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Category — Film Industry

Terrible trends at Bollywood award shows

It’s Labor Day weekend here in the US and I just watched IIFA, the very last of Bollywood award shows for the films and stars of 2012. Beginning some time in March, the award show season is peppered with glitzy lights, star-studded performances, terrible starry humor and (mostly objectionable and dissatisfying) awards. We’ve all spent many cocktail parties discussing these often cringe-worthy awards, but this year I noticed something much more disturbing—a normalization of distinctly religious Hindu aesthetics and a strange erasure of female stars as actors and active contributors to the industry.

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September 1, 2013   3 Comments  

Filmfare covers from the 1950s

1957 madhubala-filmfare-1957-magazine2 (1)Click on Wide Screen’s Facebook page for a random collection of Filmfare covers from the 1950s, found from various sources online:



August 6, 2013   No Comments  

100 Years of Indian Cinema: Whose Cinema? Whose Centenary? – The Politics of Temporal Film Historiography

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error is a crucial
factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical
studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality.
 —Ernest Renan,
Qu’est que c’est une nation? 

Quoting Ernest Renan, the famous British historian, Daniel Woolfe (2006), wrote not long ago that the national framework predominates in historiography and the temporal scope of the same is anchored along four premises. “…four variants of temporal scope. [Read more →]

August 5, 2013   1 Comment  

Announcing the launch of CinemaofIndia.org

2013 promises to be an exciting year for Indian cinema as various groups and individuals are busy organizing interesting ways of commemorating the centenary of Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, arguably India’s first film. Ostensibly as a part of this celebration, I was recently informed about the launch of a new crowd-sourced encyclopedia of Indian cinema, called CinemaofIndia.org. The site is based on the Wiki-model and is designed and hosted by the brains behind the pad.ma archive.

Here’s a brief description provided by the hosts:

“This Wiki is based on Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen’s Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, a pioneering effort at documenting the history of cinema in India at a time when there were very few resources available and even fewer people working on the history of Indian cinema. There is now a much wider community of scholars, enthusiasts and cinephiles working on Indian cinema, and a much wider range of resources by way of films, DVDs, memorabilia and most importantly technology available that allow us to rethink how we may carry forward the encyclopedia project as a collaborative venture. The internet also allows us to link the original entries to images and movie clips thus housing an encyclopedia of cinema in the only environment that it was meant to be housed in: a multi-media environment. Ashish has very  generously offered us the encyclopedia as a starting point.”

The idea behind this project is to combine collective knowledge on various films, actors, directors, technicians etc by either creating new entries or adding to existing entries.

First-timers might need some help navigating the Wiki and figuring out how to get started. If you would like to contribute or get involved in some way, please contact Lawrence Liang lawrence@altlawforum.org or Ashish Rajadhyaksha  ashish@cscs.res.in
 For a few examples of entries which combine multi media please see the following

January 13, 2013   No Comments  

Rereleases in the Age of Late Modernity: Examining the Rerelease of Karnan Through the Prism of Anthony Giddens

Among the most notable events in Tamil film industry in the recent past, the rerelease of Sivaji Ganesan’s famous mythological Karnan (1964) in the month of March raised curious expectations about its fate at the box office.

Karnan Rerelease Poster In Chennai

During the same month, on March 18, 2012, the rerelease of MGR’s Nadodi Mannan also dominated the film sections of Tamil newspapers and posters across the state. [Read more →]

June 17, 2012   1 Comment  

Why I don’t want Meryl Streep to win the Oscar

To make my cinematic allegiance very clear, let me say at the outset that I think Meryl Streep is one of the finest and most versatile actresses Hollywood has seen. She is an inspiration to several actresses of following generations and few have been able to match her prowess in variety and perfection.

That said, I will add, that this fine actress does not deserve an Oscar this year for her performance as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. [Read more →]

February 24, 2012   7 Comments  

Filmmaking as a Social Ritual in India and Indonesia

I had the opportunity of spending the last two days with a delegation of film makers, film affairs officials and film lab owners from Indonesia. One important highlight of the exchange of ideas was a session hosted today morning by Mr Hariharan, film maker and Director of LV Prasad Film and Television Academy, Prasad Studios, Chennai. Here are his arguments about why we must engage with Indian film industry not through the Western notion of realism or the marker of “escapism”. Hariharan broke new ground in Tamil film industry with his Ezhavathu Manithan (Seventh Man),1982. He is an alumnus of FTII, Pune, and partnered with Mani Kaul, Saeed Mirza in the Yukt Film Cooperative and the making of Ghasiram Kotwal.

