Interview with Ms Shyamala Vannarse--a close associate of Prof. Satish Bahadur.
by VK Cherian.
1.When did the Agra film society started and how long it continued. Membership, other details.. Film source and films shown.
In one of his papers, he has said the following:
A Personal Note on Screen Education Work in India
I record here briefly the experience of screen education
in two organizations, at the Agra university Film Club,
where some interesting experiments were made and
at the Film Institute of India, Poona where systematic
teaching of Film Appreciation is being organized for
the first time in India.
It is also in the nature of personal notes, as I happen to
be connected with both the organizations, as secretary
of the Agra University Film Club from 1960 to 1963,
and as Professor of Film Appreciation at the Institute
since then. Though covering a wide range of university
level students in India, it has the limitation of being
the experience of one film teacher in India, (and
embarrassing enough for me, the only one in India.).
I record it here because it may provide the guidelines
along which further experimentation in India may be
Based in the Institute of Social Sciences and the
Institute of Linguistics and Hindi studies, the Agra
University Film Club had about 150 post-graduate
student-members. Almost all of them came from a
middle-town urban or rural background, and almost
none of them had any background of anything except
the commercial Hindi cinema; a few of them, of the
popular Hollywood films.
The most important thing to do was to run the film
society as a very “serious” organization by giving it the
Appearance of being a serious organization, so that
when students came to a film society show, they were
not going to any film show, but to see a film which
deserved more careful attention. This was done by a
number of devices. Programme notes were invariably
prepared, specially keeping the level of the students in
mind, and circulated well before the showing so that
students had a chance to read them.
Special posters announcing the programmes were
displayed, stills (photocopied from film books and
magazines) were displayed prominently; sometimes
even the photos of directors, so that “Potemkin” was for
them not merely a film , but a film made by Eisenstein,
the film maker whose photos they had been seeing on
display windows, shooting, editing, and with his unit
members, etc. Screenings were invariably preceded by
a short introduction by a teacher member who had
seen the film before. He explained some artistic points
which were to be observed carefully in the film.
Discussions were organized frequently, over a cup
of tea, and with teachers present. A great deal of
preparation was, of course, done by the teacher
leaders. We believed that a good film was a complex
construction with many analyzable layers in it, and
the function of the discussion should be to help the
students to discover for themselves the layers in it.
Thus the teacher would provide only the guidelines
for discussion, and himself act as a fly-wheel and a
governor, (in the automobile sense).
If the discussion flagged, the teacher would provide
the momentum and when the discussion threatened
to go out of bounds, as can happen, to provide the
ordering and structuring out of the half- truths and
partial observations, which the individual students
believed to be whole truth. An example of discussion
plan used in Agra is placed as an enclosure to the
Appendix which indicates the effort to enable students
to comprehend the complexity of the film, and, relate
the film experience to other experiences of life.
We also organized discussions on popular films
running in town and sometimes provided programme
notes on good films which were running in town
which students would not see unless they were
guided to do so. We encouraged students to write
about cinema. To give it concrete shape, we ran an
“irregular”, cyclostyled magazine FILM CLUB NEWS,
which provided a good forum for student writing, and
also an occasion for us to put in the hands of students
some good writing from books and journals.
We thought that to place film “in context” of the
cultural and academic life of the university is a very
useful thing to do. For instance, showing films like
“Overture” and “World Without End” on United
Nations Day, as films within a film society yat framing
them in the context of United Nations and its ideas.
An example of how we always thought of placing film
“in context” is shown by the plan for presentation
of Satyajit Ray’s biographical film on Rabindranath
Tagore, in the context of a Tagore Memorial Meeting
on the Death Anniversary of the poet. (Enclosure 2 to
In a university film society context, the distinction
between a “film appreciation” category film and and
“audio-visual” category of film really gets blurred. The
16 Screen Education at University
function of the film society is to stimulate the minds
of students and any film which does it is valid.
While showing Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, an
accompanying short was a classroom film like
Elizabethan England. And vice versa, I have used
Angotee and Nanook of the North as basic material
for a concrete discussion on the influence of
technological factors in changing the social life of a
primitive community, in a sociology class, or Pather
Panchali as a study in Family.
Our experience in Agra was that the students are
tremendously interested in film study, provided film
society activity is organized as serious film study.
Standards of appreciation of most students develop
rapidly. They bring enthusiasm and a natural freshness
of mind to film analysis. But the crux of the problem is
to train teachers who would organize the film society
as serious study groups, and make students see films
as films deserve to be seen. Hence, the need for careful
training of film society organizers.
