alam era

(swordplay part 4).
'Under the category of adventure films, we can include traditional swashbucklers, serialized films, and historical spectacles (similar to the epics film genre), searches or expeditions for lost continents, "jungle" and "desert" epics, treasure hunts and quests, disaster films,and heroic journeys or searches for the unknown. Adventure films are often set in an historical period, and may include adapted stories of historical or literary adventure heroes (Robin Hood, Tarzan, and Zorro for example), kings, battles, rebellion, or piracy.' the pundit again.

that's a comprehensive categorization of the swashbuckler-action-adventure genre of movies made in hollywood in the fairbanks-flynn era. well almost - disaster films were a category which evolved much later, unless you consider 'the last days of pompeii' to be one. which, strictly speaking, it wasn't.

in india, the first talkie 'alam ara' was based on a persian tale, suitably indianised by a veteran parsi theatre-wallah and directed by a parsi, ardeshir irani. the producer, the director, the cast, the crew, the trade, the cinemas, the critics and the audiences- none of them was ready for it. working with the most rudimentary kind of knowledge of sound and its processing, with equally unprepared actors, ardeshir irani had embarked on an adventure as spectacular as the subject of the film he was making. in an era when the producer, director and the lead actor(quite often, one idealist performed all the three functions!) took the prints and the projecting equipment and the crew providing the live musical support and the promotional material, on bullock carts to the audiences in villages and towns, it, probably, didn't seem such a foolhardy enterprise to him. because there were others,equally obsessed, who were undertaking similar ventures in bombay itself, in calcutta, in nasik, in kolhapur, in vizagapatnam, in madras, in mysore and in lahore. looking back, one might conclude that it was sheer good fortune that 'alam ara' hit the screen first. because it was followed by a series of talkies in several indian languages the very same year(1931). and this was just three years after 'the jazz singer', the first hollywood talkie. can we produce that kind of a competitive performance now? in any field? that was the spirit of the era.

what fuelled that widespread drive to pioneer? or, to be more exact, to be the first? ask microsoft. it is the power that every new watershed technology promises the earliest convert. the power to colonise the largest territory, negotiate the best of terms with the trade, capture the widest market, preempt the toughest competition. the power to dominate.

and the pioneers had readymade content, in the form of the vast repository of indian mythology, folklore and legend and literature. it was a time when everyone, whether in the field of cinema or literature or politics or industry, seemed undaunted by the challenges that a hopelessly underdeveloped india posed- they were ready to make the best use of whatever resources they had. and for the cinema folks, the mother lode of indian lore provided the richest source of quality material.

so the swashbucklers and other movies of the 'folk' genre they made had a defined context, a certain recognizable source and an identifiable time-age frame. do the later movies, made after independence, reveal a growing tendency to deny heritage, roots and ideals? specially, the telugu folk movies made in the sixties appear to do so. their indifference to time- isn't that a sure sign of regression? of a people slowly going back to a time of fantasy - when millennia were callously bunched together as vaguely classified 'yugs'? isn't that a sign of denial of the immediate past, specially the eventful battles waged for freedom? of history and of aspirations of redemption and development?

take the taj mahal out of agra and it ceases to tell a story. the filmmakers of the sixties, it would seem, were breaking one of the cardinal rules of storytelling: one that no grandmother ever forgets. to begin every story with a reference to time...long, long ago.

this violation was indicative of the denial of not just the past but, more importantly, the present ( the time the films were made). it was a pointer towards the growing disillusionment in the country, the disappointment with the state and its performance, the slow descent into pessimism & resignation. the lost wars, the famines, the shortages and the queues, the growing corruption and joblessness were taking their toll. india had changed three prime ministers- but the people had very little say in this regard. were they slowly realizing that they were not in charge- just as they weren't all through history?

young india was growing too old, too early.

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