Kumar Shahani, Pioneer of India’s Parallel Cinema Movement, Dies at 83

Kumar Shahani, one of the pioneers of India’s arthouse parallel cinema movement, died at a hospital in Kolkata on Feb. 24 after a period of illness. He was 83.

Shahani studied screenwriting and direction at the Film and Television of India, where he was tutored by Indian master Ritwik Ghatak. He won a French government scholarship for higher studies in France, where he studied at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques and assisted Robert Bresson on “Une Femme Douce” (1969).

He returned to India and directed his first feature “Maya Darpan” in 1972. Shahani was known for his formalist style of filmmaking and his landmark films include “Tarang” (1984), “Khayal Gatha” (1989) and “Kasba” (1990).

Internationally, Shahani’s work was particularly appreciated at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which programmed several of his films including “Maya Darpan,” the short “Var Var Vari,” “Tarang,” “Kasba,” the documentary “Bhavantarana” and “Char Adhyay.” “Khayal Gatha” won the FIPRESCI prize at Rotterdam in 1990. In 2019, the Pingyao International Film Festival screened his early works and Shahani delivered a masterclass.

Shahani was also involved with India’s archiving and restoration initiative, the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF). “FHF is deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Kumar Shahani, pathbreaking avant-garde filmmaker, a leading light of the Indian New Wave, and one of the first members of FHF’s advisory council, who deeply believed in the importance of the work we do and in cinema as an art form. We were fortunate to have recorded an in-depth interview with him on camera as part of our oral history project and we are proud to preserve the archive of one of India’s most unusual filmmakers and a true artist. We hope we will be able to restore some of his remarkable work in the future. He made the effort to come for nearly all of our events over the years and he will be deeply missed,” the FHF posted.

India’s National Film Development Corporation added: “Today India mourns the loss of Kumar Shahani, an influential filmmaker who left an indelible mark with timeless classics. His profound impact on the cinematic landscape endures, and his artistic contributions continue to resonate in the heart of Indian cinema.”

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