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Books > Performing Arts > Islamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema
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Islamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema
Islamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema
Description
From the Jacket

This book explores the Islamicate cultures that richly inform Bombay cinema. These cultures are imagined forms of the past and therefore a contested site of histories and identities. Yet they also form a culturally potent and aesthetically fertile reservoir of images and idioms through which Muslim communities are represented and represent themselves. Islamicate influences inform the language, poetry, music ideas, and even the characteristic emotional responses elicited by Bombay cinema in general; however, the authors argue that it is in the three genre forms of The Muslim Historical, The Muslim courtesan film and The Muslim Social that these cultures are concentrated and distilled into precise iconographic, performative and narrative idioms. Furthermore, the authors argue that it is through these three genres, and their critical re-working by new wave film-makers, that social and historical significance is attributed to Muslim cultures f or Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Ira Bhaskar is associate professor of cinema studies at the school of arts and aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Richard Allen is professor and chair of cinema studies at the Tisch School of the arts, New York University.

Preface

This book is about the influence and impact of the forms of imagined history, social life and expressive idioms that are derived from and associated with Islamic culture and history, upon Bombay cinema. These include the historical imagination of the Mughal imperium, of nineteenth-century Lakhnawi courtesan culture and of Muslim aristocratic life; the pervasive representation of the grandeur of these historical cultures through Islamic architectural motifs such as the arch, the minaret and the dome; performance idioms such as the mujra and the mushaira; poetic and song forms associated with the Urdu language like the ghazal and the qawwali; the representation of the idea of tehzeeb or aristocratic civility; and the forms of social life which all these images and idioms serve to represent and cultivate. We use the term ‘Islamicate’ to designate these narrative and expressive forms in order to acknowledge the sense in which they cannot be reduced simply to the influence of Islam defined in purely religious terms, nor is their influence reducible to purely Islamic contexts. At the same time, it is our contention that these forms reach their most distinctive and complete realization in specific genres or sub-genres of Bombay cinema, which it is also the task of this book to characterize in detail: the Muslim Historical, the Muslim Courtesan film and the Muslim Social.

The designation of these different idioms as genre forms is contentious for at least two reasons. First, only one of the genres is named as such by the industry- the Muslim social, which came into usage as a term certainly by the early 1940s if not before; the other generic labels are critical terms of art. Second, the three genres hereby described could be equally termed sub-genres in the sense that they each form part of larger genres- the Historical, the courtesan film and the social- that transcend the Muslim social contexts and Islamicate idioms that might be derived from or associated with them. The grounds for the invention of generic or sub-generic categories are of course that the genre forms we focus upon are demarcated from the broader categories of which they form a part by characteristic stories, recognizable iconography and distinctive expressive idioms which distil the cinematic forms of the Islamicate cultures we have already alluded to. The genre/sub-genre question is more complicated. The Muslim historical and the Muslim courtesan film are invented sub-genres of the broader genres of the Historical and the Courtesan film, which serve to designate idioms and milieus that are specific to them. The Muslim historical focuses on the Sultanate or Mughal courts with the mise-en-scene and habitus that is specific to them. The Muslim courtesan film in its historical form recreates the culture and habitus of nineteenth-century Lucknow. At the same time, they serve as paradigmatic instances of their genre, that is, they exemplify not simply an Islamicate imaginary but the narrative form of the genre as a whole. Mughal-e-Azam (1960) is paradigmatic of the Historical in the way it focuses on the exemplary lives and loves of noble personages, displays a mise-en-scene of grandeur and splendour, and glorifies the past. Equally, Pakeezah (1971) is paradigmatic of the Courtesan film in the manner it celebrates the performance idioms of the mujra in and through cinema, and dramatizes and enacts a rescue narrative in which the courtesan is redeemed from the life of the kotha that imprisons her like a bird in a cage.

