KOCHI: Film-maker MS Sathyu was feeling tense, as he stood outside the screening hall in the basement of Rashtrapathi Bhavan in New Delhi. His film, ‘Garam Hava’ was stuck at the Censor Board. The officials were reluctant to issue the certificate for the film, which portrayed the life of a North Indian Muslim businessman, following the 1947 Partition of India. So Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was viewing the film accompanied by Delhi Film Society President Gautam Kaul.
After the screening, Gandhi looked at Kaul and said, “What is objectionable may be the Muslim girl romancing on the shores of the Yamuna. I think we will be able to handle it... isn’t it?”
Kaul nodded. Then he went out and told Sathyu, “It’s done.” And thus, one of the iconic Indian films of post-partition India was released, all thanks to the personal initiative taken by the Prime Minister.
This anecdote was revealed in the book, ‘India’s Film Society Movement’ (The Journey And Its Impact) by VK Cherian. Brought out by Sage Publishers, it chronicles, in lucid style, the history of the movement. “Cherian’s treatise charts the sporadic beginnings of the society, its enthusiastic course of growth and the excitements and travails of sustenance over a period of nearly seven decades,” says noted filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who wrote the foreword.
In the book, Cherian chronicles the huge impact of Satyajit’s Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’, in India and abroad. In fact, the film has been in the Top 50 list of the greatest films ever made in the highly-respected ‘Sight and Sound’ magazine, brought out by the British Film Institute. “It is an unparalleled human document, touching the hearts of millions of people, across the continents, over generations,” says the Delhi-based Cherian, a long-time corporate professional, who has been a Film Society member since 1976.
In one of the chapters, Cherian discusses how the movement grew from the Calcutta Film Society and resulted in the Federation of Film Societies in India. Another chapter deals with the visionaries, which included British film scholar Marie Seton, critic Chidananda Das Gupta (the father of acclaimed director Aparna Sen), film-maker Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, and historian PK Nair, among others.
Kerala also had a flourishing society movement. “The film movement ran piggyback on the library movement and spread to all parts of the state,” says Cherian. “Noted members included Adoor Gopalakrishnan.”
In fact, Adoor’s first film, ‘Swayamvaram’, was financed by the Film Finance Corporation (FFC). But Kolkata’s Mrinal Sen did not find the going that easy. In those days, the FFC used to have an annual competition for scripts. “At that time, the script for Sen’s ‘Bhuvan Shome’ won,” says Cherian.
So, Sen applied for a finance of Rs 1.5 lakh, but the officials asked for collateral. He said he did not have any. So they refused to give the money. So Sen approached Indira Gandhi. She thought about it and asked the FFC, “What is the most important part of a film?” The answer: the script as well as the copyright. “So why don’t you consider them both as the collateral and release the money,” said Gandhi. And that was how ‘Bhuvan Shome’ was made.
For his research, Cherian travelled to Kolkata, Chennai, Pune, and other centres, and met the stalwarts. “I also did research in the National Archives,” he says. Thus far, the book has been well-appreciated. Says award-winning film-maker Shyam Benegal, “Cherian’s book is a valuable addition to the somewhat spare shelf of serious books on Indian cinema and certainly among the very rare ones written about the Film Society Movement.”