The next four films in Channel 4’s current Indian cinema season may not all live up to the parallel cinema (or art house or new cinema) billing of this post’s title, but I’m pretty sure Uski Roti will.
Directed by the late Mani Kaul, the 1970 is considered one of Indian New Cinema’s most significant films.
Based on a short story by the celebrated Hindi writer Mohan Rakesh, and shot in black and white, the drama is set in rural Punjab and tells the story of Balo (Garima), the young wife of a long-distance truck driver, Sucha Singh (Gurdeep Singh), and her young sister. Balo’s life revolves around her surly, absent husband, who comes home just once a week, and is rumoured to have a mistress (Savita Bajaj) in a nearby town.
Balo walks for miles from her home and waits for countless hours until her husband’s truck drives through the village so that she can give him the food she has prepared for him. He, on the other hand, is oblivious to his wife’s devotion, preferring to play cards with his friends.
I’ve not seen the film yet – and problems with my HD recorder mean I’m having, frustratingly, to pass on this Indian film season – but it’s “austere and poetic style”, which having seen a few Kaul films I’m more likely to consider dull, is apparently reminiscent of Robert Bresson’s work.
This is followed by 2009’s Abhay Deol-staring Road, Movie. Desperate to find an escape from a dreary future, Deol’s character Vishnu persuades a friend of his father’s to let him deliver the old man’s 1942 Chevy truck to the seaside museum to which it has been sold. Despite his father’s outrage at his son’s irresponsible behaviour, Vishnu sets off on his adventure across the harsh terrain of the Rajasthan desert, picking up runaways and meeting corrupt cops and a notorious bandit.
The third this slice of Indian film life is Do Dooni Chaar (Two x Two = Four), the 2010 film that reunites the popular 1970s pairing of Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, now, naturally, in parental roles.
The Duggals are a typical middle-class Delhi family with two children: the college-going Payal (Aditi Vasudev) and Sandeep (Archit Krishna), who is still at school. The patriarch of the house, Santosh Duggal (Rishi Kapoor), is a maths teacher who can only afford to run a scooter
The Duggals get by with a fair degree of good humour, until Santosh’s sister invites them to a wedding, but only if they come by car. Cue a series of mishaps, adventures and temptations that turn their life upside down.
The final film that has so far been announced in this run fits right back in the parallel cinema mould.
Khayal Gatha (The Khayal Saga) is an abstract exploration of the the genesis and development of the khayal, a form of northern Indian classical vocal music, which developed in the 18th century from earlier musical and poetic traditions.
This abstract exploration is directed by Kumar Shahani, who studied film in both India, under Bengali social realist Ritwik Ghatak, and France, where he worked as an intern on Robert Bresson’s Une femme douce (A Gentle Woman; 1969).
The experimental Hindi documentary is captured, dreamlike, on film by the renowned cinematographer KK Mahajan (Uski Roti, Padatik), echoing the essentially improvisatory nature of the art form it explores.
• Uski Roti – Monday 14 May, 00:25 – 02:20
• Road, Movie – Monday 14 May, 11:55 – 01:40
• Do Dooni Chaar – Monday 21 May, 00:35 – 02:35
• The Khayal Saga – Tuesday 22 May, 00:00 – 01:55