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Books > Performing Arts > From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond (Images of India In International Films of The Twentieth Century)
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From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond (Images of India In International Films of The Twentieth Century)
From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond (Images of India In International Films of The Twentieth Century)
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About the Book

Brahmans named Iftikar, Buddhist rites in Hindu shiva temples, Indian maidens dressed like Arabian harem girls right from the birth of Cinema. International movies have been wildly inventive in their fantastical imaging of India. In fact images of Indian in these film have said more about the filmmakers than about India. From the early twentieth century when India was imagined as the fabulous, exotic, oriental other, site for all sorts of fantasies: to the imperial and colonial mindset of the middle decades of the twentieth century to postcolonial films and auteurs like Renoir, Rossellini, sucksdorff and Malle who genuinely strove to understand a different culture and its value to the globalized worldview with which the century ended India as seen on the international screen has changed in intriguing ways as this pioneering study describes and analyses. Allowing us access to rare films from the 1900s British Durbar films the precursors of the newsreel genre French, Danish and German cinema, empire film collaborative efforts and global outlook this book explores a wide range of movies in the context of the socio-political factors that shaped each era and the trajectory of changing images of India abroad. Malle’s letters to the author during the making of his India film should be of special interest.

 

About the Author

Vijaya Mulay, a pioneer of the film society movement in India and a keen observer of Indian and international cinema since the 1940s was principal centre for educational technology. She put innovative media mix’ approaches to highly effective use in the satellite instructional Television experiment and her films have received many awards. She has served as a member of the national film commission and as president of the federation of film societies of India and Indian documentary producers association.

 

Foreword

Vijaya Mulay whom I have had the honour to know for 20 years as Akka (elder sister) starts from rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and beyond with personal memories and reflections. In my foreword to this brilliant exhaustive volume which Akka has honoured me by inviting let me do likewise.

The first film I remember seeing about India was screened some Sunday evening in my father church in Ontario, Canada, sometime in the late 1950s, a decade or so after India independence. This film about Christian missionary work in India rural heartland has been reduced in my mind to a shot of a scantily clad dark skinned teenager drying his long white dhoti against the blazing sky. I suspect it was the erotic potential of this image that etched in the memory of this 11 years old. It was thus not one of the archival treasures that Akka write about in this book that launched my own spectatorial relationship with India on the screen. Still that iconography of Indian youth as a fertile pool for western evangelism fits in with Akka thesis about the subcontinent as the crucible for the seeking, idealizing, diminishing imagination of the Occidental Orient list.

As I prepared for my fist visit to India in 1970 a year or two after Louis Malle it was not movies interestingly that provided my orientiation but books. I deliberately re-read E.M. forster passage to India the epochal novel of imperial anxiety for which Akka shares my fondness (as well as my disappointment in David Lean film version). I could have done much more worse than forster homo erotic gloss on doomed friendships within an immoral Empire, but as this newly minted BA in English literature progressed through his two years of teaching English on the plains of India, I soon recognized the novel's blinders as well as its insights.

Back in North America for a postgraduate degree in film studies, I next looked back towards India in the 1980s, this time as a freshly tenured film studies academic. This time my inspiration came from an Indian contemporary, the fire- brand documentaries’ Anand Patwardhan who was living in Montreal and writing an MA thesis on his work as an activist filmmaker before and during the Emergency. I published part of Patwardhan's thesis in my 1984 book Show Us Life: Toward a History and Aesthetics of the Committed Documentary, (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press). A bit later, Patwardhan's Montreal friend and ally Dr Shree Mulay introduced me to her mother. She was sure that Akka would help me as I prepared my next trip to India, where I would research the awakening independent documentary movement there that I naively thought Patwardhan had single-handedly instigated. Of course there was nothing single-handed or awakening about this movement, and Akka put me in touch with a vibrant network of filmmakers from Kolkata to Thiruvananthapuram, whom I proceeded to contact and meet onscreen as well as in person. Everywhere, these committed visionaries greeted me with open arms as soon as I mentioned Akka, and shared their work and ideas about the future of activist documentary in India. My humble research project could not have happened without the mentorship and inspiration of this kindly and generous matriarch, then in her late sixties.

Enough of my own historical connection to this topic of Western Orient list cinema and this wonderful book. Now a word about a reverse phenomenon, the depiction of the West on Indian screens. It may seem amusing that I occasionally feel almost as troubled by Bollywood's image of the West as Akka does about German, American and British onscreen racism. I remember seeing Hare Ra.ma Hare Krishna back in 1971 and how homesick I felt when fake Canadian snow fell on this melodramatic story of exile and familial disintegration. But its treatment of Western youth countercultures was scurrilous, and it surely contributed to the fact that everywhere I went in India I was regarded as an addicted degenerate hip- pie, just like in the movie.

Three decades later, when the epochal multi-starrer Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gam (200 I) smashed the box office, a thriving genre about Indians abroad had emerged. I still found it hard to swallow this film's ridiculous fantasy of the UK- from the palatial London that inhabited by a disinherited, working couple, to the sexist, consumerist fantasy of a typical college campus. The male students all drive expensive sports cars and the women are all brainless and dressed like whores (I'm fine with sex-workers, but did the costumers mean glamour star Kareena Kapoor to be the worst dressed streetwalker ever?). My serious and hardworking student at Concordia University take the metro to class and dress sensibly and that why Bollywood imposition of this reactionary emigration myth on its suggestible audience got me especially riled. Btu I soon relaxed and enjoyed KKKG as a high camp delirium of commodity fetishism and freedom of movement space and desire rather than an insult to western culture and academia. In any case both societies construct images of the other according to their fantasmatic and political needs as Akka repeatedly demonstrates in this book rather than according to any sociological mandate and of course Euro-Amerial is certainly complicit in KKKG’s view of our society as one driven solely by greed lust and vacuity.

Akka book on intercultural misunderstanding and discoveries is thus sorely needed and comes just in time. As multinational corporate empires continue to more urgent to strangle global cultures and societies and wars of civilization heat up it is all the more urgent to establish this history of intercultural cinematic projections. Akka is right that west cinematic construction of south Asia can tell us so much about the present crisis and perhaps even help us navigate our way out of it. Her conscientious nay perfectionist journey through one hundred years of potboilers epics newsreels imperial propaganda and poetic voyages is an illuminative encyclopedia. With its rich data about film buried in distant archives too fragile to project this book is as it is mammoth. Speaking with her own voice and native wisdom inflected with decades experiences on the frontlines of education filmmaking and cultural administration unhindered by academic fads, Akka delivers the goods. One of this book primary virtues is that her sharp eyes have tracked down and seen every last one of these hundreds of films. What is more from Rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and Beyond is enlivened by Akka’s gentle interrogation of many of the filmmakers themselves. While it will sometimes be up to reader and future scholar to digest and build on Akka finding whether that be the self perpetuating momentum of film genres in their relationship with audience or that dynamics of adaptation form printed page to celluloid she accomplishes with bravado the first task of the film historian looking at the screen and telling us what she sees open mindedly and eloquently.

