Saturday, December 08, 2012

On Awtar Krishna Kaul's 27 Down (and a cinematic “what if”)

Now up on that fine website The Big Indian Picture, a piece I wrote about the 1973 film 27 Down, the only feature directed by the talented Awtar Krishna Kaul, who died tragically just before the film was released.

A favourite parlour game for the nerdish movie buff is the contemplation of great cinematic years. Internationally, obvious frontrunners include 1939 – when a breathtaking number of high-quality films competed for hall space before the disruptive theatre of WWII took over – and 1959-60, when at least half a dozen countries seemed to have New Waves in progress and such varied directors as Jean-Luc Godard, Kon Ichikawa, Otto Preminger and Georges Franju made magnificent films. But looking at Hindi cinema through the lens of hindsight, it seems to me that something special was in the air in 1973...

[Read the full piece here]


  1. Great piece, Jai. Always pleasure reading your work.

    See, I don't buy the what if though. The audiences were the lower strata of society. The main stream would have persisted. Indian cinema is coming of age now as the audience has changed at least partially to make it sustainable economically.

  2. Pratyush: I didn't anywhere suggest that the mainstream wouldn't have persisted. Was just speculating on the kind of career Kaul might have had - and that if, in the improbable event that he became a well-known director, he might have discovered a new kind of middle ground, to go with the ones that actually existed.

  3. Ah, right. That's interesting. See, I am apprehensive. Mahesh Bhatt tried with Arth and all and came out disillusioned in the end. There was Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Kundan Shah didn't do too well.

    The point you make, that top stars like Bachchan could have worked with him, actually, yes you are right. Yash Chopra did help shape it in a way. The 70s were still times where sensibilities were there in the films and it did appeal to the people. We could have had a middle ground in a few respects, yes, and that could have been fascinating.

    What does make me most apprehensive is that Bachchan was so great in his angry man persona, and with the audience that he had, not much else could stand at that time. He was over powering.

  4. ...with the audience that he had, not much else could stand at that time. He was over powering.

    Of course. Have written about this before too (and how the dismal failure of Alaap, for instance, may have played a big role in AB's subsequent choices). And again, I'm definitely not talking about the possibility of Kaul changing the entire landscape of Hindi cinema. Even if he had made a couple of films of the stature/longevity of Arth or Jaane bhi do Yaaro - in his own distinct style - it might have been worth it.

  5. I saw this film after seeing it mentioned here, and really liked it. Thanks!
    I think this was a truly unique experience - I do not remember seeing any other Hindi movie in which the plot was strictly developed to realize the formal exposition of a metaphor - that of the railway tracks to the predictability of human condition. In fact, it reminded me of this monologue from another movie, the title, at least, of which, has something to do with trains.
    Even while the tone of most of the movie appeared to me as didactic formalism, some deft touches here and there pleasantly surprised me. You have mentioned some of them. Some others were - when he met Rakhi for the first time - he exclaims - she has no hands..just like the statue! Then, when his philosophical musings after marriage, become whimsically and unexpectedly funny - biwi bhais ban gayi hai..etc. The small problem that I have , is that , I dont think there was a reason to explicate the metaphor so many times using narration. It was there for everyone to see.
    Finally, I think that it was quiet ironic, that after his journey, he arrived at the answer that he has heard so many times in his childhood, during the Geeta recitations by his father- " Mai ab bhaagna ya lautna nahi chahta, bas chalna chahta hoon" is very close to "Karmanye Vadhika phaleshu kadachan".

  6. Hi, Please can u suggest me where can i find this movie to watch and also plz provide the information about Avatar Krishna Kaur sir's Biography....Please

  7. Can somebody please arrange/ upload/ tell about a source of the novel itself. My dad is a huge fan of that book and someone borrowed it to never return! :(
    I want arrange a copy of the novel for him.