My Journey through Films and Film Songs 8

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My friend Mahesh Chandra Sharma had given up his studies after graduation and become a teacher to help his family. We continued to spend much time with each other, during which we saw many films together, exchanged information about them and tested each other about our knowledge. A third member joined us in the form of Karuna Shankar Chaurasia, son of a cloth merchant who owned a shop on Sitabaldi main road. Karuna was a year junior to us in Somalwar Academy but slightly older than Mahesh. He shared our interests in films as well as sports, especially cricket. He had played cricket for the school as a leg spinner. Mahesh and I began to watch movies more frequently. With both of us earning now, funds were no longer a problem. We watched the films in the lowest class spending only four and three quarter annas (equivalent to 19 paise now).

Like in most cities in India, the number of cinema halls began burgeoning in the 1940s and 1950s. There were several cinema halls where all three of us lived, close to the Sitabaldi Main Road, renamed Mahatma Gandhi Road in honour of the father of the nation. It is a kilometer long street stretching from a railway under bridge at the southern end of Nagpur railway station in the east, locally known as Loha Pul, to the junction with Kamptee Road, Amraoti Road and Wardha Road in the west, locally known as Variety Square. The street was full of shops selling goods of every kind to meet the needs of the populace. In the Sitabaldi market, people were friendly and helpful in contrast with their counterparts in Sadar, that served officials in Civil Lines, who tended to be uptight and sanitized, or those in the jostling, crowded, Itwari that was the city’s wholesale market, where people could be curt and short tempered. My friend Mahesh’s mother used to say,

Sadar me qadar
Sitabaldi me nyao
Joothe khana ho to
Itwari chowk me jao

Variety Square derives its name from an old cinema hall that existed in the place now occupied by Eternity Mall. Architecturally, Variety Cinema was nothing to boast of. It was merely a large shed that could easily be mistaken for a godown, but for the cinema hoarding in front and the crowds around the building. It was not the oldest cinema hall in the city. From my early days in Kanhan in 1938-43, I recall watching movies in Manik Talkies in Itwari (Swiss Miss, Gopala Krishna, Bhakta Kabir), in Regent Cinema, located diagonally opposite to Variety in Sitabaldi (Jawab, Bhakta Potana, Swarga Seema, Ram Rajya, Prisoner of Zenda) and in Minerva Cinema on Kamptee Road about two kilometers from Variety Square (Jhoola, Doctor, Basant, Kismet). Century old Regent Cinema was closed some years ago and has been converted into a restaurant called Opera House.

In 1952 there were several other cinema halls in and around Sitabaldi. To the east just beyond Loha Pul was Jayasree, owned by V Shantaram and named after his first actress wife. On the road leading from Loha Pul towards Dhantoli, were Anand and Vasant built in 1949-50 and the older Shree Talkies. Regal cinema located in what was known as Buty compound could be approached through an ornate gate on Sitabaldi main road. All the Cinema halls showed Hindi and Marathi films. Some of them screened old English movies in morning shows on Sundays. Regent, Minerva later known as Bharat, and Liberty in Sadar. the latest to be built in Nagpur screened new English movies in regular evening shows. The import policies in force at the time allowed free import of British and Hollywood movies. Each film played for two to three days.

For the Indian film industry, 1952 was a year of breakthroughs and milestones. The most significant event was the First International Film Festival of India organised by the Films Division, Government of India. India's first colour film Aan was released in 1952. So was Baiju Bawra, the first film with all its songs based on classical ragas of Hindustani music. The Times of India group launched Filmfare, a magazine devoted to films.

Inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the first edition of International Film Festival of India was the first such Festival held anywhere in Asia. It was a non-competitive festival in which about 40 feature films and 100 short films from 23 countries were showcased. The selected films were first screened in Mumbai in January-February 1952, and later in Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram. Later, some of the movies were released for general exhibition. In Nagpur, we were able to watch Bicycle Thieves (Italy), Yukiwarisoo (Japan), and The Fall of Berlin (USSR) as well as the Indian entries for the festival Pathala Bhairavi (Telugu), and Babla (Bengali) dubbed in Hindi. Later, I watched Rashomon (Japan) in Visakhapatnam.