Akka credits me for having persuade her to include exploitation movies in her corpus in addition to the serious auteur exploration selected a first. If that is true then I delight all the more in her account of all those tales of harems fakir and vermin eating savages which as she shown us are the reverse side of the more respectable probing of the Renoirs Rossellinis and Attenborough. However I suspect that do debt is owned me whatsoever and that as Akka accumulated her discoveries over the years from prague to Los Anglese she herself discoveries over the years form prague to Los angeles she herself came to recognize the indivisible cultural spectrum form the ridiculous to the sublime. That said the special treatment she give the seekers in the final five chapter of from Rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and beyond befits not only her own experience as artist and intellectual but also her conviction (one I share) of the scope for individual courage and commitment in the real world we inhabit a conviction too easily lost in our ideological and geopolitical cynicism. On another very minor matter I was struck by Akka tentative mention in passing of the homoerotic sensibilities of Paul Zils and James lovery and I expect that the relation of sexual diversity and eroticism to her research will be one of the many avenues of follow up research sparked by the book.

From rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and beyond is not only a historical resource book but also an autobiography. Not only about western cinema it is also about Akka own subjectivity the growth of her perceptions not only of the making and circulation of film but also of our planetary crisis as a whole. This achievement expertly ye humbly adapts the fashion in postmodern scholarship: the positioning of the voice of the author/researcher. No one will resist her colourful anecdotes of her experience as schoolgirl bride mother film society aficionado graduate student in exile educator filmmaker and bureaucrat and no one will fail find them intrinsic to hr rigorous research. Akka remarkable friendship with Louis malle, sparked in the mid 1960s by his arrogance to the sari clad censor who welcomed him to Kolkata and pursued until the Frenchman death in 1995 is justifiably the kernel of the book. The book ultimately vindicates the principle that our interpersonal relationship can be the crucial motor of learning and understanding. The network of Akka personal acquaintances in archives and universities around the world who have contributed to this enterprise in translation or troubleshooting also confirm this principle.

I especially love Akka introspection on her schizophrenic identiy as simultaneous film buff and film censor confronting the passion of the former with the latter dedication to cinema as a terrain for morality and political struggle. The political moralist is never far from the text and subtext of the book as a whole. Though some of the political edge of akka the erstwhile anti British schoolgirl heckler is softened by the discretion that was no doubt acquired throughout her career as a film and education bureaucrat her uncompromising left of centre analysis and commitment shine throughout the book. I am sure I recognize the ideological inheritance of the mother in her daughter Suhasini’s me in the mentareis an Indian story and Bhopal which Akka first proudly showed me in the 1980s. the closest Akka comes to making explicit her worldwide comes in chapter 5 where it is Malle not surprisingly who probed her belief in the inherited values of Karuna (compassion and empathy) and ahimsa (non-violence and truth). From Rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and beyond embodies in so many ways there values a testament for us to live up to. The Indian government awarded Akka the V. Shantaram award in 2002 for her lifetime achievement as educator film society pioneer documentary maker and promoter and public servant. With the publication of this book I think they are going to have to come up with another award.

It is typical Akka effect on other and myself that this foreword has become much more than a foreword in fact a celebration of its author and her principles of learning and of cultural and political activism. I will never forget the summer of 2000 when she sat in on my Indian cinema course. My student were equally amazed at this small elegant woman clad variously in brocades and workaday cotton whose quiet voice demand careful listening but never failed to extend the subject at hand even the full story of Shakuntala underlying a Raja Ravi Varma painting I was showing little did they know that Akka was circumnavigating the world film archives elbowing her way into editing and viewing suites. There may have been skeptics in those archives who saw in this deceptively fragile octogenarian a fool rushing in but this angle has proven them all wrong. She claims her perspective is that of an average common person but in fact she is an exceptional and decidedly uncommon person and this is an exceptional and uncommon book. Seagull books having contributed so much to films and theatre scholarship is to be commended for allowing this huge and expensive book to see the light of day. I hope that they will succeed in their international distribution plans so that western reader will be able to share the wealth. Akka everyone elder sister and a far more indefatigable and effective missionary than that unknown 1950s documentary hack who firs infected me with the India bug has much to teach us east and west about our own troubled and bountiful cinematic legacy and our common future on this planet.

 

Introduction

I. Strategic Formation
My love affair with cinema began more than 60 years ago in 1940 the year of my marriage. As a single young in Bombay I was used to moving around freely I loved to roam at will on my bicycle. I never covered my head with the end of my sari. I participated in the city many activities including sports and dramatics. Girl were expected to sit on the front benches in coeducational institution but if a girl came in late and sat at the back with the boys nobody raised an eyebrow. My marriage in 1940 took me form Bombay to Patna in the province of Bihar where my husband was working I had read about India diversity and plurality but Bihar provide me with my first direct experience of it. It was like going back in time. If Bombay was the most cosmopolitan and modern Indian city Patna was its opposite. One of the ironies of history is that when being ruled form Patna the capital of the emperors Ashoka and Chandragupta. But by the time I reached it about 2,300 years later it had long since lost its prominence. The Patna of the 1940s was hard on women. Except for the very poor, no woman could be seen walking on the streets. When women went out, they took phaetons and rickshaws; the young were chaperoned; the married covered their heads and lowered their eyes when talking to their elders. Mixed company was unthinkable. A few days after my arrival, when my husband had gone out of town for work, I created a minor sensation by taking his bicycle and venturing out to see the city on my own. I was no Sooner on the road than I got into trouble. Children ran after me, weaving in and out of my path and calling out to all to see the strange sight. I had to learn to curb my Bombay its independence.

For the first few years, apart from three or four Marathi families like ours, I hardly got to know anybody from the local communities. I was adept in Marathi, my mother tongue; but my knowledge of Hindi and Bengali, languages needed to communicate in Bihar, was very poor; my English was good enough for reading but not for speaking. Moreover, to make friends, there has to be some common ground of experience-work, ideas-which happened only when I started going to college. My husband had to abandon his university education because of financial constraints, but was very keen that I should not suffer the same fate. He could not afford to send me to college as he earned only Rs 120 per month’s Fortunately, Patna University permitted women to study privately and appear for its examinations. So I studied at home for my Bachelor's degree, and learnt Hindi and a little Bengali. And when our finances improved, I attended college on a regular basis to complete my Master's degree.

Thus I had no other diversions except reading, studying and watching films until I went to college, improved my language abilities and made friends. My husband and I both enjoyed the cinema and saw almost every film, especially the English ones shown at half price on Sunday mornings at the local theatres. Neither of us had any religious bent. Our friends joked about our regular 'church' visits, by which they meant our Sunday attendance at the 'bioscopes', as the film theatres were then called. We discussed the films amongst ourselves and with friends. Out of these viewings and discussions, I acquired some understanding of the language and grammar of film.

In 1946, I won a state scholarship to study in Britain, I did not wish to go as my second daughter Bharati was only nine month old. But my husband kashinath instead saying that India would soon become independent and need educated women like me. I should therefore not miss the opportunity. His final argument was unbeatable: fathers were also parents and with a little help from family members like my younger sister susheela our two daughters would fare quite well. So I went to study for my Master degree in education at Leeds University.

