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An Unruly Modernity: The City in Bombay Cinema


Anupama Kapse

BOMBAY CINEMA: AN ARCHIVE OF THE CITY
By Ranjani Mazumdar
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 258, $35.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 4 April 2008

Few recent books on Indian film offer a range of analysis as extensive and insightful as Ranjani Mazumdar’s Bombay Cinema: An Archive of the City. True to its title, Bombay Cinema offers a new set of ideas and a fresh dynamic—the city—to think seriously about how and why we continue to watch popular Hindi cinema. By choosing the city over other categories such as the nation, Mazumdar delves directly into a rich cinematic terrain that paves the way for sustained aesthetic and theoretical reflection. Mazumdar analyses the critical importance of not only the ‘real’ Bombay but the city itself as an abstract but always palpable presence in Hindi cinema. Her title denotes both the city which produces Bombay cinema and the Bombay that is produced by Hindi cinema. Going beyond any simple understanding of what is now known as Mumbai, Bombay Cinema reveals the narrative, formal and economic significance of the paradigmatic city of Hindi cinema. The book 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.   In Mazumdar’s work, the city emerges as a compelling register of the modern, one that delightfully anchors Bombay cinema’s unique choreography of music, melodrama, fantasy and spectacle. Instead of identifying the imagined terrain of the city with the imagined community of the nation, Mazumdar shows us how the city visualizes a community that can never fully replicate the sanctified, rural utopia of the village. The utopian presence of the village is often invoked in prominent narratives of the nation. Turning away from this nostalgic consideration of the village as a pristine, uncontaminated point of origin from which the city has been cut off, she positions the city as a ‘mimic village’ (p. xxv); fake, entirely cinematic and totally accurate in its screening of the incompleteness of reason and modernity. Bombay Cinema invites us to become familiar with the city as a cinematic landscape of terror and phantasmagoria that uses masquerade, comedy, laughter and song to express the multiple facets of urban life. Mazumdar argues that in Hindi cinema the city is a place of identity-formation that produces fantastic, contingent selves which rarely lay claim to the benefits of enlightened modernity. In other words, it is through its engagement with the contemporary imagination of the city that Bombay Cinema ...


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