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Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid

From Bollywood to the Emergency

Ashish Rajadhyaksha

April 2012

7.5 x 9.5 inches

(xii+444 ) 456 pages

ISBN : 978-81-89487-97-3

INR 650

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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’être 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.

Ashish Rajadhyaksha

Ashish Rajadhyaksha is a film historian, and an occasional art curator. He is the author of Ritwik Ghatak: A Return to theEpic (1982), Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency (2009) and The Last Cultural Mile: An Inquiry into Technology and Governance in India (2011). He edited the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema (with Paul Willemen) (1994/1999), In the Wake of Aadhaar: the Digital Ecosystem of Governance in India (2013) and a book of Kumar Shahani’s writings, The Shock of Desire and Other Essays (2015). He co-wrote, with Nishant Shah and Nafis Aziz Hasan, the book Overload, Creep, Excess: An Internet from India (2021). Rajadhyaksha co-curated (with Geeta Kapur) the ‘Bombay/Mumbai 1992–2001’ section of ‘Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis’ at the Tate Modern (2002); the ‘You Don’t Belong’ festival of film and video in four cities in China (2011) and ‘Memories of Cinema’ at the IVth Guangzhou Triennial (2011); ‘“Make-Belong”: Films in Kochi from China and Hong Kong’, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2015); and the exhibition ‘Tah-Satah: A Very Deep Surface: Mani Kaul & Ranbir Singh Kaleka: Between Film and Video’ at the Jawahar Kala Kendra, JaipIndian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid From Bollywood to the Emergencyur (January–March 2017).

‘The publication of Ashish Rajadhyaksha’s book… is perhaps an appropriate moment to take stock of film criticism and theory in India today… because Rajadhyaksha is regarded as one of the more important theorists working on Indian cinema.’

M K Raghavendra, The Caravan

‘… a major event in interdisciplinary scholarship on cinema and academy-oriented publishing…. The work provides an insight into the recent intellectual trajectories of a pioneering scholar in the field…. The project itself is far more ambitious, seeking to provide a definitive account of Indian cinema.’

Subhajit Chatterjee, The Book Review

‘Ostensibly this is a book that wants to intervene within debates in film theory, but in fact, it is much more than that – this is a book that seeks to raise foundational questions about cinema, about the state and about citizenship. One has to admire the ambition of Rajadhyaksha’s text that traverses political theory, cultural theory, political economy and legal studies. Indeed few people would attempt to bring all this together with such confidence. In that sense, the book attempts something quite new.’

Ranjani Mazumdar, Economic and Political Weekly