Archive for March, 2009

Islamicate culture and Bombay cinema

March 31, 2009

For the longest time, one had to assign an article by Mukul Kesavan – “Urdu, Awadh and the Tawaif, the Islamicate Roots of Hindi Cinema” – to go with a screening of Umrao Jaan, Mughal-e-Azam, or even Jodhaa Akbar. We now have what seems like a terrific book-length study of Islamicate influences – language, poetry, music, and so on – that have shaped Bombay cinema for several decades.


The blurb informs us that Ira Bhaskar and Richard Allen argue that “it is in the three genre forms of The Muslim Historical, The Muslim Courtesan Film and The Muslim Social that these cultures are concentrated and distilled into precise iconographic, performative and narrative idioms.” More info here.


Hollywood studios stumbling in Bollywood?

March 26, 2009

A number of FICCI-Frames 2009 posts are languishing in draft form on wordpress, but the past few weeks have been very hectic. I will get to them as the semester winds down, but I did want to do a quick write-up of an article about how Hollywood studios’ are struggling to establish themselves in Bombay.

Anupama Chopra has a piece in the NYT outlining how Hollywood studios are discovering that “negotiating the distance between Burbank and Bollywood is trickier than expected” (full story). It’s been a decade since studios like Sony, Warner Bros., and Disney entered the world of film production in Bombay, but they are yet to make any noticeable impact. And why is this?

Chopra attributes it to the fact that Hollywood studios are still learning how to navigate and work within an industry where interpersonal relationships shape every aspect of the film business, where Hollywood-style contracts simply don’t work as well. Yes, it has been a decade since “corporatization” became a buzzword in the industry, with every major production house figuring out how to make the transition from a family-run, entreprenurial unit to a more “corporatized” model. She also quotes Karan Johar who argues that Hollywood studios might not “understand the pulse of this audience.”

Johar isn’t saying anything new – if anything, it’s tiresome. Put Johar or anyone else on the spot and ask them to explain their understanding of the “audience,” and you won’t really get anything concrete either. As Chopra reminds us, it’s not as if Bollywood filmmakers’ hit-to-flop ratio is anything to write home about. But there is something to be said for how long it takes for established business practices to change. What is crucial to note is the fact that Hollywood studio execs are being patient and, most importantly, beginning to recruit top talent within India. Shahrukh Khan’s bravado notwithstanding, execs like Vijay Singh of Fox Star Studios are working, slowly but surely, and there will be several interesting changes in the coming years.