Yukiwarisoo (Hepatica - a wild flower) was a heartwarming Japanese film that became very popular in India because of its story line and an endearing performance by a lovable kid. Unfortunately, no information about the cast of the film is available on the internet. The film’s director Tomotaka Tasaka (1902 - 1974) was drafted into the Japanese Imperial army in 1945, the final year of the war, and while stationed in his hometown of Hiroshima with his unit, he was in the vicinity when the atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945. Being in the toilet afforded him some protection but he developed radiation sickness and after the war spent a long time undergoing medical treatment. He rarely spoke of his atomic bomb experience believing that 'nobody could comprehend the horror of the atomic bomb even if he were to describe it,' but incorporated his own experiences as an atomic bomb victim to raise the issue of the atomic bomb in a movie titled Nagasaki no Uta wa Wasureji (I'll Never Forget the Song of Nagasaki). After fighting his radiation sickness for three more years, with the support of his wife, actress HisakoTakihana, who gave up acting to devote herself to her husband, Tasaka succumbed to it on October 17, 1974. When the news of Tasaka's death reached the venue of the International Film Festival of India being held in New Delhi, Indian film personalities offered silent prayer for the spirit of Tasaka in memory of Yukiwariso.

Yukiwariso depicted a serious family conflict in the style of a light-hearted family drama. When the film was released in India it gained attention as an excellent picture, spawning many imitations. Shekhar Kapoor’s 1983 film Masoom had a strong resemblance to Yukiwariso but the screenplay and dialogues are credited to Gulzar. According to Wikipedia, Masoom is an adaptation of Eric Segal’s 1980 novel, Man, Woman and Child. There is also a Hollywood film on the novel, but no one mentions Yukiwariso.

Rashomon, the other Japanese film at the film festival was written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. It relates how different people describe the murder of a samurai in a forest, a dishonest retelling of the events in which everyone shows their real self by lying. Rashomon was the first Japanese film to receive a significant international reception and is considered one of the greatest films ever made. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 and Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards in 1952. One of Kurosawa's most celebrated films was Seven Samurai. Its influence on the film industry was unprecedented, and it is regarded as one of the most "remade, reworked, and referenced" films in cinema history. It inspired the Yul Brynner starring Hollywood movie The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Ramesh Sippy’s 1965 film Sholay.

Bicycle Thieves is a 1948 Italian neorealist drama film directed by Vittorio De Sica. It follows the story of a poor father searching in post-World War II Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job which was to be the salvation of his young family.

Bicycle Thieves received an Academy Honorary Award (most outstanding foreign language film) in 1950, and is deemed the greatest film of all time by different reviewers and as one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. De Sica was a leading figure in the neorealist movement in films. His film Yesterday Today and Tomorrow triggered the institution of a permanent award for best foreign film by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Of the four Indian entries, V Shantaram’s Marathi film Amar Bhoopali relates the true story of a Marathi poet in the early 19th century. Raj Kapoor’s Awaara blends social and reformist themes with crime and musical melodrama to explore whether good people are born to good people, and criminals are born to criminals. Vijaya Productions Telugu film Pathala Bhairavi is a fantasy film, a genre popular with South Indian viewers. Bengali film Babla, directed by Agradoot is a melodrama about the travails of an orphan in post war Kolkata.

The film festival, and more specifically Yukiwariso, Rashomon and Bicycle Thieves had a profound impact on Indian filmgoers as well as producers and directors. The themes and styles of these films had a realism that strongly appealed to Indian viewers. The quality of Indian films produced at this time can only be called mediocre, with rare exceptions. The story lines were tenuous and the characters, as well as their performers, tended to be typecast. Producers depended heavily on the music score for the success of their films. As one journalist put it, Hindi film story could be summed up as, “Boy meets girl, they sing, boy loses girl, girl sings boy sings, they get each other.” Shooting and recording technology remained stagnant and there was no novelty in narration techniques. Bengali and Marathi films were better in respect of story content. South Indian films were obsessed with mythological and fairy tale themes.

It can truly be said that the first International Film Festival of India was a watershed in the development of Indian cinema. It exposed the leaders of Indian film industry to global trends in film making and changed their way of thinking, resulting in a noticeable improvement in the films that followed.

Continued to Next Page  


More by :  Ramarao Annavarapu

Top | Cinema

Views: 496      Comments: 2

Comment We were not born during this timing but once read, feeling too nostalgic to see the films mentioned during that time. The narrative is outstanding and stimulates our inside about the grand old days our country had witnessed .

Pradip Mukherjee
05-Oct-2023 23:19 PM

Comment Delightful read.loved have really seen some great movies.thnx

05-Oct-2023 08:09 AM

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