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Where Does the Magic Lie?

Narendra Panjwani

Edited by J. Manschot and Marijke De Vos
KIT Publishers, Amsterdam, 2005, pp. 160, £35.00


In the Global Village, ‘India’ Today Is a Movie. The ‘core problem’ with Hindi cinema continues: it is too simplistic, too vulgar, too loud, and too popular. In a word, it is too ‘foreign’ for the denizens of academia – in Mumbai, Delhi, Amsterdam, Leiden, London, as much as Los Angeles. And yet…they (I should really say ‘we’) are fascinated by Bollywood’s enduring presence, and its growing popularity in the global village. As an American journalist warned his readers recently: While Hollywood is dragged down with exorbitant production costs, Bollywood makes and distributes as many movies as it pleases. And people watch them. Lots of people. Over half the world’s population finds their primary source of entertainment in Indian celluloid. (Sam Wardle, aWorldConnected.org, October, 2004)   Half the world’s population; three billion people? Really? What are Mr Wardle’s data sources? He doesn’t cite any, but you don’t have to take his claim literally. Taken metaphorically, it tells us that Bollywood has gone and set the cat among the American pigeons. Meanwhile back at home, one still can’t help feeling that Hindi cinema should surely not be our best-known cultural signifier nationally and internationally, given its low pedigree. But it is. Yes of course there is place in this ‘room’ for Sri Sathya Sai Baba and other godmen/women, for great artists like Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Amrita Shergil, M.F. Husain, M.S. Subbalaxmi and Bhimsen Joshi, for Yoga, for the Gita, for Tukaram and Mahatma Gandhi, for R.K. Narayan, Satyajit Ray, Ravi Shankar, and much else. But Amitabh Bachchan and the celluloid ‘world’ he represents are nine-tenths of this room, whether you like it or not.   Over the last five years, the small rain-fed backwater of books on Indian cinema has now become a river in flood! There are already two encyclopedias on Hindi phillums alone, both with a respectable British stamp on them. The French and the Americans can be expected to upstage them in the near future. Here’s how the Encyclopedia Britannica justifies bringing out its special volume on Hindi cinema in 2004: The excitement of cinema is the pulse of the Indian nation. There is nothing quite like it in the world.   Given such hype, some curiosity about looking behind the scenes of Hindi cinema to figure out its sources, and what keeps it going from one era to ...

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