Of considerable interest is film study course which
I conducted at the Agra University summer holiday
and Youth Leadership camp, at Mussoorie during
May-June 1962, which was attended by teachers
and students from 26 University colleges. The camp,
located in a pleasant Hill Station, was a “social” holiday
gathering with a variety of intellectual and cultural
activities. The course on Film Appreciation was only
one of the activities and the objective was to expose
the new ideas on film to this group, the experiment
with methods, and to stimulate formation of college
I took with me a very large variety of films of all types,
borrowed from many sources. The lectures were held
in the mornings, where in a darkened room I would
also demonstrate the analysis with the aid of sections
of films. In the late evenings, after dinner, I organized
the group as a film society, with programme notes,
lectures and discussions. The response was extremely
heartening and many teachers after returning from
the camp attempted to set up film societies in their
colleges, though not successfully. Enclosure 3 to this
Appendix will give an idea of organization of this
Experience at the Film Institute of India
At the Film Institute of India, the problem is of a
different kind, as the students are themselves training
for different branches of film making, direction,
script writing, cinematography, sound recording and
sound engineering, film editing and film acting. Film
Appreciation is not an independent course yet, but
an integral part of the training of young film makers
themselves, who are training to make up different
professional assignments in different branches of film
Hence the objectives of film appreciation teaching
here are different from what they would be in a screen
education course, where it would be just one subject
or be an extra mural activity. All students are of a
graduate level, many of them come even after postgraduate
degrees. The students come from every part
of the country, literally from every state of the Indian
Union, with widely different family and cultural
backgrounds, as is inevitable in a complex country
Yet there is one characteristic common to them, when
the Join the Film Institute. They are very enthusiastic
about the cinema, (which itself is a great asset), but
they are all (barring a few exceptions, who have been in
film societies before) enthusiastic for the commercial
Indian style feature films; some acute cases or even
Thus, though they are enthusiastic about the cinema,
they are almost all enthusiastic about it for the wrong
reasons. The standards of judgment are derived
from popular box office criteria. They have solid
background of screen education but it is all derived
from the writings of the popular fan-magazines!
Thus, my objective in the first year of the film
appreciation teaching is a very simple one. The
students have enthusiasm for cinema, but for the
wrong reasons. I try to convert it to enthusiasm for
cinema for the right reasons. This is attempted by a
dual process: by taking them through a process of
disillusionment and debunking about cinema, (I call
it deglamourizing) and by providing the opportunity
to see for themselves, the great beauty, and depth
and power and originality and modernity of the film
medium, which are valid reasons for enthusiasm
I will describe this dual process in some detail, as it
has some interest for pedagogical methodology of
This is a basic difficulty in teaching film. In many
subjects, graduation of stages of exposition of the
subject is inevitable; one learns by stages. For example,
in mathematics, the student simply has got to learn
differential calculus before learning Integral Calculus.
Screen Education at University 17
Or, in Economic analysis, the technique of Demand
curves has to be understood before one goes on to
complex Market Systems.
Even in Literature, the obvious complexity of
expression of language (or even of the size of the
books) makes for acceptable graduation of the
material suitable for the progressive steps of study. But
not so in film. All films are for everyone. They are, in
spite of being mass medium, very intimate personal
experiences, and the student feels that he KNOWS all
there is to KNOW about them.
Hence, when students start their “study” of film in a
formal classroom situation, all possible questions can
be, and are actually shot at the teacher by the fresh
students; questions from the complicated area of film
aesthetics, or from the area of film technique, or from
the yet imperfectly understood area of film psychology
and film sociology. It would simply be disastrous for
the teacher to reply to a young inquisitive student :
“Well, this is a more advanced question, and you will
understand it after one year or more, when you have
understood this and that and that”.
The fact of the matter is that the student is asking the
question because the problem is important for him
now. Quite likely the student has already an answer
with him, probably derived from fan-magazine
reading or from a rationalization of something which
film did to his own mind. He must be answered,
even though the answer may not be complete, or be
I find it absolutely necessary in the earliest stages of
my teaching to give students a few models, frame of
analysis, in which all possible questions on film can be
hung, and thus, understood, up to a point.
