Book of lists

Book of lists

History of indian cinema

Renu Saran
Diamond Pocket Books
2012, pp 374
250

Encapsulating the history of 100-year-old Indian cinema in a few 100 pages is no doubt a daunting task. Renu Saran, having picked up the gauntlet, has gone about collating the information gathered from myriad sources, taking care not to miss out on the major happenings in the industry or the principal figures who dominated the world of celluloid.

Information on various awards and honours, training facilities, certification, interesting facts, etc, have also been provided in the latter half of the book though these might not be of much interest to the lay reader.

History of Indian Cinema provides a synopsis on the industry in general and then moves on to discuss each language with specific focus on the major films that hit the screen, the popular actors, directors with short, explanatory profiles of each personality. The names of these superstars, however, have not been arranged chronologically and this is extremely jarring as someone like former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister C N Annadurai finds himself placed after a relative newbie like Ajith Kumar and N T Rama Rao trails his son Balakrishna. In the profiles of Malayalam film stars, Mammooty and Mohanlal have preceded Sathyan and Prem Nazir, though these thespians had carved their niches maybe even before the others were born. Further, while a B-lister like Madhavan has been profiled in the write-up, Tamil cinema’s more popular stars like Vijay and Vikram have been omitted. The same goes for Ambarish in Kannada.

Repetition of names of directors and films ad nauseam could have been avoided as more personalities could have been covered in the text. Inaccuracies include slotting actresses like Saroja Devi and Bhanumathi, who earned name and fame in Tamil cinema, in the chapter on Kannada films, and the mention of Kamal Haasan as the protagonist in Balu Mahendra’s first film Azhiyatha Kolangal; Kamal’s first film with Balu was Moondram Pirai. If memory serves right, Prem Nazir, the doyen of Malayalam cinema, did contest and lose an election on a Congress ticket. The book, however, states otherwise.

Interesting snippets include the one on Kannada cinema’s matinee idol, who in the latter part of his career also made a mark as a playback singer and even sang for one of India’s greatest ever singers, S P Balasubramaniam, who was an actor in a film. The book, one has to admit, does provide a mine of information on the major film industries in the country, but the narrative stops with the year 2011 and in some cases, with 2008. This is especially jarring as the book was released this year — 2012.

The coverage of contemporary cinema too could have been better. The main grouse however is with the shoddy proof reading and the pedestrian prose. Expressions such as “Chiranjeevi shined as an actor during 1980’s,” “movies are an all time favourite to all man on earth,” “presently the insurgency menace has done a black for the Assamese movies to flourish,” should have been checked and corrected.

The author, however, deserves to be complimented for the write-ups on stalwarts of Indian cinema like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, MGR , Sivaji Ganesan, Rajkumar, etc. In that context, the superstars of Hindi cinema like Amitabh Bachchan, the Khans and so on have been given the short shrift. The profiles on them are conspicuous by their absence; regional cinema hogs the limelight. Stills of some of the more popular films have been used to illustrate the text. One, however, feels that a broad canvas such as the one chosen by the author is rather unwieldy as major film industries like Bollywood, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada all have their distinct histories and celebrities galore, whose achievements certainly deserve more footage.

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