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Art Cinema, also known as Parallel Cinema, form an integral part of Bollywood. They are an alternative to the mainstream commercial cinema especially for the people who use their brain while watching movies. Art Films are not considered to the part of mainstream cinema due to their serious content, realism, and naturalism.

The culture of Art Films first started in Bengali film industry. Critically acclaimed filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and others gained prominence in the other film industries as well.

The Parallel Cinema movement started in the late 1940s to the 1960s, by India’s great filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt and V. Shantaram. Real-life movies by these directors added a new perspective to the Indian movie industry. That is why this period is still considered as the Golden Age of Indian cinema. 

For the first time, Cinema became the mirror of the contemporary Indian society as movies which were made during this period were largely influenced from Indian Literature and current socio-political situations. Parallel cinema of the 70s and 80s gave careers to a whole new breed of young actors, including Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Amol Palekar, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Pankaj Kapoor, Deepti Naval, Farooq Shaikh etc. Actors from commercial cinema such as Rekha and Hema Malini ventured into art cinema.

Just a little sneak peek from the art cinema we have witnessed/missed so far, I won’t be narrating the whole story; otherwise, you won’t enjoy the film. Personally, I don’t like to be informed about the whole plot. This is kind of an extended written trailer of these films. I have personally loved each and every film mentioned. I hope these will mesmerize you too.

1. Arth (1982) 

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A film-maker who is having an extramarital affair with a female actor decides to leave his wife.  Pooja, who grew up as an orphan girl and always dreamt of owning a house, becomes insecure when she finds out that she and her husband, Inder0, have to leave the apartment they rent.

The twist that occurred when Inder gives her the keys of a new house proves to be double-edged, when it is revealed that he is in love with another woman, Kavita, with whom he earned the money (in the film industry) for the new apartment. While previously giving advice to her maid cheated by her husband, now Pooja becomes herself involved in a similar situation.

When Inder deserts Pooja for Kavita, she chooses to leave the apartment for a women’s hostel with only ₹2000 that she had when she got married. She is helped by Raj to surpass the difficulties of life as a single person, to find a job and to rely morally on herself. Raj and Pooja become good friends. Gradually, Kavita’s mental instability deepens her fears of insecurity, even after Inder requests Pooja to sign the divorce papers.

Watch the film to know what happens next!!

2. Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (1986) 

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The story begins in a courtroom where a teenage boy from a city slum is on trial for stabbing his father to death. Final closing arguments are presented, and the judge then instructs the jury to decide whether the boy is guilty of murder, which carries a mandatory death sentence.

Once inside the Jury discussion room, it is immediately apparent that all jurors with the sole exception of Juror Number 8 (K.K. Raina) have already decided that the boy is guilty and that they plan to return their verdict quickly, without taking time for discussion. His vote annoys the other jurors.

The rest of the film centers around the jury’s difficulty in reaching a unanimous verdict. While several of the Jurors harbour personal prejudices, Juror 8 maintains that the evidence presented in the case is circumstantial, and that the boy deserves a fair deliberation. 

Do watch the film to know and experience what happens next, it’s the only Indian remake I have personally loved, it’s a remake of the “Golden Bear” winning film, 12 Angry Men (1957) which was originally an adaptation from a teleplay by Reginald Rose.

3. Ijaazat (1987) 

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The movie is a powerful story that deals with feminism and patriarchy in middle-class India. It is about the present and past of Mahender and Sudha together as well as separately. The movie starts with Mahender (Naseeruddin Shah) getting down at the railway station and making his way to the waiting room just as it starts to rain heavily.

A woman, Sudha (Rekha), is already sitting in the waiting room. On seeing him, she tries to hide from him but later they confront each other. Now follows the flashback of their lives, do give it a watch as it was Directed by Gulzar Saab, music curated by R D Burman and obviously the realistic acting of Naseeruddin Shah, Rekha, and Anuradha Patel.

P.S.- Another of my favourites!

