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Jaya Bachchan, Apurva Asrani, Joy Roy remember Bimal Roy at MAMI

A panel discussion on legendary filmmaker Roy and his works was held on 25 October.

Joy Bimal Roy, Nasreen Munni Kabir, Rauf Ahmed, Jaya Bachchan and Apurva Asrani

Sonal Pandya

Moderated by veteran film journalist Rauf Ahmed, a talk on filmmaker Bimal Roy was attended by his son Joy, filmmaker and author Nasreen Munni Kabir, actress Jaya Bachchan, writer-editor Apurva Asrani and journalist Namrata Joshi at the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star. The conversation began with Bimal and how his films had impacted them, but moved interestingly to the current state of Indian cinema and what can be done to fix the lack of good content films.

Asrani started off by saying Do Bigha Zamin (1953) was the first Roy film he saw. He said initially, “I couldn’t see what the fuss was about then. I didn’t understand why we need to watch films that were so sad. Over time, I started to discover the relevance of Bimal Roy’s great films. You look back at [his] cinema, he’s talking about untouchables, a murderess, the feudal system and he did it in the most entertaining way. His courage, his conviction — that’s what attracted me to his cinema.” Asrani felt he struggled how to make relevant cinema accessible to the audience, while Roy managed to pull it off.

Ashok Kumar and Nutan in Bandini (1963)

Joshi specifically spoke about 1963’s Bandini with Kalyani, played by Nutan. “I was completely flummoxed with Kalyani’s character. I found her extremely inscrutable, very simple and yet somewhere, very complicated. Over the years, I’ve realised it’s unfair to judge a film in the early 1960s. I can’t see it with the prism of the feminism of 2016.” She greatly admired Kalyani’s acceptance of her own guilt and felt some distance was required while viewing the heroines of that time.

Bimal's son Joy reflected on the golden era of Hindi cinema saying, “Post Partition, [the cinema] was called Nehruvian idealism, all Raj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan, everybody had this in common. Somewhere people became cynical and they sold their souls to money. They became big budget films. Suddenly the content completely went.” Joy also felt that his father’s films had good content because they were literature based.

Jaya Bachchan revealed her regret on missing out on working with the filmmaker. She spoke about the inherent “1950s Bengali culture” that was present in his films. The women of Bimal's films “looked extremely dignified”. She said, “The way that they conveyed that they have a mind of their own through their body language. You will not see a single female character slouching.” Nasreen Munni Kabir said even his male characters (the heroes) were also very dignified.

Bachchan referred to Bimal's era of filmmaking, “I think people at that time, writers, thinkers, artists of different kinds, who had some kind of sensitivity in them, made cinema that they thought should be made. Most importantly, they were creative people and not businessmen.”

The latter half of the conversation then moved to how cinema is today. There was nostalgia about the filmmaking of the past. Bachchan said, “Unfortunately, the demands of a filmmaker today is different from what it was at that time. Filmmakers at that time painted a canvas.” She went on to say, “How many characters, men or women, represent our country? They could be from anywhere in the world. They don’t look Indian.”

Balraj Sahni in Do Bigha Zamin (1953)

Kabir agreed and said the older films were “rooted in this culture, the language, the music and dealing with the problems that people on the street were dealing with. Now there’s a bigger and bigger gap.” She gave the example of American cinema saying it reflects their culture a hundred percent. The panel spoke about the lack of an Indian brand or image. Bachchan and Joy lauded the regional cinemas of Maharashtra, Kerala and Bengal for staying true to their stories; Joy pointed out the Kannada film Thithi as a true example of Indian filmmaking, saying the dark comedy couldn't have been set anywhere but here.

When asked by an audience member if the impact of the Western culture had ruined our films, Kabir said, “Classics are actually curated by time, not you and me. The four names that come from the 1950s are Bimal, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt. Films of this generation are showing this diversity of culture and song. It is a hopeful time.”

Bimal's first film Udayer Pathey (1944), Do Bigha Zamin (1953) and Bandini (1963) were all shown at the festival prior to the panel.