My anti-British attitude had developed in my formative years Since the age of 10, the Indian freedom movement had been a part of my living and thinking. My role model was the legendary Lakshmibai Rani of Jhansi who had fought bravely against the British in 1857. Swadeshi satyagraha khadi these were vital concepts for my generation Our elders encouraged us not only to read about out thinkers and leaders but also about patriots and martyrs of other countries I read Marathi book on Garibaldi of Italy booker T. Washington of black America and De Valera of Ireland. We spun cotton on our spindler marched in processions to protest Gandhi arrest or to salute the national tricolor (at that time it was the congress flange with the spinning wheel) on Sunday dinging national songs and shouting anti-Raj slogans. I had never seen an Englishman in Badlapur my tiny native village in the foothills of the western ghats in Maharashtra but that was of no consequence. As I grew up I began to understand the larger perspective of the national movement to some extent but despite mahtma Gandhi exhortation to hate British rule but not the British people I was still very anti British when I left for England in 1946 and I remained so until I came to live with the English people and know better.

Sweeping change were taking place in post war Britain many of my classmates and friends had fought in the war and seen its horrible and violent face. Value were changing most young people and with the sole purpose of studying for my degree. I was on my guard ready to take offence at the slightest insult or remark derogatory to me or to India whether imagined or real. But I soon found out that the ordinary English people were hardly like the burra sahib one saw back or real. But I soon found out that the ordinary English people were hardly like the burra sahibs one saw back home. True some of the people met had funny notions but I was happy to find that the atmosphere at Leeds university was free and friendly. One ardent student supporter of the conservative party even wanted me to explain why exactly I did not like British rule in India.

World war II that had just ended had brought a sea change in outlook at least in the universities. There was a lot of sympathy for the Indian cause; Nehru and Gandhi were admired. But I found that the greatest admiration was perhaps for the soviet union that had fought the heroic battle of Stalingrad and had annihilated the better equipped German army Wartime slogans surging the Churchill government to open the second front (to relive pressure on the Soviet army) still decorated the university walls. Despite the beginning of the cold war and the Marshall plan whereby the US was pouring billions of dollars into Europe to better fight communism socialism was in the air and the Labour party was elected to power.

Meanwhile my love affair with cinema continued I was fortunate to be in England at a time when the performing art were reflecting new ideas and techniques. The unity theatre of workers played to full houses. Films from the Soviet Union and eastern Europe were running in repertory theatres in this charged and heady atmosphere I watched film classics experimental films and socialist cinema. I also gained a better perspective and understanding of cinematic art by joining the Leeds university film society. Thus film viewing which had been a pastime now because a serious passion.

Film Societies and Film Censorship
On my return to patna in 1949 I actively participated in the nascent film society movement of India. Film societies were the only space where the only space where cinema different form the mainstream commercial kind could be seen some of us therefore stated the Patna film society. When I took up the post of education officer central ministry of education and moved to Delhi in 1954 I found more like minded people and we stated the Delhi film society. Later, when film societies came together to form the federation of film societies of India in 1959 with satyajit Ray as founding president Chidandada Das (well known film critic and founding Member Calcutta film society) and I were elected its first joint secretaries.

In 1962 the Ministry of Education deputed me to work at the central Board of Film censors in Bombay the wanted somebody knowledgeable about films. For five years as a censor officer four other members (from and approved panel of citizens) and I sat in judgment over a number of Indian and foreign films. It was interesting for me to see how their biases coloured their judgment of a film suitability for public viewing with few exceptions most of them were pensioners and well-to-do ladies (mostely housewives) who could afford to come and see a film in the afternoon or the morning of a working day. I remember how strongly one o them objected to a film of a Russian ballet on the grounds that the dances tutus exhibited a lot of shoulder and leg. No reasoning would satisfy her. Finally after record after recording her minority opinion I recommended to the censor board chairman that we pass it without any cuts for universal exhibition. Yet scenes in other film which I found vulgar or very violent (to the point of desensitizing children to acts of violence) raised no objection at all form these good ladies they were prepared to pass them for universal exhibition. Throughout this project I have been aware that I analyzing film my bias against imperialism may be colorings my better judgment and I have tried my best to guard against as an educationist I known how enduring childhood impressions are.

My work with the film censor board proved to be a mixed blessing I had to see films regardless of their quality or interest. But the advantage was that during a period of five years I saw about 4,000 films (including shorts) of many different types. I found most of them quite poor I would have chosen very few of them for a film society screening but I did take heart at that were I to make a film it would not be much worse than many that we certified. (I longed to try my hand at filmmaking.) The other good thing that happened was my transfer to the Calcutta office of the censor board in 1966. The workload was east and I had more free time. I was able to observe the satyajit Ray and other Bengali directors worked. Ray who had become a good friend gave me not only his scripts to read but even loaned me his copy of the novel on which his film Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder 1973) was based. He told me that for many years he had thought of filming the story and had marked in that copy of the book the portion that he would keep and those he would keep and those he would alter. He thought exercise would be of interest to me as a student of cinema. It was and we had some discussion on both the book and his film. Read his script f Alien that he was to make for a big American studio with peter sellers in the lead role. It was put in cold storage on account of some trouble with script right someone else claimed he was its author. That seemed impossible to me. Anybody who has seen the script and is familiar with Ray scripts will recognize his signature on it from the very first sequence.

Both Ray and Louis Malle whom I met in Calcutta when he visited the city in 1967 encouraged me In indulging my desire to make a film and I decided to take the plunge once I found a suitable subject. That happened soon enough. To reach my office I had to take a route that skirted the river Hooghly. On certain days I would witness the amazing phenomenon knows as the tidal bore in which the tide from the bay of Bengal comes thundering down the river like a moving wall of water often as high as 15 feet. It intrigued me. Why did the tide rise almost vertically on one side of the shore on some days? Why did it flow in normally on others? My friend did not know. I approached the officers of the port trust of Calcutta. They were delighted with my interest they drew charts and talked about celerity and the surface tension of water what that apparently changed with the amount of Silt in the river basin a film explaining this phenomenon with all its drama and thrill would be a worthwhile project. So I got stated.

My Frit Film
While watching films whenever I came across signs of technical excellence I would note the names of those young technicians who had talent but who were not them well known. My team was ready. Ray agreed to do but who were not then well known. My team was ready. Ray agreed to do the commentary; male sent me some negative film stock from Paris. My friends and daughters assisted me in my venture with money-as a loan if I could return it or as a donation if I could not. I borrowed some more on my insurance policy. I then left the Censor Board, went back to my parent Ministry of Education and shot my first documentary, The Tidal Bore, in 1967-68. The film, made on a shoestring budget, taught me a lot about filmmaking; it also taught me to be more humble and tolerant in criticizing similar first efforts by others. But, best of all, I realized what an effective educational tool a good film could be, making as it does distant lands and people tangible and real to children and at the same time clarifying difficult and abstract notions through the visual medium. Although, through education, a society tries to pass on to the next generation the values and cultural mores it considers sacred, education also shows students that these values and mores are not absolutes or sacred cows; if they have outlived their raison d’être, one should not be afraid to alter or even discard them. The Tidal Bore was a descriptive, informative film. Later, I made others that aimed at stimulating and encouraging viewers to think and explore further on their own.

