Decades ago, when the troika of Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar reigned supreme, there were movies like ‘Do Bigha Zameen’, ‘Boot Polish’, ‘Dosti’, which were successful movies and are still reckoned as classics. Having produced ‘Boot Polish’, which reflected the Neo-realistic cinema, Raj Kapoor went on to make films like ‘Jaagte Raho’, which found little acceptance among the audience but wowed the critics.
Chetan Anand, the elder brother of Dev Anand made ‘Neecha Nagar’, which won international accolades but was panned at the home front. Neecha Nagar competed with films like Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (Italy), David Lean’s Brief Encounter (UK), and Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (USA) and emerged triumphant by winning at the Golden Palm at Cannes. It was the last time that an Indian film won such top honour at the Cannes Film Festival.
Satyajit Ray wooed the international film festivals like none other all through his illustrious career and is the only Indian filmmaker to win Lifetime Achievement Award at the much-coveted Academy Awards. Satyajit Ray inspired Kishore Kumar to make films like ‘Door gagan ki chhaon mein’ and many such movies, which sank at the box office.
It was an era that marked the emergence of parallel cinema, which like the name suggests, has always co-existed, in parallel with commercial cinema. It later evolved to be known as ‘Art’ cinema. For instance, while Amitabh Bachchan had hits like ‘Zanjeer’ to his credit, also did the offbeat ‘Saudagar’ (He made his debut with a rather ‘art cinema’ like ‘Saat Hindustani’) with the Barjatyas. Filmmakers like Tapan Sinha, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Govind Nihlani and most importantly, Shyam Benegal gave rise to art cinema in India with films like ‘Ankur’, ‘Nishant’, ‘Mandi’, ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’, to name a few.
Amid such dichotomy, there emerged something called middle-of-the-road popularized by filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee. Not many people know that Amol Palekar is the only actor whose first three film releases were hits in a row, i.e., ‘Rajnigandha’, ‘Choti si baat’ and ‘Chitchor’ and later of course, the smash hit, ‘Golmaal’ – All middle-of-the-road cinema.
In today’s purview, the Ayushmann Khurana and Rajkummar Rao brand of films, which have become a genre in themselves, are middle-of-the-road cinema while filmmakers like Dibakar Banerjee, Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap are reckoned as poster boys of art cinema. Or maybe not. Come to think of it, the films like ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ and ‘Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2’ were commercial hits in every sense.
Post Covid-19, the entire game of cinema has changed. The OTT platforms have become a great leveller where a commercial film like ‘Radhe’ can coexist with a ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’. Films like ‘Bala’, ‘Bareilly Ki Barfi’, ‘English Vinglish’, ‘The Tashkent Files’, the political thriller by us at SP Cinecorp are as commercial as a Khan movie and yet as ‘arty’ as a Nawazuddin film. The lines between commercial and art cinema are blurring with each new movie. How would you categorize a film like ‘Andhadhun’? Would you call it a commercial film or art cinema? Go figure.