I use two such models, the model of film as language,
and the model of film as communication process, and
I give these to the fresh batch of students as early as
possible. I keep on explaining the models in various
ways and whenever any question is discussed I try to
bring it within the framework of these models. The
“proof ” of the usefulness and the validity of these
models is that all possible questions can be brought in
Film as a language model is the familiar one due to
Struckrate, Peters and Hodgkinson. I elaborate a
little more on its implications as follows; which gives
me carious categories or pegs around which I can
hang many questions asked by students. Some of
Agra University Film Club
Plan for Discussion on “Bicycle Thieves”
Highlights: Important example of Italian Neo-Realist
School/ Film shot on real locations / non-professional
actors / Landmark in International cinema for
cinematic qualities and path breaking technique.
Lines of Discussion:
On the Plot: Did Antonio do the right thing in
attempting to steal the cycle? Is it better to starve than
to steal? (Relativity of moral behaviour in different
situations / examples from students’ experience)
Antonio did not succeed in stealing the cycle. Would
it have made any difference to the moral tone of the
story if he had succeeded in stealing it? He was not
handed over to the police. Would it have made any
difference to the moral tone of the film if he had
been handed over to the police? (Plot Construction)
Poverty and economic stress as the cause of crime
(social pathology / any examples from literature and
from the experience of the students) Nature and causes
of post-war unemployment in European countries.
Its difference from the unemployment problem in
India (economics) / the family in distress/ effect of
unemployment on family life / comparison with other
families in distress in films/ Pather Panchali/ examples
of families that are known to students/(sociology of
family)/ the family in Bicycle Thieves and the family
in any recent Indian film (compare characteristics).
On Film : The post-war urge for realism / neo-realism
and its place in Italian and world cinema/ its impact
on Indian cinema (Satyajit Ray and the Calcutta
sequences in Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin, the postwar
neo-realist movement in other arts/ the social and
political causes of neo-realism.
Non-professional actors/ compare with Pather
Panchali and Louisiana Story.
Absence of songs in film / contrast with Indian films
and its song-filled situations/ why do Indian films
have so many songs? Why did Bicycle Thieves not
have songs? (Sociology of audiences)
Outdoor locations / the fluid street scenes/comparison
with possible studio work/ Imagine Bicycle Thieves
being made with studio sets. What difference would it
have made to the sincerity and moral quality
Of the film? / Compare with similar work in Indian
films. Relationship between the artistic texture (visual
and sound) of the film and its moral purpose.
The message of the film/ absence of any moralizing/
2.How did Marie Seton find Prof Bahadur.
In 1963, Satish Bahadur joined the Film Institute of India as Professor of Film Appreciation and in
1967,Marie Seton was invited to be the main teacher at a one month long residential course in Film Appreciation for forty participants drawn from all over the country and we recall here two participants at this course, K.Y. Subbanna and Fr. Gaston Roberge.
3. How did Prof. Bahadur found the and became the life long votary of the new film appreciation.
4. What was his issue with moving to Pune FTII
5.Can you share his paper to UNESCO on film appreciation.
Which one? About education or about Context of Film Culture in India?
6.How did you get associated with him?
I heard him in a seminar at Fergusson college and then attended the summer course, I was a college teacher then, and I was engaged in running an Aesthetic Association. He was one of the founder members I took to film analysis on a voluntary basis and worked with him on major classics that he used in the classroom. I started a film activity in one of the schools in Pune where he came regularly to talk to eighth graders
7. How did he see the evolution of film appreciation over the years--any document to quote him?
Teaching Film In Viney Kirpal's book
8. I am amused his work is more scattered, not come out a text book-- and why is it so...
He loved to lecture and discuss films, but he was almost averse to writing. The only book he saw through was posthumously published A Textual Analysis of Apu Trilogy.He wrote his lectures for AIR and wrote papers for seminars, but never really bothered about getting into print... and his hands were full with lecture tours, courses and routine teaching at the Institute. Many people had urged him, but he would just freely pass on his notes...!
9. His views of Film Society movement ovr the period...any writing which he traed its hisotry-crisis and present shape?
He always helped Film societies, particularly in the remote places. Even for admissions to the summer course he and Mr, Nair made sure that those who do not have easy access to film, should always get preference.
9. Any other details...which you may find useful for my book.
His multilingual approach. He would welcome discussions in the local languages though he talked in English or Hindi. He would not let the language be a barrier in discussing film.
I think I have just this. Hope it helps. I have passed on your querries to his daughter and daughter -in-law, They may have something more
Wishing your book every success,