My first film was a modest success, in the sense that the Government of India sent it as its entry to the Mannheim Film Festival. Later, the Films Division (FD) bought it for public circulation in theatres all over the country. Though this enabled me to pay off my loans, it hardly left me with any money for further adventures in filmmaking for several years.

Education and Media
My chance to go back to filming came when India decided to embark on the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) with the object of testing the feasibility of using communication satellites to reach backward areas and populations for developmental work. UNICEF hired me for two months to make two test modules for children in the six-nine age group. These were field tested and proved to be both effective and popular. In 1975, I was asked to head the newly established Centre for Educational Technology (CET) under the aegis of the National Council of Education, Research and Training (NCERT). In the course of this job, my team made a multimedia package, including educational films for in-service training of primary school teachers that were broadcast via satellite. In one year we were able reach 48, 000 teachers. I was fortunate in persuading eminent filmmakers like mrinal sen Sukhdev Sandhu and many other so make film on selected topics at a pittance. Four of our films went on to win awards at international film festival. I thus learnt a little bit about media communication and filmmaking for children and educational purposes but I still had no experience of making videos. After my retirement from CET in 1980 at the age of 60 the university Grants commission of India (UGC) asked me to head its countrywide classroom project aimed at equipping selected university with studios and personnel to make education TV programmes for undergraduates to be beamed via INSAT. Here I learnt much about both the software and hardware of video technology. Thus most of my work has been in the field of education and media for development. I had written on films even taught a course on film appreciation in the film and television institute of India (FTII) but except for the films that I was making I had never undertaken any research work in the area of films per se. air the ripe age of 78 one does not ordinarily embark on a big project such as the one that led to this book. The propelling urge to do so was the death of a friend.

Louise Malle
The idea of studying film on Indian made by non-Indians had crossed my mind as I watched an excellent film on jean Renoir made by David Thompson for the BBC Omnibus series at the 1995 festival of New films and videos at montreal. In the portion relating to his film the River (1951) based on a Rumer godden novel of the same name (1946) Adrienne Corri one of the cast spoke eloquently about about how Renoir very depressed with his American experience blossomed in India and was revived by his sojoun there. I had earlier read about Reberto Rossellini Indian experience and his enthusiasm for India and I thought it may be worthwhile for somebody (not myself) to examine what Indian had given to such sensitive and creative filmamakers as Renoir and Rossellini.

The death of Louis Malle in November 1995 eventually became the trigger for action on my part. I had met Malle when he come to India as a member of a French film delegation. As I was at the time the highest ranking officer dealing with films in Calcutta my bosses in the ministry of information and broadcasting had asked me to make all the arrangement for meeting the delegation and arranging a festival of French films. We stated off on the wrong foot when Malle learnt that I was the censor. At the dinner given in honour of the delegations he was sitting next to me and he could not wait to express his disgust at my job. On the cover of the brochure that we had brought out for the festival he wrote I hat all censors and passed it to me. I was taken aback. But I had read about the troubles that he had undergone with censorship in France and the USA. I suppose I also vaguely remembered how once I had looked on all British people with a jaundiced eye. I somehow managed a smile and asked him how he expected me to react to his remark laugh it off as a poor joke or ignore it with a stiff upper lip? He was immediately contrite and apologized, I suppose he alter enquired about me and learnt that I was a film buff and not bad as censor officers went. Our acquaintance soon developed into a firm friendship that survived over 28 years and across several continents. In the glittering business of cinema I have never met anybody else who had such a vast talent and yet was so very unassuming and modest. He was warmhearted and had a childlike curiosity about everything and a desire to probe beyond the surface. He hated the poverty and obvious misery that he saw on the streets of Calcutta but was also aware of the undercurrent of strength that sustain the city and its people. He visited Orissa. Sleeping under the stars and talking to fishermen he saw a different world and culture that charmed and soothed him for he had been under stress for some time. He was at odds with Gaullist France and was facing several other tension. He decided to try to learn about India the way he knew best by filming. In his very first letter to me from Paris he wrote about his resolve to come back and his delight that the Julie Christie project he was to do had been postponed.

Malle and I had long discussions about films and his India project. I even accompanied him on one or two shoots. In April 1970 I went to paris for six month as a fellow of UNESCO international institute of educational planning. There I had a chance to see how he and Suzanne Barn were putting the Indian material together. Later he even arranged a special of all his India film for me. I was distressed to see the harsh reaction to his film in India mostly based on hearsay (since the film were not seen India) I immediately wrote an article for filmfare in which quoting my stint with Indian censorship I said that if the film were imported and sent to the censor board for certification it would be hard for any conscientious censor officer to ban them since there was nothing in them that went against the guidelines of the Board.

Indira Gandhi was then prime minister of India I had me her several times when she was vice president federation of the film societies of India and I was secretary I had also met her in my capacity as censor officer when she was minister information and broadcasting. I knew that earlier she had come to the rescue of Sukhdev one of our most talented documentary filmmaker when the censor had made some very stupid cuts. I suggested to Malle that eh write to her. He agreed at once and wrote that contrary to all that had been said against him he loved India and that his films should first be seen before being condemned. On my return to Delhi from Paris I sent the letter over to the Prime Minister. Three day later I received a telephone call from her social secretary Usha Bhagat saying that the anger was not so much against him as against the BBC and that Mrs Gandhi would soon see the film and the matter could then be sorted out. That never happened though; soon after, India was plunged into a war against Pakistan over the issue of Bangladesh.

I had telephoned Malle a few days before his death; I had planned to visit him in Los Angeles but was unable to leave immediately. After his death when going over his letters and remembering him I noticed something I had not realized before namely how India had changed him. I had no fully comprehended it until then because the information had come in bits and pieces over several years. Here was a firsthand experiences about how one very creative and sensitive non-Indian filmmaker had perceived India and why. I could not now wait and hope that somebody younger than me might take up such a study. When his son manuel learnt of my project he passed on a copy of Malle 50 page travel diary in India to use as I considered fit. In it Malle explains why he come to India and what conceptual and other problem he had to resolve during shooting. With access to such excellent material I felt that I could not offer the excuse of being too old to take on the job. I was well aware that my age was not he only problem there were many other. But as the seventeenth century Marathi saint poet Sant Ramdas said if is worth doing star doing it and it gets done. I have followed his advice.

