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A foray into the vintage world of India’s experimental cinema

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The Government of India’s Films Division is dwelling to many film reels, now digitised, categorised by movie nomenclature as experimental brief documentaries

The age-worn brown-tinted frames populate an previous film reel, pink blobs of distortion disfiguring its shifting pictures. Long wavy traces of wilted decay adorn its face like scars on an age-old warfare veteran. Its grainy-yet-hypnotic texture enhances the spontaneously put collectively montage of outstanding pictures, unrelated, capturing in every body, the dullness of each day human life.

For what may be mentioned about it with absolute conviction — this vintage video collage serves as a window into our previous, providing a fleeting look at the lives of males swept away by the tides of time however immortalised by the ever-observing eye of the digicam.

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The Government of India’s Films Division is dwelling to many such film reels, now digitised, categorised by movie nomenclature as experimental brief documentaries. A treasure trove of such content material which undertakes an aesthetically pleasing retrospection of Indian tradition is available on YouTube for anybody to look by however barely has any takers.

Government of India’s Films Division

Government of India’s Films Division  

This may be attributed to the undeniable fact that these movies are usually not notably viewer-friendly. Non-adherence to any coherent narrative construction and the lack of an underlying central theme could make them a tedious look ahead to the up to date Indian audiences.

Case in level, the brief titled India ‘67 (also known as An Indian Day) by one of India’s erstwhile main Griersonian documentarian S. Sukhdev. A wordless assortment of shifting pictures from the 12 months 1967, the documentary collates visually, the lives of individuals from the nation’s city and rural abodes.

National Film Award for Best Experimental Film

  • The National Film Award for Best Experimental Film was one of the National Film Awards given by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Directorate of Film Festivals, India. It was instituted in 1966 and awarded at the 14th National Film Awards and lastly awarded in 1983, and discontinued after that.
  • Through the Eyes of a Painter (1967) written, directed and filmed by M. F. Husain received the award in 1967. Films by S.N.S Shastri, Vidhu Vinodh Chopra and Sunny Joseph have additionally been feted with this accolade.

As the piece retains chugging together with one picture being changed by one other, it begins collocating contrasting Indian life into a heady combine of playful introspection, highlighting the dichotomy between two totally different worlds which co-exist inside a bigger entire.


From the get-go, Sukhdev indulges in some adventurous modifying, inhaling a surreal high quality to the seemingly boring pictures. Not many would have thought-about utilizing the audio of The Beatle’s basic hit Love Me Do with the visible of an Indian farmer ploughing his area. But Sukhdev’s filmography is suffering from such daring decisions.

India ‘67 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however is a must-watch for the extra adventurous viewers.

So are the movies made by the stalwart documentary film-maker S.N.S. Sastry. He is credited with the creation of seminal works like I Am 20 (1967) and Exploration of the Indian Youth (1974), amongst others. In the experimental realm, Sastry’s And I Make Short Films (1968) is a pioneering effort, laying down the groundwork for a quintessential experimental brief movie, the place stylised modifying of shifting pictures achieve priority over an overarching narrative theme.

The documentary is an impressionistic portrayal of brief film-making, the place shows of Sastry’s deft modifying displays a novel model of tongue-in-cheek humour, a story system utilized by him to make sense of the shifting pictures on show.


It questions the constructs of censorship and standard cultural norms, together with offering a biting critique on the very nature of audio-visual documentation, parodying the medium it chooses to precise itself in.

It does so by masterfully capitalising on the Eisenstenian method of combining two unrelated pictures in an organized sequence, giving rise to totally different, distinctive realities — an strategy, consciously executed by Shastri in lots of of his different productions.

Take, for example, his brief documentary movie titled This Bit of That India (1972) which chronicles the lives of overseas college students learning in Indian universities.

A still from ‘This Bit of That India’ (1972)

A nonetheless from ‘This Bit of That India’ (1972)

A stylised examination of youth tradition and variety utilizing comparable tropes of experimental film-editing, the documentary wages warfare in opposition to the preconceived notions of schooling and progress, juxtaposing moments of particular person freedom with the internal workings of academic establishments, eloquently capturing the perpetual state of battle between the two.

Indian renditions of well-liked American songs from the ‘60s: the likes of California Dreamin’ and Barret Strong’s Money add cinematic aptitude to the youthful aspirations of the documentary’s topics, making it greater than only a journey down reminiscence lane.

Among different works by Indian documentarians, Mani Kaul’s Arrival (1980) stands out.

A visible exploration of the socio-economic forces shaping a contemporary metropolis, Kaul’s depiction of human labour is stark in its portrayal, evaluating the lives of each day wage staff with that of livestock. The complete manufacturing, characterised just by a unusual rating and missing in any dialogues, exudes an aura of an impending apocalypse.

A still from ‘Arrival’ (1980)

A nonetheless from ‘Arrival’ (1980)  

Kaul makes use of the digicam as an neutral observer, encapsulating the plight of the needy at the coronary heart of a bustling metropolis, generally inter-cutting it with graphic pictures of animal slaughter.

The viewers are left spellbound by the aesthetic pleasantness of the pictures after which gripped with repulsion when the notable similarities between them turn out to be too onerous to disregard. Arrival was one of the final recipients of the National Film Award for Best Experimental Film earlier than it was discontinued in 1983.

In hindsight, many different movies might have been added to this singular record of visible productions. However, talking for the aforementioned, every of them has been blessed by the distinctive contact of an Auteur’s idiosyncratic methods. They manifest beneath their polished exteriors, a cornucopia of didacticism — offering them with a depth of morally aware artistry which transcends the altering traits of well-liked tradition and what could seem to us as technological limitations.

And, at the coronary heart of all of them lies the burning want to seize the second — the right here and now — for the functions of silent re-examination at a future date. They could or could not make clear the burning existential queries surrounding human existence, however are succesful of serenading viewers with their anomalous magnetism, sedating them with the intoxicating drug that’s nostalgia.


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