Politics As Performance (A Social History of the Telugu Cinema)

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Item Code: NAG009
Author: S.V. Sriniwas
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788178243726
Pages: 454 (210 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 570 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


This book provides a picture of the Telugu cinema, as both industry and cultural form, over fifty formative years. It argues that films are directly related both to the prominence of an elite which dominates Andhra Pradesh and other parts of India, and to the emergence of a new idiom of mass politics.


Looking in particular at the career of Andhra Pradesh's best-known film star Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR), S.V. Srinivas reveals how the Telugu cinema redefined ideas of linguistic identity and community feeling within a non-literate public in South India. Dissecting NTR's remarkable election campaign of 1982-3, he shows processes of political transformation and electoral mobilization via film, newspapers, and audio cassettes. He uncovers the complicated ways in which Indian politics can be linked with movie-going and, more broadly, cultural consumption. Cinematic and political performance are shown to be inextricably connected in ways distinctively Indian.


NTR and the Telugu cinema, Srinivas argues, have shaped important aspects of Indian political and cultural modernity. Their legacies continue into the present time-when film has yielded pride of place to television, when the future of Andhra Pradesh's statehood is unclear, and when Indian star-politicians no longer feel certain of success in the quest for power.


About the Author


S.Y. Sriniyas is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, and co-ordinator of the Culture: Industries and Diversity in Asia (CIDASIA) research programme there. He was educated at St Step hen's College, Delhi, and the University of Hyderabad. He has taught at Arunachal University (now Rajiv Gandhi University), Doimukh, and held visiting positions at the National University of Singapore and Hokkaido University. He was ICCR Visiting Professor of Indian Culture and Society at Georgetown University for 2012-13. His publications include the book Megastar (2009) as well as many essays on popular culture as an industry.


Series Editors' Preface


The cinema is our great popular passion, cutting across class, caste, geographical, and generational boundaries. The making, watching, and conveying of films is a fundamental part of modern India's social, cultural, and even economic history. And yet, for all its significance in our individual and collective lives, the subject has been poorly served by writers and scholars. The literature is dominated by two very different genres-rumour-filled biographies of stars on the one hand, and post-modern deconstructions of the ideological limitations of their films on the other.


Low gossip and high (albeit indecipherable) theory-those are the extremes offered to the reader interested in Indian films and what they have meant to Indian history. Exceptions to these opposed but equally depressing trends are few. They include an excellent biography of Saryajit Ray by Andrew Robinson and Krishna Dutta, an impressive encyclopaedia of Indian cinema edited by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen, and an insightful series of books on the aesthetic choices of directors and lyricists by Nasreen Munni Kabir. There are also some fine sociological studies of the impact of films in the Tamil country, where politics and cinema have intimately influenced one another.


Into a still somewhat arid landscape comes this groundbreaking book by S.Y. Srinivas. He is a native of Yijayawada, a fluent speaker of Telugu who is yet conversant with scholarly and political trends elsewhere in India and the world. His background and training exquisitely match his subject, which is the social history of films in the Andhra country.


In the early decades of the twentieth century, a popular movement arose for the creation of a state of Telugu speakers out of the erstwhile Madras Presidency (which was dominated by Tamil speakers). Steadily gathering force, the struggle finally bore fruit in 1953 through the creation of the Andhra State, later known as Andhra Pradesh. This had a snowballing effect, leading to the wholesale redrawing of the map of India on linguistic lines.


A passionate identification with the Telugu language thus powerfully impacted both the history and geography of modern India. And, in an oral culture, love of the language has been most eloquently and powerfully conveyed by films. The cinema became the vehicle by which the Telugu-speaking people defined themselves, both in a positive sense, and negatively, against the hegemonizing influence of films made in other languages.


S.Y. Srinivas's book is attentive to the emotional, affectual dimensions of Telugu films. It traces the impact on films and film-making of folk and mythological traditions in the Andhra country. But this is much more than a cultural history. Two important chapters locate the making and distribution of films in the changing political economy of Andhra. The capital generated by commercial farming was transferred to more profitable uses in the city, via real estate and film production. From culture and economics the book moves on to politics, through a brilliant analysis of the election campaign of 1982-3, when the great film star N.T. Rama Rao created a political party single-handedly, and carried it to victory against the all-powerful Congress.


