Indian Cinema : Contemporary Perceptions From The Thirties || A Celluloid Chapter Documentation

Rating : 7/10

Review by Ankur Sardana

Since its invention, cinema has been preserving history for posterity. A few hundred years from now, future generations will look at all the videos with great amusement. After a couple of hundred more years they might look at our videos with bewilderment and frankly I can’t imagine what will happen after that. 

For now I look at the cinema 80-100 years back with warm, innocent nostalgia. Naively, I always assume that life in the past would be less stressful, slower and more enjoyable. But when I look at some hard hitting documentation from that time, naivety matures into reality. Cinema wasn’t all that easy during that time, nor was the life of people in it. But passion, money and desire to do something big and new drove the people who made cinema in India. And so is the case now.

The documentation by the Celluloid Chapter provides an interesting (sorry ! I too hate this word – interesting) view of the times. There is no single thread in the compilation, its a healthy mix of criticism, hope and opinions. For the benefit of nostalgia suckers, I’m putting up some pages in random order.

A letter from K.A. Abbas to Gandhiji (who didn’t like films. Ahem !). Look at the way he balances his sarcasm (mild) with laborious analogies. (click to enlarge)

One of the sections has essays from actors (‘players’ as they call themselves). The one from Sulochana is deep and young at the same time.


Love (click to enlarge)

There are also European and American critic talking about initial Indian cinema. In the essay ‘Suggestions to the Indian Cinema’ by Irene Nicholson we hear opinions around how Indian Cinema should be different from Hollywood and that the difference could be drastic.


There is no dearth of criticism about the lack of depth in the stories. Here’s one of the funnier one’s ‘Overflow from the pen of the sufferer – Sultan Mirza’, who talks about the Hero being Hero and the Heroine not being left behind !

“Our wise producers are not satisfied with the strength of the hero only, so they wish that their heroine should necessarily or unnecessarily be equal to hero. It is a common sight to find a heroine throwing a man after man from the car. She cannot be hurt even by chance for she is the heroine of the play. It touches me like anything, Would any hon’ble directors or producers or those who appreciate these films like to have their lady-love so strong? If so, then of course they should be careful lest they meet the same fate by offending her.” – Sultan Mirza


I loved this piece by Nikhil N Sen : Photogenique, where he talks about the impact cinema can have. The importance of (the camera) staying on an aspect of the object. An aspect which might not be clear earlier. I remember Anurag Kashyap saying, that the camera lingers on objects which have something to say.

“The camera is not a recording instrument, it is something more, it expresses the inexpressible and I better leave it at that.” – Nikhil N Sen

This essay on types of Indian cinema by J.N Mitra is also very interesting.

If we analyse the pictures shown in Calcutta, during the last six months, they can be classified under the following heads, namely, Pouranic, Semi – Pouranic or Religious, Mahomedan, Semi-Historical, Classical, Social, Comic, Lyric and Stunt pictures.



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