Noir Cinema is a quasi genre whose roots can be traced back to German Expressionist Cinema in the late 1930's..before i elaborate on the Noir , lets try and understand what does German Expressionism really stands for-- In the earlier times, the film making used to be a very controlled process, the production mostly taking place within the confines of studio, the final film therefore used to be extremely polished and glossy, Post world war 1 Hollywood film makers decided to take the films outside the studio and shoot them on a higher budget, making them even more extravagant, Germany at the same time, was trying to recover from the Economic slump that was created due to the war and was finding it hard to match up to the high standards set by their Hollywood counterparts, therefore, in order to counter balance the threat from Hollywood Cinema the German film makers created a niche for them selves, the kind of films that were done on low budgets, shot in low key lighting,dark and moody, having abstract sets which gave a very surreal feel to the shebang ; The Cabinet of Dr Calligiri (1920) and "The Last Laugh (1924)" were the earlier example of German Expressionism , These films also became known for there unconventional story and themes which dealt with dark subjects as Death, Insanity, betrayal and Lust (as opposed to the conventional action adventure or romantic films from that era) . Later when the 2nd World War started , lot of the directors and technicians from Germany migrated to Hollywood and started working there, with Hollywood producers and Hollywood Scripts, adding there original elements that they carried over from Germany, to the usually sordid Hollywood, giving birth to a completely new style of films called Noir.
Noir films are usually recognized by few following elements :
They have low key lighting, hard shadows, and the light and smoke play a integral part in the texture of the film, also the composition and shots are dramatically taken, usually low angles, canted frames, and tight closeups.
The narrative of this type of films is rarely linear, and it involves time line jumps , Flashback and dream sequences
The Character in these sort of film dont follow any structured ethics or moral integrity and every character is driven by his/her selfish motives
The presence of a femme-fatal , if not omnipresent is very common in such genre.
The tone of the film is essentially downbeat, dark and gritty
Noir is a genre which has become very popular in the America and Europe and it has been explored a lot of times, while in India, its a genre which still has to gain recognition, therefore in this column i have decided to explore few films that may classify as Indian Noirs (although they were never intended to be a noir but the plot points, themes and values in the story, although unintentional, has resulted them in classified under the category of noir films), so here it goes :
1.CID (1956) Dir :Raj Khosla
This Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman starrer is probably the first taste of Noir film that Indian audience got, dark, brooding and atmospheric, it follows a Police officer investigating a crime and later himself getting implicated for the same, beautifully shot by Anwar and Murthy, this remains one of the best in the genre.
2.KalaPani (1958) Dir :Raj Khosla
Another Dev Anand starer directed by the same person who helmed the earlier film, this film was based on AJ Cronins book called 'Beyond this Place', this film is about a man who is falsely implicated for a crime he never committed and his son's (who is a lawyer) crusade to prove his father innocent, although not as dark and atmospheric as CID this film is still able to stand on its two feet , this films crosses genres between Court room Drama and a crime thriller..and get it right.
3.Kanoon (1960) Dir : B.R.Chopra
While visiting a german film festival , B.R.Chopra was told that Indian films 'consist nothing but songs' so B.R.Chopra took it on himself to make a film without any song and he made Kanoon, a character driven crime drama with no protagonist..its about a hotshot public attorney who witnesses his own father in law ,who is a judge, committing a murder and having another not so innocent man framed for the same crime, things become more complicated when the public attorney have to defend the same guy who got framed for the charge in a case thats being presided by his own father in law (the judge), morals versus ambition, relationships versus deceptions, this film weaves a complex and multi layered tale of 5 character with immaculate precision.
4.Thikana (1987) Dir :Mahesh Bhatt
A hard boiled film with amazing performances all around Smita Patil , Anil Kapoor ,Amrita Singh, Anupam Kher and Suresh Oborai, Mahesh Bhattcreated a film which was so dark and atmospheric that you will want to take a shower after you are done watching it, layer after layer, twist after twist, it follows two different stories, one involving a sting operation gone terribly wrong and another one of a down and out alcoholic lawyer , both these stories merges seamlessly, this film doesn't looses steam, and pulls no stops..an absolute noir in all its glory.
5.Kabzaa (1988) Dir :Mahesh Bhatt
A semi noiristic film starring Sanjay Dutt, Raj Babbar, Paresh Rawal and Amrita Singh, was another shot by Mahesh Bhatt in directing a noir, but due to the failure of his earlier film, he figured that the Indian audience are still not ready for something as downbeat and dark as Thikana, so he made few alteration to his story to suit Indian taste, therefore this movie which could have been one of India's most profound entry in this genre, remains to be a revenge drama for most of its runtime, still you cant disregard the fact that there are lot of noir elements in it..predictably enough this film went on and became a hit , while i find Thikana to be a much better film..this film also proved that Sanjay Dutt performance in Naam wasnt just a fluke and also became a take off film for a very talented and gifted actor called Paresh Rawal.
6.Khoj (1989) Dir :Keshu Ramsey
A copy of a TV film called 'One of my Wife is Missing" , this one is a strange film, cause all through out the film its plays out like a Noir and with one final twist in the end , it turns into mystery film..which ever way, this Rishi Kapoor and Nasiruddin Shah starrer still makes a compelling watch which should not be missed by anybody.
