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