The book's rich diversity of themes is matched by its depth of sources. Archival materials, field studies, newspaper records, pamphlets, posters, and newspaper records are all scoured thoroughly, with these materials then assembled in a most readable and yet robustly analytical narrative. Through these means and methods S.Y. Srinivas has written the first substantial social history of Indian cinema. In a field obsessed with the colonial period, he has also opened up the post-Independence history of Andhra Pradesh in new and extremely productive ways.


Politics as Performance should be read by anyone interested in India's great popular passion, or in the fascinating modern history of one of our largest and most populous states. It will, we think, also influence similar studies of other filmic traditions. Aspiring scholars of Malayalam cinema, Kannada cinema, Bhojpuri cinema, Bengali cinema, and Punjabi cinema will read Srinivas's book with great interest. So might scholars of Hindi cinema, who have thus far not adequately answered some vital questions relating to their field. These include: How did the Partition of India affect the making of Hindi films in terms of their staffing patterns, sources of funding, and themes fore grounded or suppressed? What are the sources of capital for Hindi films and how have these changed over time? What are the connections between film-making in Mumbai and the politics and economics of that city? What role have Hindi films played in carrying the once-reviled Hindi language across Southern and Eastern India? Why-unlike their Tamil or Telugu counterparts-have even the biggest Hindi film stars been unable to leverage their charisma and fame for successful political careers?


To answer these and other questions, Politics as Performance may provide a guide and a model. For this is that rare book which both educates the general reader as well as inspires the serious scholar. We are proud to publish it in "The Indian Century."




What does the cinema tell us about a society and its politics? I believe the cinema is useful, indeeo crucial, for understanding two key developments that shaped various aspects of life in post-Independence India in general, and the country's southern states in particular. These are, first, the rise to prominence of an elite which continues to dominate parts of the country to this day; and, second, the emergence of a new idiom of mass politics. This elite and the idiom-which together constitute what I have called "performative politics"-are both pan-Indian phenomena traceable to the colonial era but have resulted more largely from post-Independence economic policies, as also the dynamics of electoral politics. In fact, my view is that in relation to the regions that became Andhra Pradesh in 1956, where Telugu films were watched by ever-increasing numbers of people from the 1930s, the history of these developments cannot be told without reference to the cinema.


Telugu cinema, I argue, is directly implicated in the rise of the post-Independence ruling class-caste constellation, and more recently electoral mobilization. The degree of intimacy between cinema and politics is best appreciated when we examine the career of the man who represented the new elite politically. This was the film star Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (N.T. Rama Rao, "NTR," 1923-96), who crossed over to politics with nothing to show by way of qualifications except his roughly 300 films. I examine Telugu cinema in the fifty-year period from the 1930s to the early 1980s, beginning with the early career of the elite in the film industry and ending with the event that flags cinema's arrival as the foremost player in the economy and politics of the state: the election of NTR as chief minister in 1983.


The star, NTR, was born in a wealthy agricultural family in Nimmakuru, Krishna district. It is remarkable how perfect an example he was of the new ruling elite of the state. His family lost most of its wealth during the Depression. In his teens NTR moved to Vijayawada, to his maternal aunt's family, there attending high school and college. As a college student he was drawn to the amateur theatre, and this led him eventually to the film industry.


In the 1930s and 1940s Madras Presidency zamindars (landlords with revenue collection privileges) belonging to the agricultural castes-more specifically the Kamma, Reddy, Kapu, Velama, and Raju castes-played an important role in establishing studios and cinema production infrastructure in the province's capital. By the early 1950s, roughly coinciding with the passing of the Abolition of Estates Act in 1948, non-zamindar entrepreneurs from these agricultural castes replaced the colonial elite 'as the prime movers of the film industry.


Two pioneers of the pre-Independence period who facilitated the shift away from zamindari investments were Gudavalli Ramabrahmam and B.N. Reddi. They were influential film-makers but also entrepreneurs who demonstrated that the cinema was a suitable investment destination for the capital that was beginning to migrate out of the Presidency countryside after the Depression made land-related investments risky. :Ram:abrahmam and Reddi presided over the setting up of production infrastructure in Madras, a city that attracted men and money. Ramabrahmam was instrumental in the establishment of Sarathy Films, in which the main investor was a Presidency zamindar. His reformist films laid the ground for cinema's engagement with politics, even as they foregrounded an issue that would frequently resurface in discussions of Telugu cinema: how can films-and by implication actors-be linguistically marked? The choice of stories, locations, sets, props, costumes, arid of course the accents of actors--in short everything-had to be done to ensure that Telugu-Language films were saturated with Teluguness.


