Through careful archival research, the book presents, how art films emerged out of a particular relationship between ordinary people and the arts.

Rochona Majumdar analyzes the aspirations, films, and writings of a small but significant group of passionate cinephiles – Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen, among them. These filmmakers worked with a new medium—films—to craft unique readings of India’s postcolonial history. In this, they were pioneers who anticipated many of the themes that academic postcolonial, feminist, and other radical historiographies developed in later years.

October 2021

Non-fiction | Columbia University Press | 304 Pages | 35 B&W Film Stills | Paperback | INR 699/-

Distributed by Penguin Random House India

  • Art films gave Indian cinema international recognition in Cannes, Venice, and scores of international festivals.
  • Art filmmakers were among the first to see the problems with the developmental state. The films spoke both thematically and cinematographically of the many ills that beset the new nation state.
  • Certain such as the “angry young man” arose first in art films before they reappeared in Bombay films in the star persona of Amitabh Bachchan.
  • The novel use of songs, location shooting, melodrama, poster art, graffiti, found footage, and sound camera techniques marked unprecedented breaks in Indian cinema.
Picture Credit: Penguin Random House India
Picture Credit: Penguin Random House India

Why then has the INDIAN ART CINEMA gone into oblivion? 


The project of Indian art cinema began in the years following independence in 1947, at once evoking the global reach of the term “art film” and speaking to the aspirations of the new nation-state. In this pioneering book, Rochona Majumdar examines key works of Indian art cinema to demonstrate how film emerged as a mode of doing history and that, in so doing, it anticipated some of the most influential insights of postcolonial thought. Majumdar details how filmmakers as well as a host of film societies and publications sought to foster a new cinematic culture for the new nation, fueled by enthusiasm for a future of progress and development. Good films would help make good citizens: art cinema would not only earn global prestige but also shape discerning individuals capable of exercising aesthetic and political judgment. During the 1960s, however, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, and Ritwik Ghatak―the leading figures of Indian art cinema―became disillusioned with the belief that film was integral to national development. Instead, Majumdar contends, their works captured the unresolvable contradictions of the postcolonial present, which pointed toward possible, yet unrealized futures. Analyzing the films of Ray, Sen, and Ghatak, and working through previously unexplored archives of film society publications, Majumdar offers a radical reinterpretation of Indian film history. Art Cinema and India’s Forgotten Futures offers sweeping new insights into film’s relationship with the postcolonial condition and its role in decolonial imaginations of the future.


Rochona Majumdar is an associate professor in the Departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal (2009) and Writing Postcolonial History (2010).

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