Newhouse professor Tula Goenka on Indian films beyond Bollywood

Goenka’s new book offers a glimpse at the largest movie business of the world including its diversity and contemporary trends.

With indie cinema like Lunchbox, Titli and Liar’s Dice entering the Oscars for India this year, the Indian film industry is more than Bollywood. Tula Goenka’s new book, Not Just Bollywood: Indian Directors Speak, offers a rare glimpse of the largest movie business of the world, its sheer diversity and contemporary trends.

Photo: Varuni Sinha
Goenka talked with directors who were changing the Bollywood film industry through innovative storytelling.

Goenka, a filmmaker and professor of film production, goes behind the scenes to paint the scene. She interviews 28 leading Indian directors to talk about films from the filmmaker’s point of view.

“A director is the vision of a film,” Goenka said. “Especially in India, directors are often auteurs of their works. They ideate, write, shoot, edit and produce. I was looking for directors like Rituparno Ghosh and Yash Chopra who had changed the industry in some way. Individuals who had an impact on storytelling and were actively making movies," she added.

Goenka came to America in the mid 1980s to study filmmaking. She worked with directors like Mira Nair, Spike Lee and James Ivory. When she went home after seven long years, India and her films had changed dramatically. She wanted to catch-up, but Indian bookstores offered little.

“I wanted to write the book that I did not find,” she said. “Today, books on Indian films and Bollywood are plenty. But, few capture the varied range.”

In her book, Goenka showcases how Bollywood or the commercial films that are made out of Mumbai have coexisted with gritty independents, art-house films, middle cinema and a multidimensional regional cinema.

“The Tamil and Telgu film industry sometimes makes more movies than the Hindi industry, Goenka said. “However, limitations of language and distribution don't allow many of these films to carry over to a wider audience.”

She pointed out how one of the biggest changes for Indian cinema occured in 2001 when the government recognized the moviemaking business as an industry. Earlier Indian films were funded by ‘black’ or undeclared money.

“People could now get bank loans, corporate funding came in, and the industry became more professional," Goenka explained. "The other big change was the opening of multiplexes. No longer did one film have to reach the grandfather, the grandmother, the parents, the aunt, the uncle, and the children – all at once. You could now have niche marketing."

This is what led to the birth of Indie cinema as we know it today, according to Goenka. Such films captured niche themes. Works could be in Hinglish or Tinglish. They could be urban or not. For example, Nagesh Kuknoor’s cinema is not meant for the rural audience. The technology of distribution was changing how films were made and digested.

“Now that the corporates have come in, films are becoming cutting edge, sophisticated and hip," Goenka said. However, many of these investors want to put in less money and want to create a big splash and earn more. So, a lot of young directors are getting their debut film like never before."

Goenka is all praise for young directors like Onir, one of the few to cover LGBT issues through cinema in an open way. She also applauds Nagesh Kuknoor’s works, a director who wants to try every genre and Anurag Kashyap who is an industry in himself.

In her book, Goenka has strayed clear of unnecessary jargon and criticism.

“I didn't want to write a scholarly book on cinema," Goenka said. "I am a filmmaker and I make documentaries. In my line of work, you allow the artist to talk, rather than impose your worldview on them."

“I decided to interview 28 directors because 28 is a great number. I tell people that if you start on a full moon day and you read one chapter each day it’s 28 days,” Goenka smiled.  

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.