Marte Dum Tak Cinema: When cellulosic films were cult in India

Indian pulp films were a hit in the 1990s

“Every scene in a movie should touch your head, your heart…or below the belt,” says director Dilip Gulati, explaining why he directs the films he makes in a new documentary series about “B -Movies” from Bollywood.

Indian pulp films, often considered the lower cousins ​​of Bollywood, were made on paltry budgets and incredibly tight deadlines. Directed by largely unknown actors, they were characterized by extremely thin plots, stale dialogue, garish aesthetics and sex.

Thousands of people flocked to see these films in their heyday in the 1990s, but by 2004 the industry had collapsed.

A new six-part documentary series on Amazon Prime – Cinema Marte Dum Tak (Movies Until the End of Time) – shines a light on these films; its spirit and its main actors; the reasons for its existence and its eventual disappearance.

Four directors whose films have been hits – Vinod Talwar, J Neelam, Kishen Shah and Dilip Gulati – are given tight budgets, tight schedules and asked to make a film in their signature style.

Returning to their craft after decades, the directors immediately set to work, calling on old friends and collaborators. As the show follows these directors, audiences will be transported back to the 90s.

Audiences see excerpts from his old films with corny titles like Maut ke peeche maut (Death After Death), Kunwari chudail (Maiden Witch) and Main hoon kuwanri dulhan (I Am A Virgin Bride).

B-movies have often gotten into trouble with India’s censorship board

These films were shot on a single set, and the directors simultaneously served as art directors, costume designers, and sometimes even actors. Movies were often renamed to more salacious titles to appeal to a wider audience, and the plot changed when the director had a flash of inspiration.

Sometimes Bollywood stars were signed up for a few scenes and paid cash for each day’s work. Kanti Shah, who was a prolific B-movie director and is part of the series, talks about how he featured Govinda, Mithun Chakraborty and Dharmendra in his films.

Nothing was too taboo, too wild or too cheesy to find a place in these films. Whether it was a dominatrix bandit recruiting male masseurs into his gang or a gender-changing ghost having sex with maids, it all went without saying.

Film researcher Aseem Chandaver remembers a movie called Khooni Dracula (Killer Dracula) in which a vampire wanders around a slum and has sex with a woman who bathes outside.

“Even if the ghost has sex with people in a mainstream movie, it’s in an upscale place, or at least in a bathtub,” he muses. “But these directors knew the realities of their audiences and weren’t afraid to bring them to the screen.”

The theaters showing these films were so full that extra chairs had to be added to accommodate people. The audience was largely made up of India’s working class – tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, street vendors, laborers – who lived in small, remote towns and worked in grueling jobs that often earned less than minimum wage.

Indian pulp films featured bad prosthetics and weird ghosting

For them, these films offered a source of escape from their dreary daily life. For a few hours, they might get lost in a dimly lit movie theater in a movie that got them excited and excited.

The series also captures the stigma and struggle faced by the people who worked there due to their association with these “low budget horror movies”. They struggled to find work in mainstream films or pocket roles, which were considered more serious. Movies have also often run into trouble with censors.

Distributors began pushing for bolder scenes, driven by audience demand. But because the censors didn’t want to erase them, the directors shot them separately and inserted these “chunks” into the film during the screening.

Things came to a head when a cast member inserted a sex scene into a sequence involving siblings. This caused an uproar and the police began to crack down on these films. By 2004, the B-movie industry was nearly dead, robbing hundreds of their livelihoods.

Even though this “golden age of B movies” is over, their legacy lives on through fan communities, memes, parodies and jokes.

They also inspired poster art, and their obscene titles often find their way into silly charades. Film scholar Vibhushan Subba says these films lend themselves to fandom culture because of their “quirky inventiveness, transgressive quality and over-the-top aesthetic”.

“These films have carved out a niche for themselves in popular culture – albeit a tiny one,” says Mr. Subba.

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