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Achhut Kanya (Untouchable Girl), with Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar, 1936
It is doubtless under the influence of the Bengali film-makers Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen, however, that Indian cinema, and not only in Hindi, also began to take a somewhat different turn in the 1970s against the tide of commercial cinema, which was now characterized by song-and-dance routines, trivial plots, and family dramas. No Indian director has had a greater international reputation than Ray, which almost every one of his films, except in the last years of his life, did a great deal to consolidate from the time that he produced Pather Panchali ("Song of the Road", 1955). Ghatak has had more of a 'cult' following: his oeuvre was quite small (six feature films), but Ghatak went on to serve as Director of the Film and Television School at Pune, from where the first generation of a new breed of Indian film-makers and actors -- Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, and Om Puri among the latter -- was to emerge. These film-makers, such as Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta, Govind Nihalani, and Saeed Mirza, exhibited a different aesthetic and political sensibility and were inclined to explore the caste and class contradictions of Indian society, the nature of oppression suffered by women, the dislocations created by industrialism and the migration from rural to urban areas, the problem of landlessness, the impotency of ordinary democratic and constitutional procedures of redress, and so on.
Mainstream commercial releases, however, continue to dominate the market, and not only in India, but wherever Indian cinema has a large following, whether in much of the British Caribbean, Fiji, East and South Africa, the U.K., United States, Canada, or the Middle East. The popular Hindi cinema is characterized by significant changes too numerous to receive more than the slightest mention. The song-and-dance routine is now more systematized, more regular in its patterns; the 'other', whether in the shape of the terrorist or the irredeemable villain, has a more ominous presence; the nation-state is more obsessive in its demands on our loyalties and obeisance; the Indian diaspora is a larger presence in the Indian imagination (witness Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge); and so on. These are only some considerations: anyone wishing to explore the world of Indian cinema should also reflect on its presence in Indian spaces, its relation to vernacular art forms and mass art (such as billboards), and the highly stratified and gendered (that is, masculinized) space of the Indian cinema-hall.
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