4. Salaam Bombay (1988) 

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The film chronicles the day-to-day life of children living in the slums of Bombay, India’s biggest city. Before the start of the film, Krishna has set fire to his bullying elder brother’s motor-bike. This has landed him in big trouble with his mother. She has taken him to the nearby Apollo Circus and told him that he can only come home when he earns 500 rupees to pay for the damaged bike. Krishna agrees and works for the circus.

The film begins as the circus is packing up to move on. His boss asks him to run an errand, but when Krishna returns, he finds that the circus has left. Alone, with nowhere to turn, and without the money to repay his mother, he travels to the nearest big city, Bombay. As soon as he arrives, he is robbed of his few possessions. He follows the thieves, befriends them, and ends up in the city’s notorious red-light area of Falkland Road, near the Railway Station.

Krishna gets a new name, “Chaipau”, and learns to live with it. His goal is still to get the money he needs to return home to his mother, but he soon finds out that saving money in his new surroundings is next to impossible. To make matters worse, he has a crush on a young girl named Sola Saal, who has been recently sold to the brothel. He sets fire to her room and attempts to escape with her, but the two are caught.

Sola Saal, who is considered valuable property since she is still a virgin, denies starting the fire and tearfully tries to resist her enslavement. The madame of the house asks Baba to ‘break her into’ the business, which Baba agrees to do. I won’t write the whole plot of the story, as you won’t feel the charm in watching the film.

5. Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1990) 

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After years of painstaking research at the cost of his personal life, Dr. Dipankar Roy (Pankaj Kapur) discovers a vaccine for leprosy. The news is flashed over television and overnight, an insignificant junior doctor receives international recognition. Professional jealousy and abuse of power threaten Dr. Roy, even as the Secretary of Health reprimands him for breaking the news to the press. He is asked to report to the Director of Health.

Professional colleagues Dr. Arijit Sen and Dr. Ramananda invite him to a lecture but, it is merely a pretense to humiliate him. Dr. Roy suffers a mild heart attack, but he refuses to go to the hospital. His wife (Shabana Azmi) and a few others like Dr. Kundu (Anil Chatterjee) and Amulya (Irfan Khan) stand by Dr. Roy, but the harassment continues; a letter from a British foundation, John Anderson Foundation, is suppressed and Dr. Roy is transferred to a remote village.

The last straw is two American doctors receiving credit for discovering the same vaccine. Dr. Roy is on the verge of breaking down. However, in the end, Dr. Roy gets an invitation from John Anderson Foundation inviting him to be a part of an eminent group of scientists working on other diseases. Dipankar Roy realizes that his research was fruitful. He also decides to accept the invitation as he just wants to work for the betterment of mankind.

Well, who doesn’t love Pankaj Kapur’s work and if you don’t, do let me know. I will surely suggest some of his classy acting.

6. Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1992) 

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The storyteller Manek Mulla (played by Rajit Kapur) tells his friends three stories of three women he had known at different points of time in his life: Rajeshwari Sachdev (a metaphor for the middle class), Pallavi Joshi (the intellectual and affluent), and Neena Gupta (the poor)[4]. The three stories are revealed to be three different strands of a single tale as seen from the points of view of the different lead characters in the film.

The lowest, slowest or the weakest in a group or society determines the speed or progress of the whole. The title of the film, a metaphor for the film itself, draws an analogy between society and the mythological iconography of the Sun’s chariot drawn by seven horses.

The narrative style adds to the abstractness; the film is presented as a flashback of a contemporary artist, Shyam (played by Raghuvir Yadav). He remembers the many stories narrated by Mulla, a born raconteur during their gossip sessions with two of their mutual friends.

This film is based on a story by Dharmavir Bharati who was a renowned Hindi poet, author, playwright and a social thinker of India.

Another class direction by Shyam Benegal.

7. Fire (1996) 

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The film flashes forward to Sita, a newly married woman on honeymoon with her husband Jatin, who is distant and shows little interest in Sita. Jatin is in a typical joint-family arrangement – he lives with his older brother Ashok, his sister-in-law Radha, his paralysed mother Biji and the family servant Mundu. Ashok and Jatin run a small store that sells food and rents videotapes.