The Muslim social has a slightly different status. Although it can be considered a part of the broader genre of ‘the social’, this is a diffused category that simply nominates films about contemporary social life. Furthermore, not only was ‘the Muslim Social’ singled out as a genre category, but by the 1960s it had hardened into a clearly recognizable set of narrative and iconographic elements, character types, and star personas, of which Mere Mehboob (1963) is paradigmatic. In its iconic form from the mid 1940s to the late 60s, it is typically set in Lucknow as the contemporary avatar of the nineteenth-century culture of Wajid Ali Shah, complete with mushairas now transformed into literary competitions at college and romancing through poetic compositions. It stars the cultivated nawab with the heart of gold who can no longer sustain the lifestyle of yore, usually played in later years by Ashok Kumar drawing on audience memory of his younger romantic self; the woman-figure of the ‘angel’ of the house in whom the value of tehzeeb, as honour and cultured manner, inheres and who is starkly contrasted with the figure of the courtesan; the young hero, always a romantic poet who ensures the renewal of old values in changing times; and the friend who forms a comic counterfoil to the life and love of the hero, who was usually played in the 1960s by Johnnie Walker. What we have called the ‘New Wave Muslim Social’ is another constructed critical category. It serves to draw attention, on the one hand, to the way in which within the distinctively realistic idiom of the New Wave, a certain group of films take as their focus contemporary Muslim social life, and, on the other hand, to the way in which, even as these filmmakers depart from the representational norms of the genre, they invoke or reference these norms.

One of the features of this book is our focus on aesthetic idioms, whether these are questions of cinematic mise-en-scene or poetic forms like the ghazal, and upon the nature and form of the stories that are told. This focus might seem to detract from the more obvious and, perhaps, more pressing issues of identity and representation. ‘The Muslim’ in Bombay cinema has undoubtedly undergone stereotyping and the mature Muslim Social could be considered paradigmatic of this stereotyping: the aristocratic nawab, decadent and cultured by turns; the hyperbolic version of the Madonna-whore dichotomy in the figuration of the angel of the house and the courtesan; and the poetry-spouting hero. Stereotypes are normally countered by a call for realism, and such was the demand made by New Wave filmmakers who sought to counteract stereotypes of the aristocratic nawab inhabiting a never land of lakhnawi culture with stories drawn from the contemporary everyday that attempt to capture the real experience of Muslim men and women, or perhaps the experience or real Muslim men and women. The intervention of New Wave filmmakers in the history of Muslim representation forms an important part of the book; the transformation of cinematic idioms they wrought yielded powerful new expressive forms. Yet we would also contend that stereotypes are not simply negative or disabling, thought they certainly can be that, especially when they are of a minoritarian group. They also enable the kind of representational and expressive forms that characterize popular cinema. Without stereotypes, for example, the figure of the virginal courtesan and the richly expressive cinematic vocabularies of the Islamicate imaginary in film would not have been possible.

The nature and structure to this book is partly determined by the occasion of its writing, which was the curation of a festival of films entitled ‘Muslim cultures of Bombay Cinema’ that first took place under the auspices of the New York University Institute in Abu Dhabi. We became aware that there was so little written on the subject that even a basic introductory work could be a valuable contribution to the field, though obviously we look forward to work of greater depth and breadth in the future. We also decided on a format for the works, which is centrally based on single film essays that we might not have chosen under different circumstances. This structure has the great advantage for the writer working with deadlines of focusing upon the particular rather than developing research conclusions based upon a survey of the whole. It also has distinct advantages for the reader as filmgoer too, who can readily follow up on a given title. Entries on individual films, sixteen in all, form the bulk of the book in Part Two; the choice of works was framed by a combination of factors including the availability of negatives and prints for the festival we curated, the determination to include an inclusive range or period of works, the inclusion of canonical or seminal works, and a balance of films within the different genres. The individual film entries are framed by introductory chapters that survey the field as a whole, and place the individual films within their respective genres and the Islamicate imaginaries that inform them.

Contents

Preface xi
Part One
1. Introduction: Islamicate Genres and Idioms 3
2. The Muslim Historical 24
3. The Muslim Courtesan Film 44
4. The Classic Muslim Social 65
5. The New Wave Muslim Social and after 91
Part Two
Muslim Historicals
Pukar (1939) 111
Mirza Ghalib (1957) 123
Mughal-e-Azam (1960) 137
Jodhaa Akbar (2008) 153
Muslim Courtesan Films
Pakeezah (1971) 171
Umrao Jaan (1981) 187
Tawaif ) 1985) 201
Sardari Begum (1996) 211
Umrao Jaan (2006) 225
Classic Muslim Socials
Najma (1943) 243
Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960) 257
Mere Mehboob (1963) 269
New Wave Muslim Socials and After
Garm Hawa (1973) 281
Salim Langde pe Mat Ro (1989) 293
Mammo (1994) 305
Fiza (2000) 317
Glossary of Urdu and Hindi Terms 329
References 343

Islamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema

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From the Jacket

This book explores the Islamicate cultures that richly inform Bombay cinema. These cultures are imagined forms of the past and therefore a contested site of histories and identities. Yet they also form a culturally potent and aesthetically fertile reservoir of images and idioms through which Muslim communities are represented and represent themselves. Islamicate influences inform the language, poetry, music ideas, and even the characteristic emotional responses elicited by Bombay cinema in general; however, the authors argue that it is in the three genre forms of The Muslim Historical, The Muslim courtesan film and The Muslim Social that these cultures are concentrated and distilled into precise iconographic, performative and narrative idioms. Furthermore, the authors argue that it is through these three genres, and their critical re-working by new wave film-makers, that social and historical significance is attributed to Muslim cultures f or Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Ira Bhaskar is associate professor of cinema studies at the school of arts and aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Richard Allen is professor and chair of cinema studies at the Tisch School of the arts, New York University.

Preface

This book is about the influence and impact of the forms of imagined history, social life and expressive idioms that are derived from and associated with Islamic culture and history, upon Bombay cinema. These include the historical imagination of the Mughal imperium, of nineteenth-century Lakhnawi courtesan culture and of Muslim aristocratic life; the pervasive representation of the grandeur of these historical cultures through Islamic architectural motifs such as the arch, the minaret and the dome; performance idioms such as the mujra and the mushaira; poetic and song forms associated with the Urdu language like the ghazal and the qawwali; the representation of the idea of tehzeeb or aristocratic civility; and the forms of social life which all these images and idioms serve to represent and cultivate. We use the term ‘Islamicate’ to designate these narrative and expressive forms in order to acknowledge the sense in which they cannot be reduced simply to the influence of Islam defined in purely religious terms, nor is their influence reducible to purely Islamic contexts. At the same time, it is our contention that these forms reach their most distinctive and complete realization in specific genres or sub-genres of Bombay cinema, which it is also the task of this book to characterize in detail: the Muslim Historical, the Muslim Courtesan film and the Muslim Social.

The designation of these different idioms as genre forms is contentious for at least two reasons. First, only one of the genres is named as such by the industry- the Muslim social, which came into usage as a term certainly by the early 1940s if not before; the other generic labels are critical terms of art. Second, the three genres hereby described could be equally termed sub-genres in the sense that they each form part of larger genres- the Historical, the courtesan film and the social- that transcend the Muslim social contexts and Islamicate idioms that might be derived from or associated with them. The grounds for the invention of generic or sub-generic categories are of course that the genre forms we focus upon are demarcated from the broader categories of which they form a part by characteristic stories, recognizable iconography and distinctive expressive idioms which distil the cinematic forms of the Islamicate cultures we have already alluded to. The genre/sub-genre question is more complicated. The Muslim historical and the Muslim courtesan film are invented sub-genres of the broader genres of the Historical and the Courtesan film, which serve to designate idioms and milieus that are specific to them. The Muslim historical focuses on the Sultanate or Mughal courts with the mise-en-scene and habitus that is specific to them. The Muslim courtesan film in its historical form recreates the culture and habitus of nineteenth-century Lucknow. At the same time, they serve as paradigmatic instances of their genre, that is, they exemplify not simply an Islamicate imaginary but the narrative form of the genre as a whole. Mughal-e-Azam (1960) is paradigmatic of the Historical in the way it focuses on the exemplary lives and loves of noble personages, displays a mise-en-scene of grandeur and splendour, and glorifies the past. Equally, Pakeezah (1971) is paradigmatic of the Courtesan film in the manner it celebrates the performance idioms of the mujra in and through cinema, and dramatizes and enacts a rescue narrative in which the courtesan is redeemed from the life of the kotha that imprisons her like a bird in a cage.

