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Of Stars and Firmaments, Politics and Life

C.S. Venkiteswaran

By S.V. Srinivas
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 293, Rs. 695.00


Here then is a short description of Telugu cinema: it is a cinema in the Telugu language made with borrowed plots, for ten crore speakers of the language, by an industry that makes politicians because it cannot make profits.’ This is how Srinivas concludes his book on the megastar Chiranjeevi. It is a ‘conclusion’ that sums up the trajectory of the book and its analysis. For, it traces not only the evolution of an actor into a star, a megastar and then a politician and idol of the masses, but also places it in the film-industrial and socio-political context that envelops it. Woven through the analysis are the film texts and the multiple discourses surrounding them, and in the process, the book throws up scintillating insights into the work of cinema in our popular imagination and society. Though the phenomenon of ‘stars’ and stardom have been a topic of study especially since the advent of cultural studies, these explorations were and are predominantly Hollywood-centric. If at all ‘other cinemas’ found a place here, more often than not such analysis also employed concepts and theories developed in the Hollywood context, which were applied onto the milieu in question. Such exercises only serve to ‘universalise’ certain film theories all over again, by making other cinemas—Asian, African or Latin American—mere ‘examples’ and ‘proofs’ of an overarching theory. This was very poignantly felt in the Indian context, which boasts of one of the largest film industries in the world in terms of its numbers and in the last decades, also its overwhelming global reach. It was with the entry of film scholars like Ravi Vasudevan, Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Madhava Prasad, M.S.S. Pandian and Sumita Chakravarthy that film studies in India on Indian films actively sought frameworks that were theoretically informed and regionally rooted. These scholars also broke the conventional modes and models of film criticism in India that were primarily engrossed with texts and basically ‘auteurist’ in orientation. As Srinivas puts it, ‘what we may be better off working towards is a better theory, not a special one’. His book is a continuation of such efforts, both with regard to its theoretical sweep as well as academic rigour. It is also a significant addition to the literature on star studies inIndia, following M.S.S. Pandian’s path-breaking book on the MGR phenomenon—The Image Trap. Departing from the prevalent ‘mirror’ ...

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