By Sahana Ghosh
Unhappy with the way the current crop of film students are being shaped up through short-term courses, National Award-winning director and cinematographer Govind Nihalani has lashed out at “shortcut” courses for their failure to connect aspirants with Indian cinema’s rich history and legacy.
The 74-year-old veteran of Indian cinema, known for mainstreaming parallel cinema and churning out critically-acclaimed films (that also gained mass popularity) based on socio-political issues, is in sync with modernity – his next outing, after a decade, is a 3D animation for children.
But he is critical of the manner in which filmmaking students are banking more on “quick results” and less on links with history.
“What has happened today is all the courses are becoming very short. People want quick results three months over and you think you are a filmmaker…Also there is no connection, no inheritance.
“There are no shortcuts. We should do something about people who are educating the next generation of filmmakers so that they tell the students it is important to know about the past, but people who are learning have no time for that. They just want everything fast,” Nihalani told IANS in an interview here.
The six-time National Award-winner has churned out gritty and thought-provoking films like “Aakrosh”, “Vijeta”, “Ardh Satya”, “Drishti”, “Rukmavati Ki Haweli” “Drohkaal” and “Dev”.
Nihalani made his directorial debut in 1980 with the gripping “Aakrosh” and has worked as a cinematographer in filmmaker Shyam Benegal’s ventures such as “Junoon”, “Nishant” and “Ankur.” He also shot the documentary helmed by Benegal on master storyteller Satyajit Ray.
“Time moves on…some things become old and some things don’t,” said Nihalani with a twinkle in his eyes, when quizzed on the relevance of masterpieces by legends like Ray.
This is where, he said, film festivals with retrospectives and literary works such as analysis etc. come in and help “connect present students with their past history so that they can see certain degree of continuation.”
The Padma Shri awardee collaborated with noted Indian playwrights Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Elkunchwar and Bhisham Sahni in a career spanning over three decades.
In 1996, “Kuruthipunal”, the Tamil remake of “Drohkaal” by Kamal Haasan, became India’s official entry for the 68th Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film category.
A patron of regional cinema, Nihalani observed that the process of mainstreaming of regional films, though not so evident, is already on.
“You see Tamil films are as good as Hindi films. There are remakes of Tamil films into Hindi and they look like Tamil films. Immediately it (mainstreaming) may not be so much but the process is on,” said the auteur.
Maintaining that theatre has its “own special place” despite the domination of Bollywood, the five-time Indian Filmfare Award winner considers the two media as “sisters”.
“…it (theatre) shouldn’t be seen as totally separate. There is quite a lot of overlap. There are some plays that are adapted to films and vice versa, they are sisters. Actors are going from theatre to films and vice versa and there are directors who are doing both,” explained Nihalani.
Age has caught on and he is a bit hard of hearing, but that hasn’t stopped the auteur from experimenting and rethinking cliches like Bollywood aping the West.
“Exchange of ideas is happening constantly as our films might inspire others. It is no more following somebody or aping somebody,” said Nihalani.
Be it the Partition saga “Tamas”, the issue of Naxalism in “Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa” (adapted from noted author Mahasweta Devi’s Bengali novel) or the fight against terrorism in “Drohkaal”, his projects have never shied away from the harsh realities and extremities of human nature.
This is reflected in his inclination to “keep pace with” evolving technology in filmmmaking.
“I don’t think there is any other alternative. Like today there is no celluloid, so if I say celluloid was very good and I want to make film on celluloid, I can’t make it… so I have to make my equation with technology and do the best with the tools I have.
“We have to accept the reality and keep pace with it,” said the director whose last film was the heart-wrenching drama “Dev” (2004) centred on Hindu-Muslim riots.