Kunwar Narain, Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi and recipient of the Jnanpith Award, is one of the most respected poets in Hindi. For some time, he has been battling for life in an ICU room where he has been lying in coma. His admirers hope that his indefatigable will power will pull him out of this illness and he will be able to celebrate his 90th birthday on September 19 with his family and friends. As he says in the opening lines of one of his poems: “If I return this time, I will return better.”
Just a few days ago, a short article by Hindi poet-critic Vishnu Khare, who is well-known for his passion for films and film music and has written extensively on both, drew my attention to the fact that Kunwar Narain has been regularly writing on world cinema for many decades and Rajkamal Prakashan has brought out a collection of his writings just a few months ago. Titled “Lekhak ka Cinema” (A Writer’s Cinema) and edited by Geet Chaturvedi, the book is, as Khare aptly describes it, a veritable “pocket encyclopaedia” of world cinema. It also demonstrates the kind of wonders that can happen when creative writers attempt to critically appreciate an art form that demands a different kind of artistic creativity and wherewithal.
The book offers a panoramic view as well as a critical analysis of world cinema since Kunwar Narain has attended national as well as international film festivals regularly for several decades. Films of all the important directors including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Costa-Gavras, Bertrand Tavernier, Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini, Miklós Janscó, Ingmar Bergman, Andrzej Wajda, Akira Kurosawa, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray have been discussed, analysed and evaluated in the articles collected in this volume.
When Satyajit Ray was making “Shatranj ke Khiladi”, he struck an abiding friendship with Narain, a quintessential Lakhnavi, and roamed around in the lanes of Lucknow in his company to savour the sounds and smells of the city. However, when Narain wrote on the film, he did not spare the great film director as he had, in Narain’s view, fiddled with the literary intention of Premchand and concentrated more on showing the culture of the city in all its splendour, that too with a tinge of romantic attachment. Yet, the bond between the poet and the filmmaker was so strong that just three months before his death, Ray wrote him a poignant letter in which he said, “…I have told my cardiologist that I need no more strength than to make one film every year. I already have a screenplay ready which I hope to film as soon as I have recovered my strength…”
Incidentally, it is the poets and fiction writers who are primarily responsible for the birth and growth of serious film criticism in Hindi. In 1965, newsweekly ‘Dinman’ was launched with top Hindi writer Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan ‘Agyeya’ as its editor. ‘Agyeya’ brought together a galaxy of famous writers in its editorial team. They included Raghuvir Sahay, Shrikant Verma, Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena and Manohar Shyam Joshi. Soon, the magazine acquired such a great reputation for serious journalism that remains unrivalled till today. ‘Dinman’ was the first modern magazine that offered serious reviews of Hindi and foreign films, art exhibitions, books and theatre. In 1969, ‘Agyeya’ handed over the baton to Raghuvir Sahay who edited the magazine with great distinction until 1982. It was he who inspired Netra Singh Rawat — and later poets Vinod Bharadwaj and Prayag Shukla, who had also joined the editorial staff, to write on films. At times, Sahay himself would write film reviews or interview film directors along with his colleagues. While Bharadwaj later made a name for himself both as a film and art critic, Shukla devoted himself mainly to art criticism and emerged as the foremost art critic in Hindi. Rawat, on his part, was primarily responsible for creating a language of film criticism and introducing and establishing Ritwik Ghatak in Hindi.
Vani Prakashan brought out a collection of Vinod Bharadwaj’s writings on cinema titled “Cinema: Kal, Aaj, Kal” (Cinema: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow) in 2006 and even a cursory look at its contents is enough to show how rich film criticism in Hindi has become. Netra Singh Rawat’s contribution was celebrated by Madhya Pradesh Film Development Corporation in 1992 when its magazine ‘Patkatha’ published a special commemorative number on him that contained his writings.
In 1993, the MPFDC brought out a collection of articles edited by Vinod Bharadwaj. Titled “Cinema Ek Samajh” (Cinema: An Understanding), the book contained interviews and articles written by Kunwar Narain, Raghuvir Sahay, Prayag Shukla, Mangalesh Dabral, Vinod Bharadwaj, Netra Singh Rawat, Vishnu Khare and Vijay Mohan Singh, all of whom happened to be well-known poets and fiction writers.
If one wants to know about the developments that were taking place in the Indian and world cinema in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and to read high-quality appreciation of films of this era, these publications are a compulsory reading.