 

Contents

 

  Foreword by Thomas Waugh IV
  Acknowledge XIV
  Introduction: My pather Panchali Story of the Road 1
Chapter 1 Short film of the Silent Era 31
Chapter 2 Rajahs and Yogis 69
Chapter 3 Empire films of the colonial era 97
Chapter 4 Empire films of the postcolonial era 140
Chapter 5 Seekers I 180
Chapter 6 Seekers II 237
Chapter 7 Insider-outsider 270
Chapter 8 New trends 325
Chapter 9 Gender roles and relations 376
Chapter 10 Conclusion Perception reality and independence 390
Appendix 1 Letters from Louis Malle and his crew 409
Appendix 2 A List of German films: 1913-1922 501
Appendix 3 Synopses of Selected Films 511
  Index 539

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From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond (Images of India In International Films of The Twentieth Century)

Item Code:
NAF234
Cover:
Paperback
Edition:
2010
Publisher:
Seagull Books Pvt. Ltd.
ISBN:
9781905422968
Language:
English
Size:
9.5 inch X 6.0 inch
Pages:
571 (64 B/W Illustrations)
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Weight of the Books : 980 gms
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From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond (Images of India In International Films of The Twentieth Century)

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About the Book

Brahmans named Iftikar, Buddhist rites in Hindu shiva temples, Indian maidens dressed like Arabian harem girls right from the birth of Cinema. International movies have been wildly inventive in their fantastical imaging of India. In fact images of Indian in these film have said more about the filmmakers than about India. From the early twentieth century when India was imagined as the fabulous, exotic, oriental other, site for all sorts of fantasies: to the imperial and colonial mindset of the middle decades of the twentieth century to postcolonial films and auteurs like Renoir, Rossellini, sucksdorff and Malle who genuinely strove to understand a different culture and its value to the globalized worldview with which the century ended India as seen on the international screen has changed in intriguing ways as this pioneering study describes and analyses. Allowing us access to rare films from the 1900s British Durbar films the precursors of the newsreel genre French, Danish and German cinema, empire film collaborative efforts and global outlook this book explores a wide range of movies in the context of the socio-political factors that shaped each era and the trajectory of changing images of India abroad. Malle’s letters to the author during the making of his India film should be of special interest.

 

About the Author

Vijaya Mulay, a pioneer of the film society movement in India and a keen observer of Indian and international cinema since the 1940s was principal centre for educational technology. She put innovative media mix’ approaches to highly effective use in the satellite instructional Television experiment and her films have received many awards. She has served as a member of the national film commission and as president of the federation of film societies of India and Indian documentary producers association.

 

Foreword

Vijaya Mulay whom I have had the honour to know for 20 years as Akka (elder sister) starts from rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and beyond with personal memories and reflections. In my foreword to this brilliant exhaustive volume which Akka has honoured me by inviting let me do likewise.

The first film I remember seeing about India was screened some Sunday evening in my father church in Ontario, Canada, sometime in the late 1950s, a decade or so after India independence. This film about Christian missionary work in India rural heartland has been reduced in my mind to a shot of a scantily clad dark skinned teenager drying his long white dhoti against the blazing sky. I suspect it was the erotic potential of this image that etched in the memory of this 11 years old. It was thus not one of the archival treasures that Akka write about in this book that launched my own spectatorial relationship with India on the screen. Still that iconography of Indian youth as a fertile pool for western evangelism fits in with Akka thesis about the subcontinent as the crucible for the seeking, idealizing, diminishing imagination of the Occidental Orient list.

As I prepared for my fist visit to India in 1970 a year or two after Louis Malle it was not movies interestingly that provided my orientiation but books. I deliberately re-read E.M. forster passage to India the epochal novel of imperial anxiety for which Akka shares my fondness (as well as my disappointment in David Lean film version). I could have done much more worse than forster homo erotic gloss on doomed friendships within an immoral Empire, but as this newly minted BA in English literature progressed through his two years of teaching English on the plains of India, I soon recognized the novel's blinders as well as its insights.

Back in North America for a postgraduate degree in film studies, I next looked back towards India in the 1980s, this time as a freshly tenured film studies academic. This time my inspiration came from an Indian contemporary, the fire- brand documentaries’ Anand Patwardhan who was living in Montreal and writing an MA thesis on his work as an activist filmmaker before and during the Emergency. I published part of Patwardhan's thesis in my 1984 book Show Us Life: Toward a History and Aesthetics of the Committed Documentary, (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press). A bit later, Patwardhan's Montreal friend and ally Dr Shree Mulay introduced me to her mother. She was sure that Akka would help me as I prepared my next trip to India, where I would research the awakening independent documentary movement there that I naively thought Patwardhan had single-handedly instigated. Of course there was nothing single-handed or awakening about this movement, and Akka put me in touch with a vibrant network of filmmakers from Kolkata to Thiruvananthapuram, whom I proceeded to contact and meet onscreen as well as in person. Everywhere, these committed visionaries greeted me with open arms as soon as I mentioned Akka, and shared their work and ideas about the future of activist documentary in India. My humble research project could not have happened without the mentorship and inspiration of this kindly and generous matriarch, then in her late sixties.

Enough of my own historical connection to this topic of Western Orient list cinema and this wonderful book. Now a word about a reverse phenomenon, the depiction of the West on Indian screens. It may seem amusing that I occasionally feel almost as troubled by Bollywood's image of the West as Akka does about German, American and British onscreen racism. I remember seeing Hare Ra.ma Hare Krishna back in 1971 and how homesick I felt when fake Canadian snow fell on this melodramatic story of exile and familial disintegration. But its treatment of Western youth countercultures was scurrilous, and it surely contributed to the fact that everywhere I went in India I was regarded as an addicted degenerate hip- pie, just like in the movie.

Three decades later, when the epochal multi-starrer Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gam (200 I) smashed the box office, a thriving genre about Indians abroad had emerged. I still found it hard to swallow this film's ridiculous fantasy of the UK- from the palatial London that inhabited by a disinherited, working couple, to the sexist, consumerist fantasy of a typical college campus. The male students all drive expensive sports cars and the women are all brainless and dressed like whores (I'm fine with sex-workers, but did the costumers mean glamour star Kareena Kapoor to be the worst dressed streetwalker ever?). My serious and hardworking student at Concordia University take the metro to class and dress sensibly and that why Bollywood imposition of this reactionary emigration myth on its suggestible audience got me especially riled. Btu I soon relaxed and enjoyed KKKG as a high camp delirium of commodity fetishism and freedom of movement space and desire rather than an insult to western culture and academia. In any case both societies construct images of the other according to their fantasmatic and political needs as Akka repeatedly demonstrates in this book rather than according to any sociological mandate and of course Euro-Amerial is certainly complicit in KKKG’s view of our society as one driven solely by greed lust and vacuity.

Akka book on intercultural misunderstanding and discoveries is thus sorely needed and comes just in time. As multinational corporate empires continue to more urgent to strangle global cultures and societies and wars of civilization heat up it is all the more urgent to establish this history of intercultural cinematic projections. Akka is right that west cinematic construction of south Asia can tell us so much about the present crisis and perhaps even help us navigate our way out of it. Her conscientious nay perfectionist journey through one hundred years of potboilers epics newsreels imperial propaganda and poetic voyages is an illuminative encyclopedia. With its rich data about film buried in distant archives too fragile to project this book is as it is mammoth. Speaking with her own voice and native wisdom inflected with decades experiences on the frontlines of education filmmaking and cultural administration unhindered by academic fads, Akka delivers the goods. One of this book primary virtues is that her sharp eyes have tracked down and seen every last one of these hundreds of films. What is more from Rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and Beyond is enlivened by Akka’s gentle interrogation of many of the filmmakers themselves. While it will sometimes be up to reader and future scholar to digest and build on Akka finding whether that be the self perpetuating momentum of film genres in their relationship with audience or that dynamics of adaptation form printed page to celluloid she accomplishes with bravado the first task of the film historian looking at the screen and telling us what she sees open mindedly and eloquently.

