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Bombay Cinema

An Archive of the City

2007
Author:

Ranjani Mazumdar

Bombay Cinema

The urban experience in India through the lens of popular Bombay cinema

Cinema is not only a major industry in India, it is a powerful cultural force. In Bombay Cinema, Ranjani Mazumdar takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding Bombay cinema as the unofficial archive of the city in India. In this analysis, Mazumdar reveals a complex postnationalist world, convulsed by the social crisis of the 1970s and transformed by the experience of globalization in the 1990s.

Investigating urban types—angry young men, dangerous psychotics, street loafers, prostitutes, yuppies, and gangsters—Ranjani Mazumdar shows how recent Indian cinema provided an archive of urban spaces and of the trauma of a deep social disillusionment. From claustrophobic alleyways and slum dwellings to the ‘panoramic’ apartments whose vast interior sets shelter middle-class families from encounters with the chaos of the street, Mazumdar describes an urban space imploding under the pressure of globalization and new technology. She has produced an important work not only on Indian cinema but also on the cinematic city.

Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity

Cinema is not only a major industry in India, it is a powerful cultural force. But until now, no one has undertaken a major examination of the ways in which films made in Bombay mediate the urban experience in India. In Bombay Cinema, Ranjani Mazumdar takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding Bombay cinema as the unofficial archive of the city in India.

In this analysis of the cinematic city, Mazumdar reveals a complex postnationalist world, convulsed by the social crisis of the 1970s and transformed by the experience of globalization in the 1990s. She argues that the upheaval of postcolonial nationalism led to Bombay cinema’s articulation of urban life in entirely new terms. Specifically, the place of the village in the imaginary constitution of anticolonial nationalism gave way to a greater acknowledgment, even centrality, of urban space. Bombay Cinema takes the reader on an inventive journey through a cinematic city of mass crowds, violence, fashion, architectural fantasies, and subcultural identities. Moving through the world of gangsters and vamps, families and drifters, and heroes and villains, Bombay Cinema explores an urban landscape marked by industrial decline, civic crisis, working-class disenchantment, and diverse street life.

Combining the anecdotal with the theoretical, the philosophical with the political, and the textual with the historical, Bombay Cinema leads the reader into the heart of the urban labyrinth in India, revising and deepening our understanding of both the city and the cinema.

Bombay Cinema

Ranjani Mazumdar is an independent filmmaker and associate professor of cinema studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

Bombay Cinema

Investigating urban types—angry young men, dangerous psychotics, street loafers, prostitutes, yuppies, and gangsters—Ranjani Mazumdar shows how recent Indian cinema provided an archive of urban spaces and of the trauma of a deep social disillusionment. From claustrophobic alleyways and slum dwellings to the ‘panoramic’ apartments whose vast interior sets shelter middle-class families from encounters with the chaos of the street, Mazumdar describes an urban space imploding under the pressure of globalization and new technology. She has produced an important work not only on Indian cinema but also on the cinematic city.

Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity

Bombay Cinema is an inspired account of Hindi films as a rich and textured archive of modern urban life in India. Challenging the nationalist idealization of the village, its ingenious portrayal of the cinematic city conclusively shows that urban modernity stands at the center of the Indian postcolonial experience. A true gem.

Gyan Prakash, author of Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India

The ease and fluency of her style make the book quite readable. Her analyses of the films she has chosen to examine are illuminating.

Tehelka

Mazumdar’s book is at once about Hindi films, spatial practices, urban modernity and globalization. While each of these themes is important on its own terms, the strength of the book lies in bringing all of them together in a productive conversation. In making these themes interweave with each other, the book unhinges them from their privileged disciplinary domains and makes them perform analytical tasks that they are usually not summoned to do. . . . The book brings new perspectives on the themes it chooses to explore. Here is a book, which will not disappoint but instead inform those who are engaged with cities other than Bombay, and cinemas other than Hindi.

Economic & Political Weekly

Bombay Cinema is an exciting and important contribution to a field that has, to date, been under researched and under theorized. Lively, provocative and richly suggestive, it will also serve as a surefire incentive to watch those films all over again.

Screen

Here, at last, is a book length study on Cinema in India that does not get locked into a dance of hermetic closure between what transpires on screen and a set of stock off screen textual and cultural references, but more importantly, walks the streets where the films are set, looks at shop windows, publicity material, costumes, fashion, architecture, telecommunications and the concrete materiality that surrounds the film object.

Seminar

Bombay Cinema takes us through the cinematic city as character, as spectacle, as spatial dynamic, as performative motor and above all as an invaluable archive of urban experience in contemporary India. Mazumdar develops her work thoroughly and consistently, such that contemporary Bombay cinema is easily accessible to the general reader and the academic scholar alike. Bombay Cinema is lucid, provocative, stylish and substantial. It is an illuminating scholarly study that spares no effort to bring Bombay cinema out of the academic closet.

The Book Review India

Drawing on scholarship in film and literary criticism, cultural studies, architecture and urban design and on interviews with actors, directors and screenplay writers, Ranjani Mazumdar's groundbreaking book explores the complex relationship between Hindi cinema and the city and applies the resulting insights to innovative readings of a number of important films of the past four decades . . . a landmark study—carefully researched, well organized and offering refreshingly uncondescending and strikingly insightful discussions of mainstream films—that deserves to be read by anyone interested in India's popular cinema or its contemporary urban life.

Journal of Asian Studies

This is a fascinating book about the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) and its place and role in Indian cinema. Ranjani Mazumdar has provided us with a lucid picture of the city and its relationship with cinema. This book is a much needed contribution in understanding the role of Hindi films in the cinematic city. The book also challenges the idealisation of the Indian village as constructed by the Indian nationalist movement.

Information, Society, and Justice

Mazumdar's experience as a filmmaker allowed her to offer significant readings of not just the narratives and character development in the films, but of the cinematography, mise-es-scene, and other technical and performance aspects of production. As scholar and a filmmaker, Ranjani Mazumdar effectively combined her two disciplines in the book, which is accessible and useful to scholars of South Asia and film.

Journal of Popular Culture

Mazumdar has a great capacity to discuss Indian cinema, with a brilliant grasp of its political, historical and esthetic developments, but equally she is well attuned to the interests and ruptures in the academic discourse of film and cinema studies.

Film International

Ranjani Mazumdar makes an eloquently convincing claim to indispensability within this increasingly claustrophobic field with a book that takes the Bombay cinema as ‘perhaps the major reservoir of the urban experience in India.’ Bombay Cinema will be of significant interest to student and scholars in South Asian urban and visual studies, world cinema studies, anthropology, and media and cultural studies. When read in concert with the films it explores, it will serve as an excellent teaching text for advanced undergraduate courses, as well as providing ample conceptual grist for the graduate seminar mill.

Visual Anthropology Review

Bombay Cinema is methodologically challenging in its deployment of moments rather than discursive formations of film as text. The book also refuses to read film alone, but interprets the medium alongside the detailed insights of people involved in making them, and with the recent history of Bombay, within which the film industry is located. In Mazumdar's evocative reading of the films she engages with, the cinematic city becomes the space of critique of the nation, the site of the ruin of the modern nationalist project.

Contemporary South Asia