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Bombay Cinema

Shohini Ghosh

By Mihir Bose
Lotus Collection, an imprint of Roli Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 382, Rs. 495.00

By Jessica Hines
Bloomsbury, London, 2007, pp. 304, $25.53


The two books under review were both published originally in the UK before being published in India and seem to address the South Asian diaspora’s current preoccupation with all things ‘Bollywood’. While the book by Jessica Hines is more a personal journey, Mihir Bose attempts to provide a detailed history of what he calls ‘Bollywood’.   Mihir Bose’s book unfolds over five detailed chapters that start with the beginnings of Indian cinema to the early years of the new millennium. When an author attempts to capture such a long and complicated journey, there are bound to be omissions and absences. Given such an onerous task, Bose does succeed in writing a readable book blending facts with anecdotes and personal observations. The early chapters, dealing with the beginnings of cinema, are to my mind the strongest chapters in the book. Notwithstanding some factual errors (like calling Rakesh Roshan’s Karan Arjun a Hrithik Roshan starrer), the book manages to convey a broad trajectory of Bombay film history. Unfortunately, the latter part of the book begins to falter when it starts addressing the history of the present. Given the considerable amount that has already been published about films in the nineties (from which Bose borrows liberally) the later chapters would appear thin and inadequate to a moderately informed reader. It is ironic that a book that calls itself ‘Bollywood’ should falter precisely when it starts addressing the ‘Bollywoodization’ of Bombay cinema. To this I will return shortly.   Bose’s prologue titled ‘With Pamela in Search of Bollywood’ tells a rather pointless story of how Pamela Bordes/Singh, following a sex scandal in the UK, attempts to work incognito as a photographer on an assignment with Bose. She is soon ‘discovered’ by the stars and the media and gradually turns into a star herself. This quasi-tabloid (and frequently sexist) account, possibly of interest to some readers in the UK, sets a misleading tone for the rest of the book and might even deter serious readers from proceeding any further. The extraneous Pamela story is replete with journalistic observations that play on the false binaries of ‘Indian thinking’ and the ‘West’. This book is certainly not to be judged by the prologue.   The decision to call the book ‘Bollywood’ along with the author’s decision to subsume the entire history of Bombay cinema under this term deserves some serious reflection. Mihir Bose uses ...

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