Akka credits me for having persuade her to include exploitation movies in her corpus in addition to the serious auteur exploration selected a first. If that is true then I delight all the more in her account of all those tales of harems fakir and vermin eating savages which as she shown us are the reverse side of the more respectable probing of the Renoirs Rossellinis and Attenborough. However I suspect that do debt is owned me whatsoever and that as Akka accumulated her discoveries over the years from prague to Los Anglese she herself discoveries over the years form prague to Los angeles she herself came to recognize the indivisible cultural spectrum form the ridiculous to the sublime. That said the special treatment she give the seekers in the final five chapter of from Rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and beyond befits not only her own experience as artist and intellectual but also her conviction (one I share) of the scope for individual courage and commitment in the real world we inhabit a conviction too easily lost in our ideological and geopolitical cynicism. On another very minor matter I was struck by Akka tentative mention in passing of the homoerotic sensibilities of Paul Zils and James lovery and I expect that the relation of sexual diversity and eroticism to her research will be one of the many avenues of follow up research sparked by the book.

From rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and beyond is not only a historical resource book but also an autobiography. Not only about western cinema it is also about Akka own subjectivity the growth of her perceptions not only of the making and circulation of film but also of our planetary crisis as a whole. This achievement expertly ye humbly adapts the fashion in postmodern scholarship: the positioning of the voice of the author/researcher. No one will resist her colourful anecdotes of her experience as schoolgirl bride mother film society aficionado graduate student in exile educator filmmaker and bureaucrat and no one will fail find them intrinsic to hr rigorous research. Akka remarkable friendship with Louis malle, sparked in the mid 1960s by his arrogance to the sari clad censor who welcomed him to Kolkata and pursued until the Frenchman death in 1995 is justifiably the kernel of the book. The book ultimately vindicates the principle that our interpersonal relationship can be the crucial motor of learning and understanding. The network of Akka personal acquaintances in archives and universities around the world who have contributed to this enterprise in translation or troubleshooting also confirm this principle.

I especially love Akka introspection on her schizophrenic identiy as simultaneous film buff and film censor confronting the passion of the former with the latter dedication to cinema as a terrain for morality and political struggle. The political moralist is never far from the text and subtext of the book as a whole. Though some of the political edge of akka the erstwhile anti British schoolgirl heckler is softened by the discretion that was no doubt acquired throughout her career as a film and education bureaucrat her uncompromising left of centre analysis and commitment shine throughout the book. I am sure I recognize the ideological inheritance of the mother in her daughter Suhasini’s me in the mentareis an Indian story and Bhopal which Akka first proudly showed me in the 1980s. the closest Akka comes to making explicit her worldwide comes in chapter 5 where it is Malle not surprisingly who probed her belief in the inherited values of Karuna (compassion and empathy) and ahimsa (non-violence and truth). From Rajahs and yogis to Gandhi and beyond embodies in so many ways there values a testament for us to live up to. The Indian government awarded Akka the V. Shantaram award in 2002 for her lifetime achievement as educator film society pioneer documentary maker and promoter and public servant. With the publication of this book I think they are going to have to come up with another award.

It is typical Akka effect on other and myself that this foreword has become much more than a foreword in fact a celebration of its author and her principles of learning and of cultural and political activism. I will never forget the summer of 2000 when she sat in on my Indian cinema course. My student were equally amazed at this small elegant woman clad variously in brocades and workaday cotton whose quiet voice demand careful listening but never failed to extend the subject at hand even the full story of Shakuntala underlying a Raja Ravi Varma painting I was showing little did they know that Akka was circumnavigating the world film archives elbowing her way into editing and viewing suites. There may have been skeptics in those archives who saw in this deceptively fragile octogenarian a fool rushing in but this angle has proven them all wrong. She claims her perspective is that of an average common person but in fact she is an exceptional and decidedly uncommon person and this is an exceptional and uncommon book. Seagull books having contributed so much to films and theatre scholarship is to be commended for allowing this huge and expensive book to see the light of day. I hope that they will succeed in their international distribution plans so that western reader will be able to share the wealth. Akka everyone elder sister and a far more indefatigable and effective missionary than that unknown 1950s documentary hack who firs infected me with the India bug has much to teach us east and west about our own troubled and bountiful cinematic legacy and our common future on this planet.

 

Introduction

I. Strategic Formation
My love affair with cinema began more than 60 years ago in 1940 the year of my marriage. As a single young in Bombay I was used to moving around freely I loved to roam at will on my bicycle. I never covered my head with the end of my sari. I participated in the city many activities including sports and dramatics. Girl were expected to sit on the front benches in coeducational institution but if a girl came in late and sat at the back with the boys nobody raised an eyebrow. My marriage in 1940 took me form Bombay to Patna in the province of Bihar where my husband was working I had read about India diversity and plurality but Bihar provide me with my first direct experience of it. It was like going back in time. If Bombay was the most cosmopolitan and modern Indian city Patna was its opposite. One of the ironies of history is that when being ruled form Patna the capital of the emperors Ashoka and Chandragupta. But by the time I reached it about 2,300 years later it had long since lost its prominence. The Patna of the 1940s was hard on women. Except for the very poor, no woman could be seen walking on the streets. When women went out, they took phaetons and rickshaws; the young were chaperoned; the married covered their heads and lowered their eyes when talking to their elders. Mixed company was unthinkable. A few days after my arrival, when my husband had gone out of town for work, I created a minor sensation by taking his bicycle and venturing out to see the city on my own. I was no Sooner on the road than I got into trouble. Children ran after me, weaving in and out of my path and calling out to all to see the strange sight. I had to learn to curb my Bombay its independence.

For the first few years, apart from three or four Marathi families like ours, I hardly got to know anybody from the local communities. I was adept in Marathi, my mother tongue; but my knowledge of Hindi and Bengali, languages needed to communicate in Bihar, was very poor; my English was good enough for reading but not for speaking. Moreover, to make friends, there has to be some common ground of experience-work, ideas-which happened only when I started going to college. My husband had to abandon his university education because of financial constraints, but was very keen that I should not suffer the same fate. He could not afford to send me to college as he earned only Rs 120 per month’s Fortunately, Patna University permitted women to study privately and appear for its examinations. So I studied at home for my Bachelor's degree, and learnt Hindi and a little Bengali. And when our finances improved, I attended college on a regular basis to complete my Master's degree.

Thus I had no other diversions except reading, studying and watching films until I went to college, improved my language abilities and made friends. My husband and I both enjoyed the cinema and saw almost every film, especially the English ones shown at half price on Sunday mornings at the local theatres. Neither of us had any religious bent. Our friends joked about our regular 'church' visits, by which they meant our Sunday attendance at the 'bioscopes', as the film theatres were then called. We discussed the films amongst ourselves and with friends. Out of these viewings and discussions, I acquired some understanding of the language and grammar of film.

In 1946, I won a state scholarship to study in Britain, I did not wish to go as my second daughter Bharati was only nine month old. But my husband kashinath instead saying that India would soon become independent and need educated women like me. I should therefore not miss the opportunity. His final argument was unbeatable: fathers were also parents and with a little help from family members like my younger sister susheela our two daughters would fare quite well. So I went to study for my Master degree in education at Leeds University.

