The image that Indian cinema conjures up is in stark contrast to the European film aesthetic!
Movies in India started with Raja Harishchandra, an epic based on an ancient mythological story. Similarly, other films from the silent era were closely related to old Indian myths and devotional stories, for instance, Kalia Mardan and Gautam Buddha. However, in the late 1950s, motion pictures in the country began having a European turn in case some specific regional languages, and a parallel cinema emerged.
These movies were being made by the young intelligentsia, influenced by the film society movement that started in many major cities in the early 1940s. Simultaneously, due to major world events altering the course of European countries, many film movements took shape there. A combined influence of both the radical artistic practices abroad and the perpetual formulaic structure of the prevailing commercial cinema propelled a spark in the youth. This led to the birth of a new kind of cinema.
Pather Panchali is considered a milestone achievement in Indian cinema. Written and directed by Satyajit Ray, it is adapted from a famous Bengali novel. The film also features musical compositions by Sitar Virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar. In hindsight, the film sounds like it has deep Indian roots, although it has strong Italian influences.
Satyajit Ray worked for an advertising firm, which sent him on a work trip to London. While he was there, he had a chance to see the European motion pictures there. Ray discovered Bicycle Thieves there, directed by Vittorio De Sica. This experience inspired him to ground his own work in reality and use some of the techniques used in the making of that film.
Bicycle Thieves was a part of the Italian Neo-Realism movement, which was strictly opposed to shooting in studios and chose real locations and non-actors to tell its story. Ray did the same for Pather Panchali; he came up with a film that gripped audiences with the story and authenticity of rural India. Winning awards internationally and making a true mark in world cinema.
The Calcutta Trilogy
Mrinal Sen is known for wearing his influences on his sleeve. For his Calcutta trilogy, Sen pulled from various parts of the world, but particularly from Europe. The trilogy consists of The Interview, Calcutta 71, and Padatik. All these films were deeply rooted in the distress of the times but borrowed heavily from overseas for their aesthetic inspirations. A decade earlier in France, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut were reinventing the grammar of cinema with films like Breathless and 400 Blows. They took pulp stories from America and gave them a French touch. Breaking all the established rules of the medium by setting up close-ups at the back of the head and cutting continuous shots, calling them ‘jump cuts’.Sen adopted this style for his trilogy to show the unrest among the youth and the Bengalis.
A story that is adapted from a Rajasthani folk tale by Vijaydan Detha, the film takes a completely different approach. Directed by FTII graduate Mani Kaul, the motion picture, unlike the source material, takes a completely European approach. To be specific, it follows the cinematic tradition implemented by Robert Bresson, who focused on the banal nature of subjects and used various techniques such as the ‘mechanical delivery’ of dialogues and late cuts to enhance his way of storytelling. Mani Kaul closely followed in Bresson’s footsteps.