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Updated: October 14, 2009 14:26 IST

Encyclopaedic study of Indian cinema

RANDOR GUY
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The author, Ashish Rajadhyaksha, is a well known film historian, scholar, and analyst who has written extensively on various aspects of critical interest about Indian cinema, which in effect means Hindi cinema. Indeed many writers including Indians have always equated Hindi cinema with Indian cinema, with the result that those in the western hemisphere are hardly aware of the contribution of the cinema in south Indian languages — Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.

Rajadhyaksha has not kept himself fully away from the pitfall that other historians have been slipping into. While his work under review is encyclopaedic in its sweep, content, and presentation, it is really an epitome of Hindi cinema with some discussion about Bengali cinema and passing references to some of the recent developments in Telugu cinema and also Malayalam.

Film scholars and students of cinema, even those in the United States, Germany and other western countries, are well aware of the historical and political significance of Tamil cinema which has made incredible history not only by triggering changes in the nation’s political history but also demonstrating how cinema can at once be a medium and the message itself — one that has the embedded power to capture political power. It is no exaggeration to say that the fact that the Dravidian parties have been in power in Tamil Nadu without a break since 1967 — keeping the Fort St. George out of bounds for the Congress, the party unseated by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam under the leadership of Annadurai — is a true testimony to the power of cinema as the message and the medium.

In the book, practically very little is discussed. It just mentions in passing Rajinikanth and carries a couple of postage stamp-sized stills from the watershed Tamil movie Parasakthi written by Karunanidhi.

The author writes about the iconic mother in the movie, played by Telugu actress Sriranjini Jr. (who was brought on board late in the day as a substitute for the well-known multilingual star Raja Sulochana). The role of the widowed sister is only supportive, and not the main thrust of Parasakthi. To use a cliché, the author has missed the wood for the trees.

Milestone movies

Rajadhyaksha has delved deep into the various phenomena drawn from several arts which contributed immensely to the study of Indian cinema. He has also analysed in depth some of the milestone Indian movies including those of maestros like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Mani Kaul, Kumar Sahni, B. R. Chopra, Anant Patwardhan, Kwaja Mohamed Abbas, Deepa Mehta, Gautum Ghosh, Gurinder Chaddha.

He has also discussed , inter alia, controversial personalities like Bal Thackeray and taken a look at some of the foreign movie world personalities and their contribution. They include Joan Crawford, Victor Fleming (the director credited with Gone With the Wind, although many others worked on the movie), Sergei Eisenstein, Richard Attenborough, and Alain Resnais. Allied art forms like dance and painting which have in their own ways contributed to the artistic, spatial content of cinema have also received attention.

Excellently printed and richly illustrated, the book will be a useful addition to the libraries around the world interested in studies on Indian cinema. Discerning observers of Indian cinema will also find it interesting.A welcome effort indeed!

INDIAN CINEMA IN THE TIME OF CELLULOID: Ashish Rajadhyaksha; Tulika Books, 35 A/1 (Third Floor) Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110049. Rs. 995.

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