Queens of Indian Parallel Cinema
For the unversed, parallel cinema or art-house cinema refers to the alternative film movement that originated in India in West Bengal.
Art-house Cinema or parallel cinema saw its introduction in India in the 1980s. A wave of parallel cinema swept through Indian Cinema. For the unversed, parallel cinema or art-house cinema refers to the alternative film movement that originated in India in West Bengal.
Globally, Italian Neo-realism inspired Parallel Cinema and it began before the French New Wave and Japanese New Wave of Cinema.
Bengali Cinema was the first torchbearers of this film movement. Acclaimed filmmakers of Indian Parallel Cinema include the likes of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha, among many others. Parallel Cinema takes upon content, which is serious, and explores the elements of realism and naturalism. In addition, it also touches upon the socio-political climate of the times. The Indian Parallel Cinema also rejects the traditional dance-and-song routine of Indian mainstream films.
An important aspect of Parallel or Art house cinema was the depiction of female characters in their films. The Art house genre of cinema adhered to the artistic sensibilities of the director and writer. They tried to depict a non-fictional representation of the society. They laid out thorough and intellectual narration and stuck to the true happenings prevailing in society. These creators catered to a niche audience.
Portrayal of women in the media, especially in films has often been subject of opinionated discussion. It would still not be completely correct to state that depiction of women has improved in recent times. However, the perspective of the audience has surely changed. Movies, which were previously termed as unconventional and 'female-oriented', are receiving more acceptance than they did previously.
On one hand, when female-lead films like Mother India, which starred Nargis as the heroine went on to become smashing hits, films such as 'Samay (2003)' despite receiving appreciation for being ahead of its time, acclamation and National Award, turned out to be commercial failures. This points fingers to the audience choices back then.
Another reason in the filmmaking process that deserves attention at this point is a female in a lead role. It can be said that the audience was not ready for it back then. The case has not completely changed in the present times too.
Comparing to the options a male character has in terms of portraying in a film, the options provided by Indian mainstream cinema has been quite unsatisfactory. This is where the Parallel Cinema turned out to be a savior.
Since parallel cinema was not the conventional cinemas that tend to mostly use female characters for providing support to male characters, they produced strong, bold, unconventional and real female characters.
From Smita Patil to Tabu, Indian Parallel Cinema also saw excellent actresses like Shabana Azmi and Konkana Sen Sharma, who catered to Indian parallel cinema and gave us evergreen female characters.
SHABANA AZMI: Shabana Azmi was seen in almost all of the established art-house directors' films. This includes Shyam Bengal, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen and many others. She also gave the audience strong female characters in commercial and middle-of-the-road films. Notably, Shabana Azmi featured in 7 successful films alongside Rajesh Khanna. Some of her excellent films are Mrityudand: The Death Sentence – 1997 and Godmother-1999.
Shabana has the capability to reflect all the nuances of a character within herself, while also retaining her spontaneity as an actor. She shoots out the drama surrounding the character while also working on the authenticity of the roles that she took upon.
She is known for defying the societal norms by not hiding her husband's infidelity in the film 'Arth'. She played the character of Pooja Inder Malhotra in 'Arth'. Shabana's character went way ahead of its time and battled the rigorous belief that a wife, considering man as a polygamous species of gender, should just accept a debauchee man. She rejected the reconciliation efforts by her husband who abandoned her for another woman.
TABU: Tabu was once called the 'saviour of parallel cinema'. When it comes to Tabu, Astitva directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, was one such film, which instilled lasting impressions on the audience of parallel cinema. This film dealt with female sexuality, a topic for which the audience was not at all ready. At present times, there have been more films, which has gone on to explore female sexuality. Astitva picked up the lenses of female identity, male chauvinism and privilege. Notably, Madhuri Dixit, the heart-throb of the 90s was the first actor who was offered this character. However, she rejected the offer. This later turned out to be one of the most epic memento of Tabu's career.
Along with Astitva, Tabu was seen in films like Filhaal, Maachis, Maqbool, Chandni Bar, Cheeni Kum, Haider, Drishyam and the list goes on.
KONKANA SEN SHARMA: Daughter of the renowned parallel cinema director, Aparna Sen, Konkana Sen Sharma is not exactly a parallel cinema actor. She first received attention after winning the National Film Awards for Best Actress, for her performance in the film 'Mr and Mrs. Iyer', which was directed by her mother.
Another film where she portrayed excellent performance is '15 Park Avenue'. She took up on the role of a Schizophrenic patient with finesse that could blow the lid of one's mind. In the film, she creates an alternate reality where she gets married to her ex-fiancé. However, in reality in the film, she was never married. This performance that received acclaimed appreciation.
SMITA PATIL:The last features the best. Smita Patil is surely an epitome of Indian Parallel Cinema. She gave the audience some unforgettable characters. She has to herself characters of excellent finesse, which she took on over a career that just spun over a decade. She has to her credit, the Shyam Bengal-directed film, Mandi. She also shared the screen with Shabana Azmi in this masterpiece. Secondly, Mirch Masala would be another one in the discussion. It featured Patil and Naseeruddin Shah, who is another favourite in the art-house genre. Smita Patil was included in the '25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian Cinema' by Forbes on the occasion of the centenary of Indian Cinema in April 2013. 'Sonbai' the fierce and bold character held the audience in awe. She was also seen in the Mahest Bhatt-directed 'Arth'. This film saw the crossover of Smita and Shabana against each other. Smita Patil easily carried out the role of playing the 'other woman' even when she was a lead actress, a move that not many would have gathered the courage to do so. The Indian film world, however, lost this gem at an early stage. She succumbed to childbirth complications in the year 1986, at the age of 31.
Art house cinema is still experimented and explored by many independent filmmakers all around the world. On the other hand, the mainstream cinema is also trying out their hands in these so-called unconventional films. With these empowered and more iconic female characters, both in the mainstream and parallel cinema, is expected to be witnessed.