My anti-British attitude had developed in my formative years Since the age of 10, the Indian freedom movement had been a part of my living and thinking. My role model was the legendary Lakshmibai Rani of Jhansi who had fought bravely against the British in 1857. Swadeshi satyagraha khadi these were vital concepts for my generation Our elders encouraged us not only to read about out thinkers and leaders but also about patriots and martyrs of other countries I read Marathi book on Garibaldi of Italy booker T. Washington of black America and De Valera of Ireland. We spun cotton on our spindler marched in processions to protest Gandhi arrest or to salute the national tricolor (at that time it was the congress flange with the spinning wheel) on Sunday dinging national songs and shouting anti-Raj slogans. I had never seen an Englishman in Badlapur my tiny native village in the foothills of the western ghats in Maharashtra but that was of no consequence. As I grew up I began to understand the larger perspective of the national movement to some extent but despite mahtma Gandhi exhortation to hate British rule but not the British people I was still very anti British when I left for England in 1946 and I remained so until I came to live with the English people and know better.

Sweeping change were taking place in post war Britain many of my classmates and friends had fought in the war and seen its horrible and violent face. Value were changing most young people and with the sole purpose of studying for my degree. I was on my guard ready to take offence at the slightest insult or remark derogatory to me or to India whether imagined or real. But I soon found out that the ordinary English people were hardly like the burra sahib one saw back or real. But I soon found out that the ordinary English people were hardly like the burra sahibs one saw back home. True some of the people met had funny notions but I was happy to find that the atmosphere at Leeds university was free and friendly. One ardent student supporter of the conservative party even wanted me to explain why exactly I did not like British rule in India.

World war II that had just ended had brought a sea change in outlook at least in the universities. There was a lot of sympathy for the Indian cause; Nehru and Gandhi were admired. But I found that the greatest admiration was perhaps for the soviet union that had fought the heroic battle of Stalingrad and had annihilated the better equipped German army Wartime slogans surging the Churchill government to open the second front (to relive pressure on the Soviet army) still decorated the university walls. Despite the beginning of the cold war and the Marshall plan whereby the US was pouring billions of dollars into Europe to better fight communism socialism was in the air and the Labour party was elected to power.

Meanwhile my love affair with cinema continued I was fortunate to be in England at a time when the performing art were reflecting new ideas and techniques. The unity theatre of workers played to full houses. Films from the Soviet Union and eastern Europe were running in repertory theatres in this charged and heady atmosphere I watched film classics experimental films and socialist cinema. I also gained a better perspective and understanding of cinematic art by joining the Leeds university film society. Thus film viewing which had been a pastime now because a serious passion.

Film Societies and Film Censorship
On my return to patna in 1949 I actively participated in the nascent film society movement of India. Film societies were the only space where the only space where cinema different form the mainstream commercial kind could be seen some of us therefore stated the Patna film society. When I took up the post of education officer central ministry of education and moved to Delhi in 1954 I found more like minded people and we stated the Delhi film society. Later, when film societies came together to form the federation of film societies of India in 1959 with satyajit Ray as founding president Chidandada Das (well known film critic and founding Member Calcutta film society) and I were elected its first joint secretaries.

In 1962 the Ministry of Education deputed me to work at the central Board of Film censors in Bombay the wanted somebody knowledgeable about films. For five years as a censor officer four other members (from and approved panel of citizens) and I sat in judgment over a number of Indian and foreign films. It was interesting for me to see how their biases coloured their judgment of a film suitability for public viewing with few exceptions most of them were pensioners and well-to-do ladies (mostely housewives) who could afford to come and see a film in the afternoon or the morning of a working day. I remember how strongly one o them objected to a film of a Russian ballet on the grounds that the dances tutus exhibited a lot of shoulder and leg. No reasoning would satisfy her. Finally after record after recording her minority opinion I recommended to the censor board chairman that we pass it without any cuts for universal exhibition. Yet scenes in other film which I found vulgar or very violent (to the point of desensitizing children to acts of violence) raised no objection at all form these good ladies they were prepared to pass them for universal exhibition. Throughout this project I have been aware that I analyzing film my bias against imperialism may be colorings my better judgment and I have tried my best to guard against as an educationist I known how enduring childhood impressions are.

My work with the film censor board proved to be a mixed blessing I had to see films regardless of their quality or interest. But the advantage was that during a period of five years I saw about 4,000 films (including shorts) of many different types. I found most of them quite poor I would have chosen very few of them for a film society screening but I did take heart at that were I to make a film it would not be much worse than many that we certified. (I longed to try my hand at filmmaking.) The other good thing that happened was my transfer to the Calcutta office of the censor board in 1966. The workload was east and I had more free time. I was able to observe the satyajit Ray and other Bengali directors worked. Ray who had become a good friend gave me not only his scripts to read but even loaned me his copy of the novel on which his film Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder 1973) was based. He told me that for many years he had thought of filming the story and had marked in that copy of the book the portion that he would keep and those he would keep and those he would alter. He thought exercise would be of interest to me as a student of cinema. It was and we had some discussion on both the book and his film. Read his script f Alien that he was to make for a big American studio with peter sellers in the lead role. It was put in cold storage on account of some trouble with script right someone else claimed he was its author. That seemed impossible to me. Anybody who has seen the script and is familiar with Ray scripts will recognize his signature on it from the very first sequence.

Both Ray and Louis Malle whom I met in Calcutta when he visited the city in 1967 encouraged me In indulging my desire to make a film and I decided to take the plunge once I found a suitable subject. That happened soon enough. To reach my office I had to take a route that skirted the river Hooghly. On certain days I would witness the amazing phenomenon knows as the tidal bore in which the tide from the bay of Bengal comes thundering down the river like a moving wall of water often as high as 15 feet. It intrigued me. Why did the tide rise almost vertically on one side of the shore on some days? Why did it flow in normally on others? My friend did not know. I approached the officers of the port trust of Calcutta. They were delighted with my interest they drew charts and talked about celerity and the surface tension of water what that apparently changed with the amount of Silt in the river basin a film explaining this phenomenon with all its drama and thrill would be a worthwhile project. So I got stated.

My Frit Film
While watching films whenever I came across signs of technical excellence I would note the names of those young technicians who had talent but who were not them well known. My team was ready. Ray agreed to do but who were not then well known. My team was ready. Ray agreed to do the commentary; male sent me some negative film stock from Paris. My friends and daughters assisted me in my venture with money-as a loan if I could return it or as a donation if I could not. I borrowed some more on my insurance policy. I then left the Censor Board, went back to my parent Ministry of Education and shot my first documentary, The Tidal Bore, in 1967-68. The film, made on a shoestring budget, taught me a lot about filmmaking; it also taught me to be more humble and tolerant in criticizing similar first efforts by others. But, best of all, I realized what an effective educational tool a good film could be, making as it does distant lands and people tangible and real to children and at the same time clarifying difficult and abstract notions through the visual medium. Although, through education, a society tries to pass on to the next generation the values and cultural mores it considers sacred, education also shows students that these values and mores are not absolutes or sacred cows; if they have outlived their raison d’être, one should not be afraid to alter or even discard them. The Tidal Bore was a descriptive, informative film. Later, I made others that aimed at stimulating and encouraging viewers to think and explore further on their own.

