parallel cinema

est. 1954 – 1990s

Indian cinema is synonymous with Bollywood, known for its vibrant song and dance sequences and blockbuster entertainers. However, beneath the glitz and glamour lies another face of Indian cinema that has quietly, yet significantly, contributed to the country’s cinematic legacy.

Origins of Parallel Cinema

Parallel Cinema refers to a film movement in India that emerged around the same time as the mainstream commercial cinema but represented an alternative, more artistic approach to filmmaking – that is why the term “parallel cinema” is used.

 

As India gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947, the nation was at a crossroads. The roots of Indian Parallel Cinema can be traced back to this period, which was marked by great social, political, and cultural upheaval. The movement was driven by a desire to create films that were more reflective of the real-life struggles and aspirations of the Indian people, in stark contrast to the escapist fare typically offered by Bollywood.

 

The early seeds of Parallel Cinema were sown in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as filmmakers began to seek inspiration from global cinematic movements that emphasized realism and social issues. This period also saw a surge in documentaries and short films that highlighted social issues, laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive narrative approach in feature films.

 

The movement itself gained momentum in the mid-1950s and 1960s as a new generation of filmmakers sought to break from the formulaic, escapist narratives of mainstream cinema. They were inspired by the principles of Italian Neorealism, particularly its focus on realism and social commentary, as well as the French New Wave‘s experimentation with narrative structures.

GIF from Pather Panchali (1955) by Satyajit Ray
Pather Panchali (1955) by Satyajit Ray
GIF from Pather Panchali (1955) by Satyajit Ray
The Big City (1963) by Satyajit Ray

Characteristics and influential directors

At the heart of Parallel Cinema lies a commitment to portraying the authenticity of Indian life. Filmmakers utilized natural lighting, non-professional actors, and real locations to create a genuine atmosphere. The movement is inherently political, addressing issues such as poverty, caste discrimination, gender inequality, and class struggle. These films served as a powerful medium for advocacy and raising social awareness, placing a strong emphasis on well-developed characters and their emotional journeys.

 

Directors of this movement were unafraid to experiment with narrative structures, often challenging the traditional three-act format. This approach allowed for more nuanced and thought-provoking storytelling. Satyajit Ray, who is renowned for his “Apu Trilogy,” is considered the pioneer of Parallel Cinema and the most important director from the Indian subcontinent. His films showcased the everyday lives of common people with profound insight and artistry. Ray’s meticulous attention to detail and deep empathy for his characters set a high standard for filmmakers who followed in his footsteps.

 

Shyam Benegal’s “Ankur” (1974) marked a significant shift in Indian cinema, addressing the themes of rural India and social class dynamics with a sense of authenticity and empathy, which resonated with audiences across the nation. Benegal’s films focused on the lives of marginalized communities, highlighting the systemic inequalities and social issues they faced. His narrative style, which combined realism with a strong social message, became a defining characteristic of Parallel Cinema.

 

Ritwik Kumar Ghatak, another influential director, is celebrated for his film “A River Called Titas” (1973). This film depicts the lives of fisherfolk in East Bengal, capturing their struggles and the socio-economic challenges they face. Ghatak’s works are known for their emotional intensity, innovative storytelling, and deep social consciousness.

A River Called Titas (1973) by Ritwik Kumar Ghatak
A River Called Titas (1973) by Ritwik Kumar Ghatak

Lasting Impact of Parallel Cinema

Indian Parallel Cinema left an indelible mark on Indian filmmaking and the world of cinema at large. It challenged the dominance of mainstream Bollywood cinema, paving the way for a new generation of filmmakers who sought to tell more meaningful and thought-provoking stories. Furthermore, Indian films with global recognition, such as “Lagaan” (2001) and “Court” (2014), incorporate elements of Parallel Cinema, demonstrating its enduring legacy.

 

Parallel Cinema eventually combined with the Third Cinema movement, which emphasized films as a tool for social change in the developing world. This fusion brought a heightened awareness of political and cultural issues in cinema. The cross-pollination of ideas enriched both movements, contributing to a diverse and socially conscious cinematic tradition.

 

Parallel Cinema is a reflection of the dynamic, ever-evolving society of India. Through its realism, social commentary, and commitment to authentic storytelling, it has not only challenged the conventions of Indian cinema but also contributed significantly to the nation’s cultural and artistic identity.

Refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the movement. Also, check out the rest of the Film Movements on our website.