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Current State: Published
Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency

Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency

Ashish Rajadhyaksha (New Delhi: Tulika, 2009)

Nowhere has the cinema made more foundational a public intervention than in India, and yet the Indian cinema is consistently presented as something of an exception to world film history.  What if, this book asks, film history was instead written from the Indian experience?

Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid reconstructs an era of film that saw an unprecedented public visibility attached to the moving image and to its social usage. The cinema was not invented by celluloid, nor will it die with celluloid’s growing obsolescence. But ‘celluloid’ names a distinct era in cinema’s career that coincides with a particular construct of the twentieth-century state. This is not merely a coincidence: the very raison d’etre of celluloid was derived from the use to which the modern state put it, as the authorized technology through which the state spoke and as narrative practices endorsing its authority as producer of the rational subject.

Arguing that there was a ‘spectatorial pact” around the attribution of state authority to the celluloid apparatus, Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid explores the circumstances under which social practices surrounding the celluloid experience also included political negotiations over its authority. While modern states everywhere have put the cinema to varied and by now familiar uses, in India we had the politicization of key tenets associated with the apparatus itself.

Indian cinema throws significant new light on the uses to which canonical concepts such as realism could be put, and on the frontiers at which cinematic narrative could operate.

The book throws new light on a phenomenon that is arguably basic to all cinema, but which India’s cinematic evidence throws into sharpest relief: the narrative simulation of a symbolically sanctified rationality at the behest of a state. This evidence is explored through three key moments of serious crisis for the twentieth-century Indian state, in all of which the cinema appears to have played a central role. Bollywood saw Indian cinema herald a globalized culture industry considerably larger than its own financial worth, and a major presence in India’s brief claim to financial superpower status. The debate on Fire centrally located spectatorial negotiations around the constitutional right to freedom of speech at a key moment in modern Indian history when Article 19 was under attack from pro-Hindutva forces. And the Emergency (1975-77) saw a New Indian Cinema politically united against totalitarian rule but nevertheless rent asunder by disputes over realism, throwing up new questions around the formation of an epochal moment in independent India.


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