Jatin shows no care for Sita, and she learns that he only agreed to the arranged marriage in order to put an end to Ashok’s nagging. Jatin continues to date his modern Chinese girlfriend, and Sita does not rebuke him. The rest of Jatin’s home is not rosy either. Biji is immobile and speechless after a stroke, and Sita and Radha must constantly attend to her. Sita spends her days slaving in the hot kitchen and finds herself lonely and frustrated at night because Jatin is out with his girlfriend. She yearns to break out of this stifling situation.

The film is loosely based on Ismat Chughtai’s 1942 story, Lihaaf (The Quilt). It was one of the first mainstream Bollywood films to explicitly show homosexual relations. After its 1998 release in India, certain groups staged several protests, setting off a flurry of public dialogue around issues such as homosexuality and freedom of speech. Music by A.R. Rahman and starring Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi, this film is not less than bliss.

8. Firaaq (2008)

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 Firaaq is a 2008 Hindi political thriller, anthology film set one month after the 2002 violence in Gujarat, India and looks at the aftermath in its effects on the lives of everyday people. It claims to be based on “a thousand true stories”. Firaaq means both separation and quest in Arabic. The film is the directorial debut of actress Nandita Das.

Firaaq follows the life of several ordinary people, some who were victims, some silent observers, and some perpetrators one month after the 2002 violence in Gujarat. It focuses on how their lives are affected and (irrevocably) changed.

The story is set over a 24-hour period, one month after a carnage that took place in Gujarat, India in 2002. This sectarian violence killed more than 900 Muslims and 300+ Hindus, hundreds of thousands were made homeless and the number of women raped is still unknown.

Just keep your political agendas aside and watch the film, you will definitely feel the pain, the suffering and the film.

9. Gulaal (2009)

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In the fictional town of Rajpur, Dilip (Raj Singh Chaudhary), a law student who is a Rajput from Bikaner, and his faithful servant, Bhanwar (Mukesh Bhatt), secure housing in an old, run-down British-era pub. Here Dilip meets Rananjay Singh “Ransa” (Abhimanyu Singh), a prince who despises the ideologies of his father and the aristocracy. Ransa’s straightforward and fearless personality has quite an effect on the mild-mannered Dilip.

Dilip visits the university hostel where he is ragged by a gang of university thugs, led by Jadwal (Pankaj Jha). They strip him and lock him in a room with Anuja (Jesse Randhawa), a young lecturer in the same university. Dilip and Anuja are released naked. Dilip’s brother tells him to ignore the event and that things were the same in his days. He effectively states that the society as a whole hasn’t changed much since his time. But Ransa disagrees and tells Dilip that they should avenge this act.

Initially, Dilip is reluctant but gives in and goes with Ransa. He provokes him to give the thugs a taste of their own medicine. But the tables turn and Dilip and Ransa are beaten, ragged, and thrown out of the hostel. Ransa meets Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon), a local figure who is trying to gather support for the Rajputana separatist movement. He allows them to proceed with the plan to injure Jadwal.

Ransa and Dilip ambush Jadwal, but the other thugs corner them in a cinema hall. Dukey Bana intervenes and rescues them. Dukey Bana then convinces Ransa to compete in the General Secretary Elections at the university. Running against Ransa is his father’s out-of-wedlock daughter, Kiran (Ayesha Mohan). Well, there is a lot to write about this film and still one cannot write everything.

To give you a slight idea, I will summarise; the film explores themes such as the pursuit of power, quest for legitimacy, perceived injustices and hypocrisy of the powerful. Anurag Kashyap’s direction, brilliant acting from Kay Kay Menon, Piyush Mishra, Deepak Dobriyal, then music and lyrics by Piyush Mishra. If I would have been at your place, I would surely have started looking for this film over the internet.  THIS FILM IS REALLY A TREAT TO ONESELF, BELIEVE ME.

Let us know your favourites in the comment section below!

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