Museum sheds light on Indian cinema

A peek from silent era to talkies

Museum sheds light on Indian cinema

The interiors have been refurbished to create an interactive walk through the lanes of Indian cinema Mumbai, considered as one of the centres where mad gods try to weave articulate abridged narratives of lives on shimmering frames, will soon be having a museum of Indian cinema, delineating the shadows of the lost images that have danced away on the ebb of the river of time.

Next month, the National Museum of Indian Cinema (NMIC), showcasing the 100 years of movies through diverse time frames, will open up where people can walk straight into the history wrapped in the mist and watch fantasy of past blurring into the haphazard fields with glimmering pathways seamlessly converging into the present day cinematic phenomena.

Museum is a place where different niches of time and multiple universes bifurcate with narratives of the shadows of the lost worlds splitting like amoeba with quiet epiphanies. Historians know biographies defy linear trajectory and the tracing of the orbit of any social phenomenon’s genesis and evolution ends up in a walk on a Mobius strip where multiple universes jostle with each other creating a chaos of a wriggling jelly in a fist.

Curated by the National Council of Science Museums of Kolkata, the NMIC is housed in the 19th century one-storeyed bungalow Gulshan Mahal which is a heritage building on Peddar Road in South Mumbai. “The interiors of this 6,000 sq ft building were refurbished to create an interactive walk through the lanes of the  Indian cinema with cameras, lens, arc lights, hoardings, books, song pamphlets, vintage equipment, trolleys, sets, tapes, sound tracks, editing machines, magazines, trailers etc will be on display…and this is only in the first phase; the second phase will be in a two-storey building that is still under construction…and museum across the world is always an evolving place,” says Anil Kumar, coordinator, Films Division.

“The total area of NMIC will be around 50,000 sq ft when it is completed and the museum then will be replete with all artefacts both old and new. However, they have been curated with a perspective and a vision so that a visitor during his walk may see the diversity of the Indian cinema which many feel is confined to only certain languages,” Anil Kumar says.

 He adds that work on the project envisaged in 2002  started only in 2006 under an advisory committee headed by filmmaker Shyam Benegal with the curating work “starting a couple of years ago”.

Noted film historian and consulting curator at NMIC Amrit Gangar says: “When I started the curating…I had a vision of the beginnings of the cinematic processes that are innate to the human psyche corollary with the evolution of homo sapiens. The cave paintings were the first pictorial narratives and probably the starting point of what has come a long way evolving into depiction of images weaving out fictional narratives on celluloid screens.”

Gangar says: “To call the exhibits installed in the museum a mere a walk into the growth of celluloid history would be an understatement; it is a project that while dealing with the evolution of cinema’s production processes, ancillary cultures, bazaars and streets hawking the bazaar kitsch of cinema hoardings, death of studios and increasing influence of corporate world, it is also more of an exploration of worlds that often collided with each other as social transformation took place.”

Indian sub-continent had strong tradition of oral narration of stories and present studies into the origin of often used word to describe cinema in Hindi language “ Chitrapat” shows that it was derived from a traditional folk art called “Pat Chitra” which is still popular in Odisha and Bengal; the folk art is a popular show in villages and small town fairs where pictures are flipped fast giving an impression of moving images with a narrator intoning the stories.

While the focus is no doubt on the changing technology from Pat Chitra to silent era to sound movies (or talkies) traversing down to present times, Gangar said that special focus has been given to various social changes that had a symbiotic relationship with the medium per se.

Gangar said: “Thus at present in the large nine rooms and a huge hall we have divided sections wherein not only do we trace the incipience of documentary films but also we have tried to track down with the orbit of feature films and its changing content form and theme from mythological films to pre-independence freedom struggles to the changing socio-economic milieu of the post-independent India sparking off a tectonic shift among population leading to a massive internal diaspora concomitant with the alienation of people in the fulminating urban landscape as dominating themes which always ended with a moral looming tremulously on the fringes of narratives. The movies were then heavily influenced by the prevailing serious literature and thus you had neo-realist films dominating the cinescape across the country which incidentally continues to find its new avatar in the new wave cinema.

“Of course, this was 50s and then in 60s right into 70s to the present era one sees a dominant trend wherein majority of popular movies not relying on reality just amble into inconsequential universes where good and evil are found along with enchantment and terror playing like brother and sister in a verandah under gloaming skies.

The lure to the dark subterranean space of cinema hall and get strapped for three hours to face lust, love, fear and danger with a safety parachute has proved its potency time and again in the last one century; and teenagers till date play hooky from schools for a three-hour treat,” Gangar added.

Prabhat Sharan in Mumbai

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