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About 50 years ago, Indian cinema changed fundamentally. The first Bombay International Film Festival showed a selection of Italian neo-realist films and the effect was immediate. The dominant musical and mythical aesthetics of Hindi cinema was knocked off course. Within two years, Bimal Roy’s Two Measures of Land was released and the history of Indian realist cinema had begun.

No national cinema at the time, not even vanquished Germany’s, needed to turn its face towards reality more than India’s. The trauma of partition had taken place just a few years before, as had the assassination of Gandhi; landlord exploitation was…

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