Happy Sergei Eisenstein Day! Best Montages in Hindi Film

Google doodle had a film theme today, and I couldn’t resist leaping on it.  Sergei Eisenstein, Russian master of the montage, inspiring me to look at some of the best montage examples from Hindi film.

Sergei Eisenstein’s most famous montage is of course the Battleship Potemkin Odessa steps sequence.  It’s a brilliant leap forward in film, building tension by rapid cuts.  But it also had a thematic purpose, Eisenstein was making a socialist film, he wanted to create the feeling of many people suffering in their own way and yet also united, versus the implacable power of the state.

 

Indian film was highly influenced by Russian film style, especially in the 1950s.  But they were less likely to do montages, partly because of technical/expense issues.  A montage can only be done with multiple cameras being set and reset and shooting from multiple angles, and then finally everything being chopped up and pasted back together.  With the limited quantity of raw film stock available to Indian filmmakers, and the heavy clumsy cameras they were using, it was hard to film like that.  Which is why the exceptions to that rule were so exciting.

The first one that springs to mind is the Darr trailer.  Which Aditya Chopra cut together and shocked people by how very different it was from what they were used to seeing.  It’s not one formal sequence edited together as is the Odessa Steps scene, but rather an entire film shown in quick flashes, kinetically pulled together.

 

That montage pulls together one narrative, there are also montages like this which pull together one part of the narrative, one character.  In this case, Shahrukh Khan playing (essentially) himself.

 

Fanvids also tend to be montages, because they are repurposing footage made by others and the easiest way to do that is to chop it up and put it back together again.  Just like Eisenstein did with his own new footage.

 

So far these have all been sort of mood pieces, putting together multiple things in order to create a certain mood.  Montages can also be used in order to show events happening simultaneously in multiple places.  For instance, the amazing montage that opens The Legend of Bhagat Singh.  Which I can’t find, so click here and go to Netflix and watch the opening 5 minutes!  It’s AMAZING.

As good, but more reflected instead of power packed, is the end of Bombay.

 

There’s also montages used to show time passing, multiple events in a condensed way.  Here’s one I really love from Wazir which adds on freeze frames and slow motion.

 

And finally back to Rang De Basanti for the use of montage that is closest to Eisenstein’s original famous sequence.

 

 

I know that is just scratching the surface, please let me know if there is something I have missed, or a montage you really love!  Oh, and also, GO TO NETFLIX AND WATCH THE OPENING OF BHAGAT SINGH!!!!

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14 thoughts on “Happy Sergei Eisenstein Day! Best Montages in Hindi Film

    • Exactly! Although, I think it has more impact not in context.

      I saw it first at the British Film Institute, it was part of a constantly playing series of famous film sequences. So it was just thrown in there with similarly famous moments, but it still stood out and imprinted itself on me. And then, a few years later, we watched all of Battleship Potemkin in a film class and it is booooo-rring! Lots of talky-talky (in a silent film, so talky-talky conveyed by intertitles, making it even more boring) and a slow build to a mutiny on board a ship until, FINALLY, the crowd gathers to welcome the mutiny ship and this sequence starts. It took me a bit to change gears into this part after all the talky bits and I think it had less impact than it would otherwise since it was stuck in with all the rest of the film. Not that the rest of the film is bad, just more of a standard film from that era.

      My other Odessa Steps connection is kind of second hand, have you seen The Untouchables? There’s a famous Odessa Steps homage in the middle which was filmed at Union Station in Chicago. Where I have been traveling in and out my entire life, so it’s this odd combination of stressful (because it’s an action scene) and comforting (because it’s my childhood train station!)

      On Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 9:07 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I have seen the Untouchables and I remember the sequence on the steps, it was a very big deal when the movie cam out.

        Living in LA I see scenes in movies all. the. time. that were shot in my old neighborhood downtown (most memorably the train dream sequence in Inception, which I watched them film) so I know that weird feeling!

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        • That’s what it’s like visiting Bombay! Just going around the city, there is constant deja vu because every street corner and building and everything has been used in a movie a million times. Someone asked me once if I had been somewhere that was used in a movie, and in Chicago I can point to really specific moments because it is so rare, but in Bombay it was just EVERYWHERE.

          On Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 9:21 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. When I first saw Eisenstein’s movie (without knowing about that famous scene), I was shocked and ended up crying so much and becoming so helplessly angry at the politic in power that I had to leave the classroom when the buggy started to descend the steps. So, I would say, this scene and montage-work wasn’t only a great creative act but also did was it should convey…and does also convey in the Rang De Basanti scene.

    As for Bhagat Singh…Did you mean the montage (1:30 min) before the credits or also the other one at the beginning (with the corpses whisked away? I watched it at

    because I’m not a NETFLIX user.

