Interview with Shyam Benegal.. FFSI Past president and eminent filmmaker.
by VK Cherian
Re: A book on film society movement
1. Do you agree with the view that the entire film society movement was a policy initiative of the Nehruvians to find a Indian idiom in cinema? I so why?
2. Has the film society movement helped you to enter the kind of film genre you have entered in the initial days of your feature film making? Has the movement given you the right audience?
3. Is it the lack of official policy support which has led to the fall of the film society movement? Or is it the technological changes which have led to its fall from glory of 70s and 80s?
4. As a Member of Parliament and a former President of FFSI, how do you see the future of the film society movement and also the film genre which you have been identified with?
5. Has your kind of films lost its relevance in India now and how do you see its future?
6. Given the present situation do think Indian films can resist the holly wood takeover in the near future?
7. What according to you will save the Nehruvian vision about the Indian films? Or is there a need to save it at all?
Dear Mr. Cherian,
To answer your questions:-
1. When India became Independent in 1947, the leadership of the time
felt that Cinema had a role to play in the film development of the
country. People like Jawaharlal Nehru and others felt that Cinema an
important component of popular culture had great potential in helping
the development of the country. They could see its immense persuasive
capability. Apart from creating the Films Division as a mouthpiece of
the Government both to inform and educate people at large, Films
Division was also supposed to produce documentaries to tell people how
the Government was helping in the developmental activities of the
country. In addition to this it set up a high level committee under S
K Patil in 1951-52 to look into the problems of the film industry
itself. This resulted in formulating a film policy that included the
creation of :
a) Film Finance Corporation for financing of feature films.
b) The creation of a film school to train filmmakers in all disciplines.
c) To create a children films society to encourage the making of films
d) To reorganize the film certification policy which until then
followed the British Censor Code.
All film policy of Independent India began about that time so you can
certainly imply that it was a Nehruvian policy initiative.
2) The first Film Society came up in Mumbai soon after the War but it
is normally attributed to the one started by Mr. Satyajit Ray,
Chidananda Dasgupta and others in Kolkata. It got a huge boost with
the First International Film Festival that the Government organized in
1952. This had an impact on filmmaking in India in an extraordinary
way. Italian Neorealist films and Japanese cinema became the most
influential in encouraging new thinking in Indian Cinema, Do Bigha
Zameen, Boot polish, Jagte Raho, etc in Mumbai. The coming of Jean
Renoir to Kolkata gave great impetus to Ray in his own endeavour to
3) What the film society movement has actually done is to broaden the
world of Cinema for its members. Opening up the world of Cinema
beyond what they normally get to see in the Cinema Halls.
4) Official policy had little to do with any of this until B K
Karanjia took over the Film Finance Corporation and Mrs. Indira Gandhi
took an active interest in wanting to see more artistic Cinema being
made in India. B K Karanjia’s intervention helped in supporting the
graduates of the FTII graduates to make their first films in the early
70s. This is considered the beginning of the New Cinema movement in
the country. The Film Society Movement kept pace with all these
changes. Kerala was always at the forefront with the largest number
of film societies in the country. Kerala also produced a very
significant number of extraordinary films through the 70s and 80s.
5) The audiences for new Cinema were always marginal to
the mainstream. It is only now that the distinction has disappeared.
6) The relevance of the Film Society movement today is to
encourage young people to look at Cinema as an artistic activity
rather than simply as a distractive entertainment. Campus Film
Societies was an initiative I took as the President of the FFSI. This
does not simply mean showing films but show them as subjects for
discussion and debate among the members.
For the rest it would be better if you telephone me for a detailed chat.