Review: Beyond The Boundaries Of Bollywood
Before delving into the different ways Bollywood has been perceived by viewers, commentators and industrywallas, the book looks at the coinage of the term itself. Amitava Sanyal writes.books Updated: Jun 18, 2011 08:40 IST
This is another step in the colonisation of Hindi cinema. No, I dont mean any imperialist project of Holly over Bolly. Think of an armada of colons (father of the semi-colon) docking at Film City and upturning everything from props to popcorns. Take it as a readers dystopia of the growing academic literature on Bollywood.
Why colons? Well, how can you tell whether a book is academic before reading it? Look for the colons in the titles.
Dont get me wrong. The increasing volume of writing on Bollywood of any kind is welcome. And no doubt, Beyond the Boundaries of Bollywood: The Many Forms of Hindi Cinema the fifth in a series of scholarly books on Indian cinema from publisher OUP is to be treasured for more reason than one.
But the grouse against such writing is perhaps best articulated by Elahe Hiptoola, producer of Nagesh Kukunoors films who was interviewed by the books co-editor, Jerry Pinto: I sometimes find academic books about Bollywood really funny. These people sit down and dissect everything and they make connections between Prakash Mehras movies and the Naxalite movement [Prakashji] probably thought, Amitabh ke dates mil gaye, chalo picture banaate hain. But theres everything in these movies, according to the academics.
Before delving into the different ways Bollywood has been perceived by viewers, commentators and industrywallas, the book looks at the coinage of the term itself. Ravi Vasudevans essay, the only one without a colon in the title, proposes that the term, which first gained currency in places such as Birmingham and Bradford in Britain, cant be applied to films made much before Independence.
Its further problematised by the fact that Bollywood stalwarts such as Shah Rukh Khan and Subhash Ghai reject the term.
It begs a question: why do we use Tollywood, Kollywood and Lollywood for other film producing centres of the subcontinent? They maybe a lazy extensions of Hollywood, a term that has acquired much baggage, but the terms are in common usage.
Borrowing the name of the production house for Deepa Mehtas Hollywood/Bollywood, isnt it about different trees in the same woods? Not for the typologically minded, that is.
Some of the books dot-joining is immensely interesting. Kaushik Bhaumik uses the Hunterwali era to connect the use of horses in early Hindi cinema and the projection of the romantic individual. Rosie Thomas looks at Wadia Movietones Arabian Nights fantasy Lal-e-Yaman (The Jewel of Yemen) and the coming of sound to Hindi cinema.
Valentina Vitali says how the voyeurism of B-grade horror movies confused the industrys self-image decades ago.
Then there are some academic brownie points scored. The essay by Rachel Dwyer, co-editor of the book and editor of the OUP series, tries to join the dots between Kamal Amrohis psychodrama Mahal (1949) and the Gothic genre (exemplified in literature by Daphne du Mauriers Rebecca).
Over 23 pages, Dwyer goes through Mahal to find proofs of the genre she calls the Bombay Gothic. Cogito? Ergo, its not true that Bollywood of the 1950s and 60s always leant on the crutch of the Indian family and the individuals subjugation to it. The maximum reader excitement I can see at this formulation is swallowed dentures.
Apart from the papers presented at a 2008 seminar organised by the Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi, which forms most of the book, there are interviews Pinto conducted with a diverse set of industrywallas. From Arun Khopkar we learn what filmmakers really learn at Film and Television Institute of India, Anurag Kashyap tells us of his introduction to Bollywood, and from Rucha Pathak we learn the different ways people come up with what Pinto calls hatke films (to separate them from mainstream Bollywood).
The last interview, with Abhay Deol, gets back to nomenclatures. I dont like these terms... To me art is about creativity, says Deol. Creativity that produces something. If you then produce a film its art. It can be good art or bad art but its still art. I rest my case.