With the publication of M. Madhava Prasad's book in 1998, it was widely believed that the study of Indian popular cinema will never be the same again. After more than a decade and several reprint editions, the book continues to absorb critical and general imaginations.
This book presents Hindi cinema as an institution firmly rooted in contemporary society. Moving between theory and detailed analyses, the volume discusses, among other issues, the economics of film production, censorship, middle-class cinema, and construction of star-figures. Not only students and scholars of film, media, and cultural studies, this book will appeal to all intelligent viewers of Hindi cinema.
Madhava Prasad is Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.
Indian film studies began to acquire an identity as a separate discipline in the eighties. While academic interest in Indian cinema has a slightly longer history, the publication of the works of Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Ravi Vasudevan and others, marked the beginning of a focus on cinema, not merely as a site for occasional forays by anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and Indologists, but as a field with an institutional specificity that could only be ignored at the risk of a serious misreading of its cultural significance.
The question is not simply one of establishing a new discipline, a new enclosure within the humanities for the production of expertise. For film studies, as it participates in the re-definition of culture as an object of study, the primary conceptual shift has to be towards a radical contemporaneity, 'a receptivity to the present' as a way of breaking out of 'a paralyzing historicism' (Dhareshwar 1995: 318). This present is marked by the fact that the distinctions between an indigenous past and an inauthentic alienating interregnum (the staple of post-colonialism) can no longer be taken for granted. The field of culture uprooted and reconstructed by the democratic revolution, can no longer be located in an eternal, unchanging India. Nor, on the other hand, can any ready reckoner of free-market democracy provide the concepts for grasping the reality of the present or the future in store for us. For film studies, as for cultural studies in general, the challenge is to define its object without recourse to either of these established procedures. In that spirit, the present work examines Indian cinema as a modern cultural institution whose unique features can be related directly or indirectly to the specificity of the socio-political formation of the Indian nation-state.
I take this opportunity to thank the teachers, friends, institutions and strangers who have helped with criticism, materials and support, over the last few years to bring this work to completion.
I am indebted to Marcia Landy, who, as supervisor of my doctoral project, gave me in my moments of uncertainty, her fullest attention and encouragement. A true friend, philosopher and guide, she made it possible for a group of students at the University of Pittsburgh- Amy Villarejo, Mathew Tinkcom, Barbara White, Sally Meckling, Joy Fuqua and myself-to discuss and critically engage with a wide range of debates in aesthetic and political theory. All of them will no doubt agree with me that those couple of years were vital to our intellectual formation.
I thank Paul Bove and Colin MacCabe for the interest they showed and for their crucial interventions at important stages of the project; and Keya Ganguly whose engagement with the project was brief but constructive. T.G. Vaidyanathan and Donald Morton, practitioners of a critical pedagogy, were responsible for introducing me to film studies and for sharpening my critical skills. Thanks are also due to Lisa Armstrong, Abhijit Banerjee, Tuli Banerjee, Moinak Biswas, Satish Deshpande, Lucy Fischer, Mary John, Biju Mathew, Vijay Prashad, Gautam Premnath, Asok Sen, Ravi Vasudevan, Paul Willemen and the Oxford University Press's anonymous reader, who not only commented on the whole text or individual chapters, but also helped to locate films and other materials and discussed the project with me at various stages. A special acknowledgement in this regard is due to Vivek Dhareshwar, Tejaswini .iranjana and Ashish Rajadhyaksha whose encouragement, criticism and extended discussions over the years have been of immeasurable value. For the warm welcome and for making me feel at home during my initial lonely days in Calcutta, and not least for the feast of music, I thank all my friends, in particular Nandinee Bandyopadhyay, Vivek Dhareshwar, Moinak Biswas, Indira Chowdhury, Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, Rahul Bose, Kirstie Millward, Tu klu , Sushi Khana and Rajashri Dasgupta. The opportunity to teach and to discuss some new ideas at the Film Studies department of Jadavpur University helped in revising and expanding the text.
Chapter 2 was read at the Cultural Studies Seminar of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta in February 1996. I thank my colleagues and other members of the audience for their valuable comments. A slightly different version was presented at the Seminar organized by the National Film Archives of India, Pune on the occasion of the centenary of cinema in 1995.
Chapter 9 was first presented at the Workshop on 'Making Meaning in Indian Cinema' at the Institute for Advanced Study, Shimla in 1995. It was subsequently published in the Journal of Arts and Ideas in January 1996.
A part of Chapter 4 was published in the Journal of Arts and Ideas (December 1993) with the title 'Cinema and the Desire for Modernity’. Thanks are also due to the director and staff of the National Film Archives of India, Pune and to the Screen Documentation Centre, Bombay for use of the library and help with locating materials. And to Anita Roy and Shalini Sinha of Oxford University Press for the special interest they took in the book both as editors and enthusiastic readers.
My debt to Janaki air, who has been my companion right through this long period, is too great to be acknowledged. She has been the first and most reliable critic of all that I have written and without her support and encouragement, this book would never have been completed.
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