My first film was a modest success, in the sense that the Government of India sent it as its entry to the Mannheim Film Festival. Later, the Films Division (FD) bought it for public circulation in theatres all over the country. Though this enabled me to pay off my loans, it hardly left me with any money for further adventures in filmmaking for several years.

Education and Media
My chance to go back to filming came when India decided to embark on the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) with the object of testing the feasibility of using communication satellites to reach backward areas and populations for developmental work. UNICEF hired me for two months to make two test modules for children in the six-nine age group. These were field tested and proved to be both effective and popular. In 1975, I was asked to head the newly established Centre for Educational Technology (CET) under the aegis of the National Council of Education, Research and Training (NCERT). In the course of this job, my team made a multimedia package, including educational films for in-service training of primary school teachers that were broadcast via satellite. In one year we were able reach 48, 000 teachers. I was fortunate in persuading eminent filmmakers like mrinal sen Sukhdev Sandhu and many other so make film on selected topics at a pittance. Four of our films went on to win awards at international film festival. I thus learnt a little bit about media communication and filmmaking for children and educational purposes but I still had no experience of making videos. After my retirement from CET in 1980 at the age of 60 the university Grants commission of India (UGC) asked me to head its countrywide classroom project aimed at equipping selected university with studios and personnel to make education TV programmes for undergraduates to be beamed via INSAT. Here I learnt much about both the software and hardware of video technology. Thus most of my work has been in the field of education and media for development. I had written on films even taught a course on film appreciation in the film and television institute of India (FTII) but except for the films that I was making I had never undertaken any research work in the area of films per se. air the ripe age of 78 one does not ordinarily embark on a big project such as the one that led to this book. The propelling urge to do so was the death of a friend.

Louise Malle
The idea of studying film on Indian made by non-Indians had crossed my mind as I watched an excellent film on jean Renoir made by David Thompson for the BBC Omnibus series at the 1995 festival of New films and videos at montreal. In the portion relating to his film the River (1951) based on a Rumer godden novel of the same name (1946) Adrienne Corri one of the cast spoke eloquently about about how Renoir very depressed with his American experience blossomed in India and was revived by his sojoun there. I had earlier read about Reberto Rossellini Indian experience and his enthusiasm for India and I thought it may be worthwhile for somebody (not myself) to examine what Indian had given to such sensitive and creative filmamakers as Renoir and Rossellini.

The death of Louis Malle in November 1995 eventually became the trigger for action on my part. I had met Malle when he come to India as a member of a French film delegation. As I was at the time the highest ranking officer dealing with films in Calcutta my bosses in the ministry of information and broadcasting had asked me to make all the arrangement for meeting the delegation and arranging a festival of French films. We stated off on the wrong foot when Malle learnt that I was the censor. At the dinner given in honour of the delegations he was sitting next to me and he could not wait to express his disgust at my job. On the cover of the brochure that we had brought out for the festival he wrote I hat all censors and passed it to me. I was taken aback. But I had read about the troubles that he had undergone with censorship in France and the USA. I suppose I also vaguely remembered how once I had looked on all British people with a jaundiced eye. I somehow managed a smile and asked him how he expected me to react to his remark laugh it off as a poor joke or ignore it with a stiff upper lip? He was immediately contrite and apologized, I suppose he alter enquired about me and learnt that I was a film buff and not bad as censor officers went. Our acquaintance soon developed into a firm friendship that survived over 28 years and across several continents. In the glittering business of cinema I have never met anybody else who had such a vast talent and yet was so very unassuming and modest. He was warmhearted and had a childlike curiosity about everything and a desire to probe beyond the surface. He hated the poverty and obvious misery that he saw on the streets of Calcutta but was also aware of the undercurrent of strength that sustain the city and its people. He visited Orissa. Sleeping under the stars and talking to fishermen he saw a different world and culture that charmed and soothed him for he had been under stress for some time. He was at odds with Gaullist France and was facing several other tension. He decided to try to learn about India the way he knew best by filming. In his very first letter to me from Paris he wrote about his resolve to come back and his delight that the Julie Christie project he was to do had been postponed.

Malle and I had long discussions about films and his India project. I even accompanied him on one or two shoots. In April 1970 I went to paris for six month as a fellow of UNESCO international institute of educational planning. There I had a chance to see how he and Suzanne Barn were putting the Indian material together. Later he even arranged a special of all his India film for me. I was distressed to see the harsh reaction to his film in India mostly based on hearsay (since the film were not seen India) I immediately wrote an article for filmfare in which quoting my stint with Indian censorship I said that if the film were imported and sent to the censor board for certification it would be hard for any conscientious censor officer to ban them since there was nothing in them that went against the guidelines of the Board.

Indira Gandhi was then prime minister of India I had me her several times when she was vice president federation of the film societies of India and I was secretary I had also met her in my capacity as censor officer when she was minister information and broadcasting. I knew that earlier she had come to the rescue of Sukhdev one of our most talented documentary filmmaker when the censor had made some very stupid cuts. I suggested to Malle that eh write to her. He agreed at once and wrote that contrary to all that had been said against him he loved India and that his films should first be seen before being condemned. On my return to Delhi from Paris I sent the letter over to the Prime Minister. Three day later I received a telephone call from her social secretary Usha Bhagat saying that the anger was not so much against him as against the BBC and that Mrs Gandhi would soon see the film and the matter could then be sorted out. That never happened though; soon after, India was plunged into a war against Pakistan over the issue of Bangladesh.

I had telephoned Malle a few days before his death; I had planned to visit him in Los Angeles but was unable to leave immediately. After his death when going over his letters and remembering him I noticed something I had not realized before namely how India had changed him. I had no fully comprehended it until then because the information had come in bits and pieces over several years. Here was a firsthand experiences about how one very creative and sensitive non-Indian filmmaker had perceived India and why. I could not now wait and hope that somebody younger than me might take up such a study. When his son manuel learnt of my project he passed on a copy of Malle 50 page travel diary in India to use as I considered fit. In it Malle explains why he come to India and what conceptual and other problem he had to resolve during shooting. With access to such excellent material I felt that I could not offer the excuse of being too old to take on the job. I was well aware that my age was not he only problem there were many other. But as the seventeenth century Marathi saint poet Sant Ramdas said if is worth doing star doing it and it gets done. I have followed his advice.

 

Contents

 

  Foreword by Thomas Waugh IV
  Acknowledge XIV
  Introduction: My pather Panchali Story of the Road 1
Chapter 1 Short film of the Silent Era 31
Chapter 2 Rajahs and Yogis 69
Chapter 3 Empire films of the colonial era 97
Chapter 4 Empire films of the postcolonial era 140
Chapter 5 Seekers I 180
Chapter 6 Seekers II 237
Chapter 7 Insider-outsider 270
Chapter 8 New trends 325
Chapter 9 Gender roles and relations 376
Chapter 10 Conclusion Perception reality and independence 390
Appendix 1 Letters from Louis Malle and his crew 409
Appendix 2 A List of German films: 1913-1922 501
Appendix 3 Synopses of Selected Films 511
  Index 539

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