The Muslim social has a slightly different status. Although it can be considered a part of the broader genre of ‘the social’, this is a diffused category that simply nominates films about contemporary social life. Furthermore, not only was ‘the Muslim Social’ singled out as a genre category, but by the 1960s it had hardened into a clearly recognizable set of narrative and iconographic elements, character types, and star personas, of which Mere Mehboob (1963) is paradigmatic. In its iconic form from the mid 1940s to the late 60s, it is typically set in Lucknow as the contemporary avatar of the nineteenth-century culture of Wajid Ali Shah, complete with mushairas now transformed into literary competitions at college and romancing through poetic compositions. It stars the cultivated nawab with the heart of gold who can no longer sustain the lifestyle of yore, usually played in later years by Ashok Kumar drawing on audience memory of his younger romantic self; the woman-figure of the ‘angel’ of the house in whom the value of tehzeeb, as honour and cultured manner, inheres and who is starkly contrasted with the figure of the courtesan; the young hero, always a romantic poet who ensures the renewal of old values in changing times; and the friend who forms a comic counterfoil to the life and love of the hero, who was usually played in the 1960s by Johnnie Walker. What we have called the ‘New Wave Muslim Social’ is another constructed critical category. It serves to draw attention, on the one hand, to the way in which within the distinctively realistic idiom of the New Wave, a certain group of films take as their focus contemporary Muslim social life, and, on the other hand, to the way in which, even as these filmmakers depart from the representational norms of the genre, they invoke or reference these norms.

One of the features of this book is our focus on aesthetic idioms, whether these are questions of cinematic mise-en-scene or poetic forms like the ghazal, and upon the nature and form of the stories that are told. This focus might seem to detract from the more obvious and, perhaps, more pressing issues of identity and representation. ‘The Muslim’ in Bombay cinema has undoubtedly undergone stereotyping and the mature Muslim Social could be considered paradigmatic of this stereotyping: the aristocratic nawab, decadent and cultured by turns; the hyperbolic version of the Madonna-whore dichotomy in the figuration of the angel of the house and the courtesan; and the poetry-spouting hero. Stereotypes are normally countered by a call for realism, and such was the demand made by New Wave filmmakers who sought to counteract stereotypes of the aristocratic nawab inhabiting a never land of lakhnawi culture with stories drawn from the contemporary everyday that attempt to capture the real experience of Muslim men and women, or perhaps the experience or real Muslim men and women. The intervention of New Wave filmmakers in the history of Muslim representation forms an important part of the book; the transformation of cinematic idioms they wrought yielded powerful new expressive forms. Yet we would also contend that stereotypes are not simply negative or disabling, thought they certainly can be that, especially when they are of a minoritarian group. They also enable the kind of representational and expressive forms that characterize popular cinema. Without stereotypes, for example, the figure of the virginal courtesan and the richly expressive cinematic vocabularies of the Islamicate imaginary in film would not have been possible.

The nature and structure to this book is partly determined by the occasion of its writing, which was the curation of a festival of films entitled ‘Muslim cultures of Bombay Cinema’ that first took place under the auspices of the New York University Institute in Abu Dhabi. We became aware that there was so little written on the subject that even a basic introductory work could be a valuable contribution to the field, though obviously we look forward to work of greater depth and breadth in the future. We also decided on a format for the works, which is centrally based on single film essays that we might not have chosen under different circumstances. This structure has the great advantage for the writer working with deadlines of focusing upon the particular rather than developing research conclusions based upon a survey of the whole. It also has distinct advantages for the reader as filmgoer too, who can readily follow up on a given title. Entries on individual films, sixteen in all, form the bulk of the book in Part Two; the choice of works was framed by a combination of factors including the availability of negatives and prints for the festival we curated, the determination to include an inclusive range or period of works, the inclusion of canonical or seminal works, and a balance of films within the different genres. The individual film entries are framed by introductory chapters that survey the field as a whole, and place the individual films within their respective genres and the Islamicate imaginaries that inform them.

Contents

Preface xi
Part One
1. Introduction: Islamicate Genres and Idioms 3
2. The Muslim Historical 24
3. The Muslim Courtesan Film 44
4. The Classic Muslim Social 65
5. The New Wave Muslim Social and after 91
Part Two
Muslim Historicals
Pukar (1939) 111
Mirza Ghalib (1957) 123
Mughal-e-Azam (1960) 137
Jodhaa Akbar (2008) 153
Muslim Courtesan Films
Pakeezah (1971) 171
Umrao Jaan (1981) 187
Tawaif ) 1985) 201
Sardari Begum (1996) 211
Umrao Jaan (2006) 225
Classic Muslim Socials
Najma (1943) 243
Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960) 257
Mere Mehboob (1963) 269
New Wave Muslim Socials and After
Garm Hawa (1973) 281
Salim Langde pe Mat Ro (1989) 293
Mammo (1994) 305
Fiza (2000) 317
Glossary of Urdu and Hindi Terms 329
References 343
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