Best of Indian Cinema

27 June, 2004 at 03:19 Leave a comment

Time magazine has announced its list of the 100 greatest films ever. The selection spans many a country, era, and cinematic genre. Five Indian films made the list –

1) Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’ (1955)
Translated as ‘Ballad Of The Road, ‘Ray’s debut film is considered one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces.
Based on a classic Bengali novel by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee, the story revolves around a rural Indian family. The central characters are the daughter of the house, Durga, and a wizened aunt, Indir Thakrun. That is, till Apu is born. Apu brings exultation to the film, his every screen moment bursting with life. But his joyous adventures don’t last. The aged aunt passes away, and, one stormy day, Durga too dies. The devastated family decides to make a fresh start. The film closes with the husband, wife, and Apu leaving their village in a bullock cart.

2) Satyajit Ray’s ‘Aparajito (‘1956)
Second in Ray’s celebrated Apu Trilogy, the film continues where ‘Pather Panchali’ left off.
Apu is 10 years old when the film opens. He grows both physically and emotionally throughout. His father dies early in the film, and his mother, Sarbajaya, intensely attached to Apu, inducts him into priesthood. But Apu isn’t content. The young boy wants to go to school. He persuades Sarbajaya, who sacrifices all for the child’s education. At 16, Apu wins a scholarship and goes to Calcutta. This breaks his mother’s heart. And, as he slaves away in Calcutta to ensure he is able to study, Apu grows away from his mother. His increasingly shorter visits make Sarbajaya ache. Eventually, Apu returns to an empty house. Sarbajaya too has left him. The boy, who has grown up seeing death from up close, grieves but finds the strength to leave the village for the last time. The city beckons him. Truly an unparalleled coming-of-age film.

3) Satyajit Ray’s ‘Apur Sansar’ (1959)
In the conclusion to the Apu films, Satyajit Ray introduced a truly special leading pair. Soumitra Chatterjee, who played Apu, was then a radio announcer with negligible stage experience, and Sharmila Tagore was just a 14 year old.
Apu (Chatterjee) is now an unemployed graduate, living in a rented room by a railway yard. He hunts for a job, in vain, and is forced to sell his books to pay his rent. Undeterred, he is writing a novel on his life, which he dreams will make him famous. His friend, Pulu, is the one he shares his dreams with. One day, Pulu takes Apu along to a cousin’s wedding.
On the wedding day, it is discovered that the groom is mentally deranged. To help the bride, Aparna (Tagore), avoid social stigma, Apu agrees to step in as the groom. Apu and Aparna develop a warm intimacy as they live in his Calcutta apartment. But death barges into Apu’s life again – Aparna passes away giving birth to their son. A traumatised Apu abandons the child he holds responsible for Aparna’s death, throws away his unifinished novel and lives as a wanderer. Pulu eventually brings him back, but the son now refuses to accept Apu as the father. Apu makes amends and wins over the little boy. He is accepted as a friend, but not as a father yet. Finally, the two leave together and forge a new beginning.

4) Guru Dutt’s ‘Pyaasa’ (1957)
Unquestionably the gem in Dutt’s filmography, Pyaasa is a dark and mesmerising classic, and one of the most romantic films ever.
Vijay (Dutt) is a talented poet. But – as is the fate of wordsmiths ahead of their time – publishers don’t want to touch him. His brothers throw him out of the house after he realises they have sold his poems to a junk dealer. While hunting for his poems, Vijay meets Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman), a streetwalker who falls in love with him. Vijay, trying to disengage himself, goes to his college reunion, where he meets his former sweetheart, Meena (Mala Sinha). Former because Meena conveniently left him for Ghosh, a flourishing publisher. Ghosh hires Vijay, but as a mere clerk, while sadistically refusing to publish his poems. After Vijay is fired, he offers his coat to a beggar. The beggar dies in a train accident, and, because of the coat, it is assumed that Vijay is dead. Gulabo convinces Ghosh to publish Vijay’s work posthumously. Vijay, stunned at the publication, tries in vain to announce that he is alive. He only succeeds in getting himself confined to a mental asylum.
In a compelling and touching climax, Vijay escapes and attends his own death anniversary gathering.

5) Mani Ratnam’s ‘Nayakan’ (1987)
An early Ratnam film, Nayakan was the defining moment in the filmmaker’s career.
Far beyond a mere Godfather-tribute, this film was superbly earthy and relatable, and earnestness dripped from each frame. Kamal Haasan plays Velu Nayakar, a boy who turns to crime after his father is killed by the police. The film is a triumph. Velu shuttles between issues stemming from both the families he leads – at home and in the underworld – giving his character a thick outline of reality. The film has brilliantly etched moments that make it unforgettable. For example, when Velu wants to give his son the nod to head a particular undercover operation, he hands him a paan. The son takes it, but turns away from it as he eats it — as a mark of respect for his father. Wordlessly, all is made magnificently clear. Fabulous cinema.

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Entry filed under: Arts, India.

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