Though “New Indian Cinema” is not a precise nor a particularly illuminating term, it points to trajectories in Indian cinema that are identified with the emergence of a certain aesthetic sensibility, a political awareness and engagement with Indian political realities, and a new style of film-making. Some would trace the beginnings of the ‘New Indian Cinema’ to Satyajit Ray and his legendary trilogy of the Apu films, which originated with Pather Panchali (Song of the Road) in 1955. Though socially-conscious movies were made by such directors as Bimal Roy and V. Shantaram before Pather Panchali and the element of neo-realism predominated, they nonetheless did not signify any radical departure from the mainstream Indian cinema. Pather Panchali, on the other hand, changed the way the whole world looked at Indian films.

Unlike the popular cinema, the New Indian cinema is almost always concerned with the common man. The heroes are not supermen with extraordinary ambition, who have to rise from poverty, tame the rich girl and fight the evil landlord, but ordinary men and women acting under the pressures of ordinary living. It is a form of individualization as the characters no longer have to represent icons of society like the “suffering wife” or the “evil mother-in-law”. This also explains why the form of these films is usually neo-realistic, though there is a great variety in the films of different directors.

The realism and sensitiveness with which Satyajit Ray portrays Apu in his trilogy influenced other directors. Foreign neo-realistic films like Bicycle Thieves and the International Film Festivals in India also contributed to this awakening. Another director to have had a profound effect on the New Indian cinema is Mrinal Sen. Starting from a dialectical Marxism and maturing to a humanist philosophy, his films have a certain grace and warm perceptiveness. Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani were much more overt in their revolt against established traditions. Their most renowned films are Kaul’s Uski Roti (A Day’s Bread) and Shahani’s Maya Darpan. Shyam Benegal started as a neo-realistic humanist, and attacked the feudal and caste relationships that form an integral part of Indian culture.

The New Indian Cinema also saw an awakening in regional cinema, especially in the south. Girish Karnad, who has made his influence widely felt both in theater and cinema, was at the forefront of the Kannada “New Wave”. Further south in Kerala, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who also began as a theater personality, tackled bold subjects through his films.

The role of a whole new generation of actors and actresses cannot be underplayed in the development of the New Indian Cinema. A great many of them graduated from the newly established Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) at Pune, and brought a more subdued and less histrionic style of acting to the new films. Some of the most talented actors and actresses include Naseeruddin ShahSmita Patil and Shabana Azmi. Their interest in film also did not stop with acting as many of them tried their hand at directing, theater and photography.

[Entry contributed by Anand Panangadan]


Vasudev, Aruna. The New Indian Cinema. New Delhi: Macmillan, 1986

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish; Willemen, Paul. Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. London: British Film Institute; New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994

Kishore, Valicha. The Moving Image. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1988