A student film could be a tribute to the greatest films one watches as a film student or it could be an incomprehensible piece of cinema ambitiously aimed at revolutionizing conventional styles and genres. At their best, however, these amateur works can result in a refreshing and adventurous celluloid journey often not possible within a commercial framework. Master Strokes, a collection of student films by Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) graduates, is indicative of these extremes, featuring the works of now well-known film-makers such as Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Kundan Shah, and Sriram Raghavan as well as little-seen gems by lesser known talent. Below, some of the highlights in this two-disc DVD box set:
by Madan G. Bavaria (1970)
The film marks the first screen appearance of Jaya Bhaduri (now Bachchan) in a simple coming-of-age tale of a naughty girl whose adolescent world crumbles
when she realizes she has grown up. Set in a lively village, the film brings out the best in Bachchan, who excels in this natural and cheerful role.
Funny face: Kapoor’s Hypnothesis revolves around a kidnapping plot.
by Kundan Shah (1976)
Reminiscent of silent era comedies — there’s no dialogue — the film is a series of scenes without much of a plot structure. Referencing film-makers such as Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni as well as American gangster movies, Bonga makes use of imaginary props, and was perhaps an early blueprint for Shah’s later work Jaane Bhi Do Yaro.
Murder at Monkey Hill
by Vidhu Vinod Chopra (1976)
Both conversational and experimental, this tongue-in-cheek thriller revolves around the Bollywood-esque love story between a hired killer and beautiful girl. Ditching a traditional climax in favour of something more cheeky, the movie ends abruptly with a message for film financiers.
by Rajat Kapoor (1996)
Now known for feature films such as Raghu Romeo and Mithya, Kapoor manages to turn a hackneyed kidnapping plot into a playful riff on the boy who cried wolf. A son who revels in tricking his father into believing he’s kidnapped really does get snatched, except this time his father refuses to pay up.
The Eight Column Affair
by Sriram Raghavan (1987)
Raghavan was a journalist before he joined film school, an experience he put to good use in creating this film’s plot: A marathon runner and tennis champ featured in different parts of the same newspaper edition cross hurdles and pages (the action unfolds inside the newspaper) to fall in love, in an unusual and deeply ambitious piece of film-making.
Among the other films, watch out for Smita Patil’s cinematic debut as a docile classical musician in Arun Khopkar’s Teevra Madhyam, and award-winning documentary film-maker Nishtha Jain’s Jam Invalid about a schoolgirl who runs away to start out on her own.
Master Strokes might seem like bit of a misnomer for a collection of student films, but as insight into the formative years of some of India’s more popular contemporary film-makers, it is both intriguing and educational. Print-quality issues do mar an otherwise entertaining viewing experience and if anything, reflect the poor state of film preservation in our country. At only Rs400, though, a mere snip for first glimpses of cinematic genius, this DVD is well worth the price tag.
Master Strokes is available at Rudraa.com
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