Difference between parallel film and commercial film

Generally speaking they’re made on low budgets [well actually they all are pretty much.] and they tend to be less cinematic, by this i mean that they don’t have great big action sequences or stereotypical stories. They’re basically for directors who want to experiment with film making and try out new things, without caring whether or not anyone will actually like them. They aren’t made for a certain type of viewer if you understand what I mean.

They also tend to do well at film festivals, check out anything that’s been at Cannes, Toronto film festival and the Raindance film festival.

If you don’t usually watch stuff like that, go for something by Noah Baumbach, namely The Squid And The Whale [or Margot at The Wedding.] they aren’t necessarily art films, but I’m guessing your friend will have heard of them.

Classic art film – Eraserhead. [very peculiar indeed though, directed by David Lynch]
Explain the difference between Mainstream and Parallel Cinema.
Mainstream Cinema is also known as Commercial cinema or Popular cinema and concentrates on the entertainment needs of the masses.  Cinema in India is in itself a diverse strand of expression incorporating mainstream cinema which holds popular appeal, art or parallel cinema that engages with social issues, middle cinema and regional language cinema. Mainstream or popular Hindi cinema is also better known as “Bollywood” because such cinema is seen to exercise widespread influence over people and enjoys mass appeal. Popular cinema and culture derive from each other. Films are believed to be the opium of the Indian masses as people rely on this medium to help them escape to a world of fantasy. In a bid to reach the masses, mainstream cinema has become melodramatic and rhetorical. The presentation of extremes has been common.
However, to a certain extent Mainstream Cinema are films that are distributed to movie theaters which give these films worldwide releases. The definition of a mainstream Cinema can vary by country. For example, a mainstream Cinema from China wouldn’t be considered a mainstream film in India. But from a global perspective, mainstream Cinema could be defined as Hollywood films, because it is these films which make up the majority of the most widely distributed films in the world. This makes Hollywood films the worldwide mainstream.

Parallel Cinema is a film movement in Indian cinema that originated in the Bengal in the 1950’s as an alternative to the mainstream commercial Indian cinema, represented especially by popular Hindi cinema, known today as Bollywood. The Parallel Cinema movement began to take shape from the late 1940s to the 1960s, by pioneers such as Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Chetan Anand, Guru Dutt and V. Shantaram. This period is considered part of the ‘Golden Age’ of Indian cinema.

The Parallel Cinema concentrates on contemporary socio-political problems of the country. These films are made for the elite audiences and they are expected to change their thought processes. Mostly, there are no idols or stars in the art movie. There are only ideas that shake the minds of the viewer.

Examples of Mainstream Cinema in India are – Sholay, Zanzeer, Don, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Devdas, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Dil to Pagal hain, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain, Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gham, Doom 3, Krrish 3 etc.

Examples of Parallel Cinema in India are – Do Bhiga Zamin, Pather Panchali, Salam Bombay, Sati, Welcome to Sajjanpur, Chandni Baar, Lakshmi,Ishanou, Leibaklei etc.
Arthouse films and parallel cinema means the same.

Both these categories includes films that depicts a lot of reality and social issues. The only difference is the industry from which it got originated. Arthouse films got originated from the Hollywood, whereas parallel cinema got originated from Bengali films.Their main intention is to satisfy the niche market ,not the mass market audience or any other commercial cinema lovers. Such films mostly used new artists for depicting their roles, and they are made out of a very low budget, and their chances of suffering loss is extremely low.

Arthouse films got originated in Hollywood by the beginning of the 20th century itself,whereas parallel cinema got originated in India only by 1950. During that time Parallel cinema was also called as the ‘Indian New Wave’. Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak are the most popular bengali directors known for taking parallel cinema with great realism and naturalism. Actually, these two started the concept of parallel cinema in India.

The Hollywood industry still continues their work in taking Arthouse films, whereas parallel cinema in India is quiet rare these days,as most of the Indian cinema goers are only loving commercial films. But, in fact parallel cinema is a great art that should be appreciated and preserved.

Parallel cinema – How art cinema is trying to sustain in modern era ?

Movies have always been the most popular mode of entertainment in India. Every Friday there is buzz around cinema halls on a new release. According to the Central Film Board of India there were 1,288 feature films made in India in 2009 and 1,274 in 2010 but the number of art cinema films or better known as parallel cinema are still untraceable.

Parallel cinema known for its serious content, realism and depiction of social issues started in India way back in 1925 with V.Shantaram’s 1925 silent film classic ‘Savkari Pash’ as one of the earliest examples. The movement, initially led by Bengali cinema, began to take shape from the 1940s to 1960s – a period often referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Indian Cinema.’ Most films made during this period were funded by the State Governments with an aim of showcasing an authentic art genre.

In the 70s and 80s era the art cinema started widening its wings in Hindi cinema as well Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Mahesh Bhatt the directors of this era, tried their hand at promoting realism in their own different styles while embracing certain conventions of popular cinema in some of their other ventures. Slowly in the 90s parallel cinema saw its decline phase, the Bollywood got dominated with typical melodrama embraces fight, dance and songs.

Although parallel cinema has the power to drive change in society, throwing light on the harsh reality of society has been the main aim of this genre but as mentioned above, the charm of drama, item numbers and fight cannot be pulled out from Indian audiences and thus it gave birth to new form of cinema which included social issues with Bollywood masala.

Movies like Dor, Gulaal, Udaan, Gangs of Wasseypur deal with some of the critical social issues but they have also included the entertainment factor which audiences demand. Today there is a vast difference between old and new parallel cinema. Directors Satyajt Ray, Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt started together a wave in Indian Cinema marked as the ‘Golden Period’. Now there are a few Indian directors trying to make impact. The current off-beat films, unlike the old parallel cinema, are less political and have little potential to create social impact. Due to more emphasis on business, movies are getting dominated by the commercial factor leading to fading point of parallel cinema.

Though there are some movies which have not compromised their content according to today’s scenario such as ‘The Ship of Theseus’ but at the end it is considered as an exceptional case. The question remains whether we are forgetting the essence of parallel cinema because of the influence of commercial factor in movies or whether we should blame ourselves for not appreciating the art cinema as a viewer?


Published by Amir Hashmi

Amir Hashmi is an Indian Film Producer, Director, Writer, and Actor awarded the ‘Film excellence award’ by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India. Apart from being an artist, he is an outstanding speaker who hosted hundreds of inspiring workshops and campaigns amongst the youth. Awarded ‘Sangeet Visharad’ in Hindustani classical singing. He consistently promotes culture, humanity, and morality, and believes in truth and non-violence, besides being known for his environmental and patriotic initiatives.

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