“We make 1100 films in a industry that is worth just US $1.8 billion [Read more →]

December 17, 2011   No Comments  

The Dirty Picture vs a dirty picture: Quick thoughts

from bollywoodhungama.com

The following could arguably be the most crucial scene of Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture: a beautiful actress, the object of every man’s desire is sitting in a bathing tub, covered with nothing but some strategically placed foam. The tub itself is placed like a centerpiece of the tiny room. A flustered journalist is barely able to hold his camera still as he frantically takes pictures of Silk (Vidya Balan). Within seconds, what would have been a sensational expose of Silk’s humble home, turns into a feat in seduction as the journalist was all but forced to ignore the humble surroundings and focus on the star in the most thrilling, inviting pose. Silk’s plan to overshadow the shortcomings of her house by putting herself on display worked wonderfully. Something similar happens with the film, The Dirty Picture, which is somewhat patchy, plastic and awkward, but no one cares because Vidya Balan’s stunning performance overshadows the failings of this film.

In the first instance, it is a conventional story about the tragic life of a film actress who decided to make her way up in the industry by using her sexuality. However, despite a less than spectacular story, the film deftly positions itself in complex ways. Consider this: in the run up to the release of the film, producer Ekta Kapoor said in an interview to The Indian Express, “The Dirty Picture is about female sexuality and about a woman who created her own niche.” This sanitized, even progressive view of what the film wants to achieve was in contradiction, to say the least, on ground zero as a packed house of audiences clapped, whistled, hooted and even passed comments each time Balan licked her lips, bent provocatively to show her cleavage and moaned loudly as the couple next door tried to have sex. Even as it plays itself out as a biopic of the mysterious, exploited and tragic figure of Silk Smitha, it simultaneously uses the very tropes a number of Silk films used back in the late seventies and eighties, making it impossible to draw clear, moral distinctions between ‘celebrating’ female sexuality and ‘exploiting’ it.

The key player in complicating the politics of this film is the promotion. While talk of National Awards has gone viral (particularly with Ekta Kapoor saying she would be surprised if Balan didn’t get a National Award), the Web is still flooded with reports that emphasize what is constantly being referred to as the ‘boldness’ of the film. A sampler: “Simpleton to sexy siren: Vidya Balan goes ooh la la!” (Mid-Day), “The Dirty Picture: Breast Wishes” (blogpost), “Lots of Oomph, Sex in this Vidya Balan starrer (koimoi.com) and most importantly, Luthria’s quote that made headlines, “I have used sex to market The Dirty Picture” (Rediff). And this is not counting the sea of videos on YouTube that are on similar lines.

The most interesting bit of news in this regard was reported by The Economic Times, that said, “Readers of popular Hindi magazine Manohar Kahaniyan will get more than their dose of pulp fiction when they pick up its latest issue, the cover of which promises the raunchy story of a “sexy heroine”. The magazine with actress Vidya Balan on its cover is an enticement for an upcoming movie, The Dirty Picture, offering more than its staple fare.” It goes on to explicate that the production house has enlisted the services of a marketing agency called Spice Bhasha that was helping them promote the film in “non-metropolitan India…B-Towns”. Sidestepping the narratives of freedom and progression, the film is being promoted here in a way that is eerily reminiscent of how a Silk Smitha film would probably have been promoted a few decades ago.

It isn’t surprising therefore that the cover of the magazine has an image that is used as a magazine cover about Silk in the film as well. In other words, what serves as an image of Silk in the film, is being used as an image of Vidya Balan. To put it crudely, the unstated but ubiquitously understood distinctions between an award-winning actress of Balan’s caliber and Silk Smitha, who occupied the space between B-grade and soft-porn, are blurred. The very idea of representation, as something that is distanced from “what is” becomes shaky as these distinctions become unclear, underscoring the film’s confrontation with the moral hypocrisy of the film-making and viewing community, particularly in India.

Occupying multiple categories The Dirty Picture ensures that it manages to play to the gallery in diverse economic and cultural spaces. As action films return with a vengeance with films like Bodyguard, Ready and Singham breaking Box Office records in 2011, the only other film that successfully played a tongue-in-cheek game of now-an-action-film-now-a-parody, was Abhinav Kashyap’s Dabangg (2010).


December 7, 2011   1 Comment  

Thoughts on That Girl in Yellow Boots

 Let’s get the obvious out of the way right here right now. Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl in Yellow Boots is a good looking film. This is the story of Ruth (Kalki Koechlin)—the British girl who comes to India in search of her father who left his wife and daughter unceremoniously after his step-daughter committed suicide at the age of 15. Looking for this figure who will love her unconditionally, Ruth bases herself in Bombay, working in a seedy spa where she offers handjobs (handshakes and happy endings as she calls them) to her customers for an additional sum of money. [Read more →]

September 9, 2011   5 Comments  

Rethinking Tamil Television News With Walter Lippmann Part – 1

One of the seminal contributions of Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922) lies in pointing to the linkages between news and truth, censorship and propaganda, democracy and news. In this post, I would like to engage with the objective of rethinking Tamil Television news through the prism offered by Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion. [Read more →]

May 8, 2011   No Comments