NTR's film career began in 1949. In 1950-1 he was launched as a star by Vijaya Pictures, around the time that this production company took over B.N. Reddi's Vauhini Studio. Soon, partly on the strength of NTR's success, VijayaVauhini went on to become the most important studio and producer of Telugu cinema of the post-Independence period. NTR and his contemporary Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR) belonged to the Kamma caste. Hero-dwayam (star-twosome), as they came to be known, were now not only the biggest stars but also went on to set up their own production companies and, in the 1970s, film studios. Their growth as stars and entrepreneurs is symptomatic of the domination of the industry by the new elite of the erstwhile Presidency. It was an elite that had strong links to agriculture and related activities, and was non-Brahmin, non-Vaishya, and non-zarnindar by origin. And what makes the cinema so crucial in Andhra Pradesh is that this elite did not limit itself to the cinema, nor to the old Presidency region, but extended its domination over the economy and politics of the state as a whole.


Paradoxically, the establishment of facilities for the production of sound films in Madras from the mid to late 1930s coincided with Ramabrahmam's realization-in as early as 1940-that the city was proving inimical to the on-screen representation of Teluguness. Actors, settings, and props required for showing the Telugu country were simply not to be found in Madras. And thus began the yearning for relocating the Telugu film industry out of Madras as well as the search for solutions to the problem of a cultural form that was not living up to its aesthetic-political potential.




Series Editors' Preface






State, Region, and Cinema



The Making of A Peasant Industry: 19305-19505


Locating the Peasant Question


Pioneers of the Silent Era


Madras and the Zamindar Era


The Beginnings of Telugu Cinema as a "Peasant



Peasant Capital and Zamindari Resistance


After the Zamindars: Modelling the "Peasant Industry"



The Telugu Country And The Film Market: 1956 And After


Founding Concerns: Representing the Telugu Country in Films


State Formation: Arguing for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana


After 1956: The Andhra Pradesh Map and the Market

for Telugu Films


Investing in the Telugu Land: Loans, Subsidies, and Real Estate


Moment of Integration: Consolidating the Telugu

Film Market



The Star And Mobilization: 1951-1980


Assembling the Nation


Peasants, Nativity, and the Telugu Land


Being Peasant and Telugu


Folklore Film and its Male Star


Orders of Representation and Spectatorship


Genre, Nativity, and the Star


The Social without Realism


Populism and the Recovery of the Feudal


The Return of the Zamindar


Cinematic Populism Revisited


The Mobilized Peasant: Feudalism and Revolution

in a "Naxalite" Film


Legitimizing the Mobilizer's Authority: Two

Emergency Films


Feudalism at Large: Telugu Films of the 1970s



Mythological Speech: Films In A Political Campaign


NTR's Campaign Films


Telugu with Hindsight: Fan Spectators and the Cultural

"Insiderisrn" of Campaign Films


A Singular Instance of Flag Waving: Talla Pellamai


The Cultural Insider: NTR and Cinephilia


Cinema and the Language of the Gods


The Problem of Playing Gods on the Screen


Dana Veera Sura Karna: The Film


Dana Veera Sura Karna and the Telugu Mythological


The Language Question


Drama Rao and his Mythological Speech


Mythological Film after the 1983 Election



The 1983 Election: Paper Tiger And Telugu Nation


NTR's Switch to Politics: The Timeline


Situating NTR's First Campaign: "Decline of the Congress "


The Mobilized Masses of Andhra Pradesh


Convergence: Peasants, Cinema, and Print



A Newspaper and the Telugu Nation: The Eenadu Story



NTR's Election Campaign and Telugu Nationalism



Amma, Anna, and the Spectacle of the Mass-Nation



The Other Eenadu in the 1983 Election: Red Films and Cinema's Political Mandate



Conclusion: Politics as Pathetic Performance












Andhra Pradesh Regions



Andhra Pradesh Districts



Sample Pages

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