7.Parinda (1989) Dir :Vidhu V chopra
A very strong entry in the genre, It was one of the earliest realistic portrayal of gangsters in Indian cinema, a film which treads the razor sharp edge that separates commercial films from the art house films, the film has gained popularity as a gangster film, which is not true, this is Noir at its best, amazing performances all around, this is a poignant film that explores the underbelly of Indian (read Mumbai) Crime world and manages to add some white the the blackest of the characters in the story, this one is a slow burner, very bleak and downbeat..and thats what makes it such a amazing film.
8.Aar Ya Paar (1997) Dir :Ketan Mehta
This films packs almost all the elements that defines a Noir, simply put- this film is about bad people doing bad things and worse happing to them, morals and innocence fly's out of the window in this story of crossing ,double crossing, multiple crossing, the films borrows heavily from a James Hadley Novel and few other films like 'The Postman Only Rings Twice' and 'Dial M for Murder' this is typical B grade pulp at its best.
9.Kaante (2002) Dir :Sanjay Gupta
Possibly one of the most highly anticipated film of all time, part Reservoir Dog , Part Usual Suspect and since both of the original sources were noirs, this one cant be anything else
stylish, slick and technically well executed film , although its flawed but still its always a fun to watch such ensemble cast have a good time.
9.Footpath (2003) Dir :Vikram Bhatt
Another under rated film, mostly inspires 'State of Grace' with a few other film, this movie i am sure would have looked very good on paper, but with the shoestring budget and inexperienced cast and director this film is never able to rise above the occasion and instead ends up undermining itself, all said and done this is still a Noir which could have been done really well..but it is still worth a watch for someone who is exploring this genre in Indian Films.
11.Jism (2003) Dir:Pooja Bhatt
If film was a wine then it should be Jism cause the aged it is the better it will taste, Pooja Bhatt goes behind the camera for the first time and introduces two new comers to the industry, the raw chemistry between the two protagonists , the sexual tension- is a character in itself in the film, loosely based on Double Indemnity, this film uses a very original location by setting the film in Pondicherry, the heat, humidity and sweat only adds to the film which is already hot.
12.Musafir (2004) Dir: Sanjay Gupta
A copy of U Turn, this one is easiest to be classified as a noir since it blatantly rips off one, Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor and Sameera Reddy starrer, does well ripping a orignal content and tearing it to shreds , in a good way..U-Turn was never a great film, so Musafir although if not worse, is equally bad, but its bad in a good way, low on content and high on style..the film, never takes it self too seriously and doesnt trys too hard to be something its not, and therefore instead of a film which is actually a noir it ends up looking like a spoof of a Film Noir.
13.Ek Hasina Thi (2004) Dir :Sriram Raghvan
This is a little gem, although it borrows a few plot points from a film by Chan woo Park's 'Sympathy for Lady Vengeance' , it has enough originality to stand on its own two feet, lovely performances by the two leads (Urmila Matondkar and Saif Ali Khan) and very well supported by the supporting cast, this film puts a completely new spin on the 'Damsel in Distress' formula cause here the damsel rebounds..a must watch for who ever likes there thriller with a dash of noir.
14.Manorama Six Feet Under (2007) Dir : Navdeep Singh
Partly inspired by "Chinatown" still has enough originality, based on dry deserted backdrop of Rajisthan, this film is a Noir and it knows it, intricately woven plot , deals with the themes of deception, infidelity and betrayal and the best part of all is, it adopts Noir elements to very rustic indian sensibilities, you dont have people dressed in overcoat and flat hats smoking cigarettes and blowing puffs of smoke, instead you get very real and Indian character caught reluctantly in situation none of them want to be in, laced with brilliant performances all around by all the cast..this is a noir that is true to the soil.
15.Jhonny Gaddar (2007) Dir : Sriram Raghvan
When 'Ek Hasina thi' released, everybody thought that there is no way Sriram Raghvan would be able to supersede this and then he made Jhonny Gaddar, one of the best entires in the genre, wonderful and tightly woven script, and a remarkable debut by Neil Nitin Mukesh as an anti hero just sets the bar high for all other thrillers, very noir-ish the other most remarkable thing about this film is its ability to pay homage to various material without becoming a spoof..this film has everything it takes to become a cult classic.
16.Woodstock Villa (2008) Dir :Hansal Meheta
A wannabe Noir, its the lamest movie in this whole list, a half hearted direction to a half backed script couldn't result in a work of art, but this film manages to set standards for 'bad films' , the director seems bored, the actress seems bored, most of the supporting cast seems bored..if anyone seems to be making any effort in the film is the protagonist (Sikander Kher) and because of his sincere effort he stands out like a sore thumb in the whole circus..the film tries to redeem it self with one final twist in the end , but by then its already too late.
17.Mithya (2008) Dir :Rajat Kapoor
There is no better way to end the list but by listing the best of the lot, Mithya is a labour of love and it shows, the performances by the cast, the screenplay, the dialogs, the cinematography and the direction but what takes this film a notch higher than all the other films in this list is its unpredictability, it never lets you sit back and think to yourself that you have it all figured out, it has twists, but the twists are introduced to take the story forward..unlike the times where the whole film is based on one twist in the end, which forces you to change you perspective, its good but its cheating , as all through out the film you are seeing the film differently..those kind of twist are like a Duex-ex-machine, where as in Mithya the twist are as much part of the character development as much as the story is..A noir in its full glory.
The Following films are also worthy mention in the list
1. Bees Saal Baab (Raj Khosla)
2. The Train (Ravikant Nagaich)
3. Kudrat(Chetan Anand)
4. No Smoking(Anurag Kashyap)
5. Satya (Ram Gopal Verma)