    Thanks for this reminder of Sergej and montage 🙂

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    • The one right at the beginning with the patriotic poem in the background, that ends with the title and “Inquilab Zindabad”. It’s so quick, but it gives you a feel for the whole madness and anger of the era, the conflicting voices, and then how everything suddenly locked into place with Bhagat’s martyrdom. It’s also the perfect intro for the title, the film isn’t so much a biography of the person Bhagat Singh, but an explanation for how his legend came to be, and why his death gave meaning to his life. And then the film itself was disappointing, but that opening is brilliant!!!!! Rang De has a great opening too, with a similar idea of everything starting with the death, but I think Legend does it better.

      I don’t know if I would have rather seen Potemkin without knowing the “Odessa Steps” first or not. It was so powerful seeing it out of context, that was an amazing experience. But then on the other hand, when watching the whole film, I kept waiting for it instead of being surprised. It kind of reminds me of Dil Se! By the time I finally saw the whole film straight through, I had seen the song videos so many times they almost lost their impact.

      On Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 11:57 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I saw the Odessa steps montage as a very small girl, too small to be watching it, because my brothers and parents were watching the film on PBS and I was in the room. To this day, I remember it being one of the most terrifying things I had ever seen.

    There are two short montages in the first 15 minutes of Abhimaan which are among my favorite parts of the film. The first is the and-then-his-song-became-a-hit! montage, where we see Indians of all walks of life enjoying the song Amitabh sings at the beginning of the movie: women listening to the radio as they get ready, and couples on dates, and children dancing in front of a phonograph, and a wedding. The second is the and-he-got-super-famous! montage, which starts with a shot of a symbolic racehorse before showing Amitabh cheering for it, and also includes a shot of his face from below, suddenly obscured by hands asking for autographs.

    Also love the montage from Bombay. Bombay is one of Rahman’s best, I think, and the music really adds to the poignancy of the film as a whole and particularly this ending. This makes me want to watch it again but I don’t think I could take it.

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    • I definitely can’t take watching Bombay again! I had to watch this video through my fingers, just enough to make sure it was the bit I wanted but without totally focusing.

      On Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 10:10 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Oh, and my parents made us watch The Seven Samurai when we were WAY TOO YOUNG!!!! That was my scarring experience. Also, ET. That movie is scary!

      On Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 10:10 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Films are part of my life only since I had watched my first film (as a 6-year-old in a theatre), but I started with watching only in theatres, so it were kiddie films and then Western and romances and German musical films. The cruelties of mankind, I mainly got to know through the newsreels preceeding the movie. I think I got a distinct feeling about the difference between personally based cruelty and politically iniciated cruelty through that approach already at a relatively young age. I would weep over both forms but the trigger would be different…polically motivated cruelty made (and still makes) me incredibly angry…I genuinely feel ire about the responsible powers and it is my helplessness to change something that makes me cry.
        There was a time I hit on walls, trees and fences running home from the theatre, sobbing and cursing those selfish interests that had led to multiple deaths.
        Watching Battleship Potemkin was part of a history class project but my reaction to the movie led to a discussion about the way a movie can influence feelings (and also manipulate them) which brought me a step further in my way how to consider cruelty on screen. However, Dil Se or this scene still make me cry…

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        • Your reaction sounds similar to mine. There is a different feeling to films that are based on something real than total fiction for me. My Name is Khan is the one where it is strongest for me. I know it is a film with issues, I know it could be better, I know it is illogical and so on. But at the same time, the heart of the film is representing something that was and is really happening and that just wrecks me in a way that the very best made film on an entirely fictional subject just doesn’t.

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          • I felt very strong about the movie when I got to know about it (even before I knew about the Asperger and the historical aspect or the terrorist line)…it was a weird feeling…the Moment, the title “Khan” was mentioned I somehow knew it would deal with the Muslim identity and problems related to it…and that gave me already a kind of anxiety. I even wanted to travel to the shooting in America to watch it (I could not for family reasons).
            At the Berlinale I could witness the impact of the occurences surrounding the premiere in India, especially Mumbai where Gauri went to a theatre with the kids. ShahRukh and Karan locked themselves in a room with phones and Kajol took over the role to give an interview to the remaining press-people.

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          • Sometimes I feel like I am stuck in a strange parallel universe where I am the only person who remembers that controversy. It was never referenced, that I saw, during the Padmavat discussion. When people talk about the ups and downs of Shahrukh’s career, they mention his string of flops around 2000 and now, or the “intolerance” remark, but not My Name is Khan. It didn’t even come up in Karan’s autobiography.

            So thank you for confirming my memory! I wonder why it never comes up? Either it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought, or else it cut a little too close to the bone for people to risk talking about.

            On Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 8:36 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I think one reason it was hardly publicized was the fact that MyNameIsKahn premiered at the same time as the opening movie in the prestigious Berlinale film festival and had a very good international media coverage (the hall of the press conference was packed). ShahRukh was not only already well-known through the impact he made 2008, he had also another political support in Maharashtra/Mumbai, so the problems caused by the Thakerys could be solved relatively quickly. It was (and remains) a dark spot on the filmindustry and was the first important sign for a campaigning against ShahRukh movies (it continued with Ra.One, JabTakHaiJaan etc) which had rather little or nothing to do with the quality of the movies.

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