform contemporary storytelling along with the seminal Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, and other ancient texts. Even today, many plot lines in popular cinema are still morality tales in one form or another, dealing with issues of dharma (duty) and personal karma (action) in the larger world. Because domestic audiences understand the shorthand of these archetypes, they can quickly decode the multilayered narratives.
India also has a strong and deeply rooted tradition of song and dance-classical music from North India (Hindustani) and South India (Carnatic), Hindu (bhakti) and Islamic (sufi) devotional songs; romantic songs (ghazals), and varied folk traditions-and music is as inseparable from daily life as family celebrations, religious worship, or entertainment, shaping much of the Indian psyche by evoking primal emotions of love, desire, and belonging. Brought up with traditions of folk theatre like nautank: and jatra-with frequent breaks for song and dance-early filmmakers began to use these elements as soon as sound was introduced in 1931 with Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Am in Hindustani. (Spoken Hindi and Urdu are practically interchangeable and can be considered the same language with different writing systems.) In India’s multilingual society, the advent of the ‘talkies’ also produced a cornucopia of movies in different local languages, while still preserving diverse cultural beliefs and forms. The first Tamil talkie, Kalidasa; the first Telugu one, Bhakta Prahlada; the first Kannada one, Mricchkatika; the first Bengali one, Jamai Shashthi; were all released in 1931. Today, federal policies of New Delhi’s central government affect all the cinemas of India similarly, and each local state government further regulates them separately.
Section 1: North
BoIlywood or Popular Hindi Cinema
Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Parallel to Middle Cinema
Indie or Multiplex Cinema
Ram Gopal Varma
Section 2: South
Section 3: East
Section 4: West
Section 5: The World
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