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Richard Allen
Richard Allen

‘Hitchcock far surpasses the work of other directors’

NYU's Richard Allen on the auteur and his influences, Indian cinema, and a new workshop

“I’m frightened of my own movies. I never go to see them. I don’t know how people can bear to watch my movies," said Alfred Hitchcock in 1963, in one of his many interviews that were compiled into a book Alfred Hitchcock Interviews, edited by Sidney Gottlieb.

The master of suspense had a pioneering five-decade career—from silent films, black and white to colour; German and British film industry to Hollywood; and dabbling in films and television.

Since the subject of exploration at hand—Hitchcock and his brand of cinema—is so vast, Richard Allen, professor and chair of cinema studies, New York University (NYU), US, and author of Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony, keeps revisiting India, particularly to Delhi’s India Habitat Centre (IHC), to take film appreciation courses—this time on “Hitchcock and His Influences" from 11-22 January. Allen gives us his reasons for being back and talks about Indian cinema. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

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Well it’s a way of spending an interesting couple of weeks in the centre of Delhi and keeping connected with colleagues and friends. It also helps sustain my own research and writing on Indian Cinema. I enjoy teaching a largely adult clientele. They are enthusiastic and engaged. I enjoy cross-cultural dialogue and discussion.

What have you planned to do in the forthcoming workshop?

This one is on Hitchcock and his Influence—it seeks to understand and explain the peculiar fact that Hitchcock far surpasses the work of other directors in its influence and importance even though many directors in the history of cinema might be said to equal or surpass him in talent and achievement.

What do you think of the Indian audience? And of the new crop of Indian directors/films?

The Indian film audience is changing and so is the Indian film. There has always been an opposition between the masses and the classes in the perceptions of Indian film producers, but traditionally that was played out in terms of the basic contrast between the masala-melodrama and “realist" and government melodrama. First you had the emergence of the self-reflexive masala film made for the masses but also the knowing NRI audience like Om Shanti Om or Kal Ho Na Ho and then the multiplex which has been a game changer in terms of the industry in terms of abandoning the 3-hour format, the masala idiom, and embrace of genre cinema: gangster, comedy, thriller and so on.

I think this had has good results: Dibakar Banerjee, Vishal Bharadwaj, and to some extent Anurag Kashyap, though his work is very uneven. Of course, there are important directors who have been around for sometime like Sudhir Mishra, Mani Ratnam, and the late Rituparno Ghosh.

Which directors, according to you, have greatly been influenced by Hitchcock besides Brian de Palma, Pedro Almadovar, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and David Fincher?

Well you mention a few. Each generation seems to renew their enthusiasm in different ways. The list is long. Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais (Hitchcock appears as a cardboard cutout in Last Year At Marienbad), Michelangelo Antonioni, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese (he made an Australian wine commercial in homage), Jonathan Demme (example: The Silence of the Lambs), Dario Argento (The Italian Hitchcock), Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct), Christopher Nolan, Gus Van Sant. The horror genre in general as well as more recently art installations and Amerian quality TV too like Breaking Bad and Homeland.

Hitchcock has influenced Bollywood as well. We know Dev Anand in Jewel Thief resembled Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief and James Stewart in Vertigo; and Waheeda Rehman-starrer Kohraa was modelled on Psycho and Rebecca. But are there any Hitchcockian streaks that are noticeable in contemporary Hindi cinema?

Robby Grewal’s Samay is an obvious tribute to Hitchcock. The kind of unreliable narration and mixture of sex and style that characterizes Abbas-Mustan’s films is deeply influenced by Hitchcock via American films—often Hitchcock’s influence is mediated by other Hitchcockians. A fairly recent, and not very good, Hitchcock Rebecca remake Anamika. And more indirectly and loosely, the modern Indian thriller, the turn to suspense, is inevitably indebted to the idiom perfected by Hitchcock.

Also Read | All films Hitchcockian

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