Channel 4’s autumn Indian film season kicks off in the early hours of tomorrow morning and its recent trend to look further than the Mumbai film industry continues.
It begins, unusually, with a documentary in Bengali – though made by Polish director Andrzej Fidyk – about a mobile cinema run by Mr Battu and his two assistants.
Battu’s Bioscope (1998) is the first in a seven-strong run of documentaries about the many faces of India’s obsession with cinema titled Cinema On Cinema and will be followed later next month a quintet of Bollywood feature films.channe
Battu’s travelling cinema consists of a rickety old truck, an ancient projector, a few white sheets and several cans of B-grade Indian movies. Though their meanderings tend to be eventful, there’s more to Battu’s odyssey than immediately meets the eye. With his wife mysteriously kidnapped, his travels around West Bengal and Orissa are as much about finding her as bringing entertainment to faraway villages.
Following Battu’s Bioscope is Pancham Unmixed, an intriguing chronicle in Hindi of the life of composer RD Burman (the son of Bollywood composer SD Burman and affectionately known as Pancham).
The films stick with Hindi for Rangbhoomi, an experimental documentary of the iconic ghats, narrow lanes and forgotten spaces of the holy city of Varanasi and the time spent there by early Indian film maker DG Phalke.
After this comes The Human Factor, Rudradeep Bhattacharjee’s informative and entertaining film about India’s movie musicians.
This documentary explores the fascinating story of one set of film orchestra musicians: the Lords, a Parsi family who have worked in Hindi cinema from the very first sound film, Alam Ara, back in 1931. There are few film soundtracks without a contribution from Cawas Lord or his sons, Kersi and Burjor, but it was – until now – a little documented area of Indian cinema history.
From there Cinema On Cinema heads south to Madras, to chronicle an unusual filmi play with Karan Bali’s take on a largely unknown slice of Tamil film history in An American In Madras.
That American was Ellis R Dungan, who travelled to India in the 1930s, intending to stay for just six months but ended up living in Madras for 15 years, directing many key films of the era. His classics include Tamil superstar MGR’s first film, Sathi Leelavathi (1936), and the celebrated Carnatic vocalist MS Subbulakshmi’s most famous films, Sakuntalai (1940) and Meera (1945).
Bali’s documentary is followed by something decidedly non-mainstream. Supermen of Malegaon follows a group of quirky no-budget film-makers who make their own hilarious spoofs of blockbusters.
The documentary explores, in Hindi and Urdu, the complexities of India, where the modern and the traditional meet, where extreme poverty and extreme wealth are neighbours, but where the human spirit is seemingly indomitable.
- Battu’s Bioscope – Tuesday 29 September, 01:05
- Pancham Unmixed – Thursday 1 October, 04:00
- Rangbhoomi – Tuesday 6 October, 02:20
- The Human Factor – Thursday 8 October, 03:35
- An American In Madras – Tuesday 13 October, 02:05
- Supermen of Malegaon – Thursday 15 October, 01:30