June 14, 2008 12:52:09 pm
As a 19-year-old student of zoology at Delhi’s Hansraj College, I had no desire to be a filmmaker. Till I watched Bicycle Thieves, a 1948 Italian film directed by Vittorio De Sica, at a film festival in Delhi in 1993. After the film got over, I decided to chuck it all and leave bag-and-baggage for Bombay to be a filmmaker. Till today, my appetite for the film refuses to wane. I haven’t kept count of the number of times I’ve seen it. After I first watched the film, I got its VHS and as technology changed, I got a CD and then a DVD. I’ll sure lap up the film again in another new video format, whenever it arrives.
It’s not an exaggeration that watching Bicycle Thieves was an epiphany. To begin with, it had a great story—a man, unemployed for over two years in depression-ridden, post-World War II Rome, finally manages to get a job, that of pasting film posters on walls. He must have a bicycle though, his agent tells him. So, the man’s wife sells their bedsheets to help him buy a bicycle. And then, his bicycle gets stolen. He and his son embark on a search for the cycle. Though they aren’t able to find it, they locate the thief and call the cops. The thief is let off though for want of proof. Desperate, the man attempts to steal a bicycle himself. And when he does, he is caught and beaten up before his son.
The film’s realism inspired me and continues to do so. You’ll find an imprint of Bicycle Thieves in every film of mine, from Black Friday to No Smoking. De Sica made the film with non-professional actors and shot on real locations. I try to do the same with my films. Their plots may be fantastical but their presentation borders on realism. From shooting on real locations (as in Black Friday) to the way the characters dress, speak and move about, my attempt is to get as closer to real life as I can.
Bicycle Thieves has got its due. It has influenced filmmakers world over including legendary ones such as Satyajit Ray, whose Pather Panchali drew, in some way, from Sica’s film. It has been a very popular film too. Its pathos has struck a chord with viewers all over the world. In fact, I just recently learnt that it is the only foreign-language film to have run for 25 weeks in Patna.
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