Bombay Cinema, A Musical Digression: The Swinging ’50s and ’60s

I inaugurated this series on Bombay cinema two weeks ago. Last Sunday saw the first entry proper: an annotated list of 10 essential films from the 1950s. I was supposed to post the 1960s entry this week. However, all too predictably, I have not had the time to get to it. My term starts up on Monday and I’ve been going a bit out of my head getting ready for another 10 weeks of teaching over Zoom. But do not despair! I do have a 1960s list for you. It’s just not going to be annotated this week—I hope to get around to doing that by next Sunday. Wait, there’s more! One of the things I’ll be doing in this series on an ongoing basis—beyond the lists for each decade—is highlighting music in Bombay cinema. Today: a brief consideration of musical hybridity in 1950s and early 1960s films, and in particular, the adoption of swinging jazz and rock and roll. Continue reading


Bombay Cinema, A Rough Guide: The 1950s

[For the background on this series, see my introductory post from last Sunday.]

India became independent in 1947. The film industry—due to colonial censorship—had not been a significant cultural force in the anti-colonial movement (contrast with literature, especially in the high-Gandhian period from the 1920s on). In the first decade after independence, however, cinema was to become the major cultural form in which the new Indian nation was to be imagined and represented. Bombay was not the only location for this, of course. Bengali and Tamil cinema were already major industries, to name two; and it’s also worth remembering that before WW2 Bombay was not the only center of Hindi film production. With the Hindi film industry—and the nation—made over by Partition, however, by the end of the 1950s Bombay cinema’s ascendancy as the symbolic face of Indian cinema was complete. In this post I will briefly sketch some of the genres and thematic concerns that marked this decade, and highlight some of the major artists (directors, actors, music directors, singers, lyricists) who defined the era. At the end I will offer a few more general observations about Bombay cinema and also issue a couple of warnings for the unwary viewer. Continue reading

Bombay Cinema, A Rough Guide: An Introduction

A few months ago I noticed a bunch of people I follow on Twitter forwarding and commenting on a March Madness-style bracket someone had started to ostensibly determine the “Greatest Movie of All Time“*. No one participating in these things ever actually believes that the winner will be the greatest anything of all time but they’re fun and at least illuminating of the zeitgeist. Accordingly, I clicked over to the link that had the complete bracket and was immediately struck by the fact that there was only one Indian film in the bracket of 512 films**. Just one. India has one of the largest film industries in the world; Indian directors have won awards at the major film festivals since the 1950s; popular Hindi and Tamil cinema are as global as Hollywood. But this bracket has just the one, single, solitary Indian film on it. I’m not quite sure how to explain this except that the bracket was—presumably—created by one person and that person may have a subcontinent-sized blind spot in their knowledge of cinema. Continue reading

Molly Shannon / Year of the Dog

Year of the Do
A little bit of Molly Shannon convergence for me today. The AV Club did their 11 Questions thing with her today. And that reminded me to check how she did in Grantland’s latest pointless “Best of…” pop culture bracket: this time to rank the “best” SNL cast-members of all time. Predictably enough, the women are not doing so well. Predictable not because many of the women on SNL over the years weren’t great but because both Grantland’s writers and its readers are mostly men. It’s not just that Gilda Radner “lost” to Bill Murray, it’s how many fewer votes she got (7,739 to 23,036); it’s also that Chris Farley is in the final eight for some reason and that Jan Hooks went out to goddamned Rob Schneider. Anyway, despite all this I’m not surprised or upset that Molly Shannon went out early (though it shouldn’t have been to that putz Jimmy Fallon)—there is something about the blend of essential sweetness and discomfiting, off-kilter commitment in many of her characters that I always enjoyed but I didn’t always enjoy all of the sketches they were in . Continue reading

Mad Men and the Assasination of Dr. King

Mad Men

“Why am I on this show again?”

While watching the most recent episode of Mad Men on the dvr last night I quipped on Facebook that I found it “odd that everyone on Mad Men seems so upset about Martin Luther King’s assassination… [as] five seasons in, I had no idea he existed in the Mad Men universe”. A couple of literalist friends wrote in to point out some of the occasions on which Martin Luther King was in fact mentioned on the show. To which I responded as follows: “Of course, I’m exaggerating. My point is that for a show so peripherally (if that) interested in race, despite being set in the civil rights era, to suddenly have all the major characters so moved by Dr. King’s assassination is a bit of a cheap out.”

Later, I finished the episode and had to concede the point made by Hanna Rosin in Slate’s ongoing TV Club discussion of the show about the responses of the characters: that what we are shown is in fact not the characters being genuinely moved by the news but responding to it in ways that both elaborate fundamental character traits and illustrate the relative marginality of civil rights in the lives of bourgeois white Americans in the period. I think this is a much better reading of the episode than my initial quip or follow-up implied. And even though I don’t really have any basis for knowing if the self-centered responses of most of the characters are, in fact, representative of mainstream attitudes at the time, it seems like a nice antidote to the usual rhetoric that emanates from at least some subset of white Americans who were alive in the 50s and 60s: to wit, that some sort of virtue and/or insight re race relations in America accrues to them simply on account of having been alive in the 50s and 60s.
Continue reading

Save the Green Planet!

I drank a lot of beer today and so passed on whisky tonight. So, no whisky review. Instead, here’s an untimely plug for a South Korean film from a decade ago, named Save the Green Planet! (2003), directed by Joon-Hwan Jang.

Science fiction? Comedy? Horror? Police procedural? Love story? All these genres and more are mashed up unpredictably in this film and the tone shifts as abruptly and yet organically. A young man, who seems increasingly deranged, is convinced that aliens from Andromeda are among us and preparing to destroy the planet. He kidnaps a sleazy industrialist who he believes is one of the key players in this plan and begins a very specific program of torture/questioning to get him to divulge the details. Or is something else going on? Is he in fact taking revenge on the industrialist (and maybe others) for things done to him and his family in the past? This is what the industrialist claims as he begins to turn the tables on his captors (oh right, I forgot to mention that our protagonist is being helped by his lover, a not-all-there tight-rope walker from what seems like a very low-budget circus). Meanwhile, the police circle–including the wonderfully loopy detective Chu. Continue reading