The Vasan Bala-backed docu series approaches the world of seedy underground films and their makers with much-needed sympathy
Published: 25th January 2023 08:52 AM | Last Updated: 25th January 2023 08:52 AM | A+A A-
The first time I saw Kanti Shah’s Gunda, I appreciated—not ironically—the creativity of its dialogue. Although they do sound like a bunch of sonnets written by a P.T. teacher the night before a drama skit because the English professor fell sick, the lines create absurd images in your head. Like one of them is about a man drinking cat milk and travelling from Delhi. No logic or lyricism to be found here—Dilli and Billi just rhyme well. Even if lesser, it was art.
Gunda was a B-grade film, or B-movie as the West calls it. These films were made on meagre budgets, locations restricted to Mumbai’s Film City and shoots were packed up in a week. The target audience was the working class. Titillation was the purpose. Be it horror, action or romance, everything was either sex or about sex. In Cinema Marte Dum Tak, the new documentary series on Prime Video, journalist Kunal Shah unknowingly gives the perfect name to such films: Quickies.
The documentary, backed by cineaste Vasan Bala, deftly explores the life and working style of four pulp cinema directors. There is vampire-obsessed Vinod Talwar, who helmed Halloween-mask-horror films like Raat ke Andhere Mein (1987) and Khooni Panja (1991), explorer of female desire J. Neelam (Main Hoon Kunwari Dulhan, 2001, Tadapti Jawani, 2005), eco-warrior Dilip Gulati (Jungle Beauty, 1991, Zimbo, 1999) and the jack-of-all-trades Kishan Shah (Bhoot Ke Peeche Bhoot, 2003, Pyaasi Nagin, 2004, Jungle Lioness, 2004). The filmmakers are given the task to shoot a short film again and all of them stick to what they know. Vinod comes up with Blood Suckers, Neelam’s film is called Shanti Basera, Dilip takes away from his previous work and makes Jungle Girl and Kishan goes for Sautan Bani Chudail.
The documentarians also take a compassionate approach towards their subjects as they shoot them at home and at work. Thankfully, they are not reduced to laughing stock or meme fodder. When informed he is being given an opportunity to direct a film again, Vinod, gleefully, takes out the dusty, handwritten script of Blood Suckers from an almirah. He then narrates the plot to the camera, like an old man reading to his grandkids from a forgotten diary. Neelam, a tough taskmaster on set, asks her flatmate’s opinion on the taste of a new dish she is trying. Dilip reads about tribal rights and land encroachments in his spare time and Kishan is basically Shashi Kapoor to his brother Kanti Shah’s Bachchan. He even tells the camera, “He has everything but I have a family.”
The series smartly does not delve too much into Kanti’s eminence in the world of B-movies or his infamy when it comes to Hindi cinema. He is peppered well throughout, being a moving part in the big machine, that was once, the pulp film industry. Cinema Marte Dum Tak also zooms out and tracks the journey of this underground cinema, and how the controversy around “bits” or pornographic scenes that were added under the nose of the Censors, the death of single screens after the advancement of multiplexes and the lack of upgradation by makers, led to its downfall.
The praiseworthy part is that the series never loses out to its humanness. More than creative professionals, these were people trying to hold their ground in the topsy-turvy, bumpy rollercoaster ride that is the film industry. They had less money, even less time and several mouths to feed. A lot of them fell on hard times. Sapna Sappu, the Sridevi of these films, known for her iconic Baywatch-like beach run in the opening scene of Kanti Shah’s Angoor (2005), almost breaks down as she talks about bringing up her child as a single mother. It’s endearing to see these makers, these actors, walk the red carpet to their films’ screening as Akanksha Sethi croons, “Woh chandni meri kal gum si jaegi, aey shaam tham ja tu yahi.” If only we could watch the films.
Series: Cinema Marte Dum Tak
Cast: Vinod Talwar, Kishan Shah, J Neelam, Dilip Gulati and Kanti Shah
Streamer: Prime Video
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