Hindi Action Cinema (Industries, Narratives and Bodies)

Hindi Action Cinema (Industries, Narratives and Bodies)

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Item Code: NAC592
Author: Valentina Vitali
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: hindi
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 0195692446
Pages: 300 (Illustrated In B/W)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8 Inch X 5.8 Inch
Weight 500 gm
Back of the Book

This book is an original piece of work which is pioneering in its study of the importance of exhibition and distribution to the Hindi film industry.
Rachel Dwyer, Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema, SOAS, University of London.

‘…the quantity of data assembled by the author is impressive…The author uses a clear and accessible literary style.

M.K. Raghavendra,Winner of National Award for ‘Best Film Critic’.

From the Jacket

Irrespective of class, culture, and religion, cinema is one of the driving passions in the Indian Subcontinent. Hindi Action Cinema is the first book to cover the history of action films made in Bombay.

The book opens with the silent period, tracing the emergence of the genre in the mid-1920s. When women also began to feature in action roles. Then it examines the socio-economic factors responsible for the films and popularity of figures like Master Vithal, Ermeline, Fearless Nadia, Dara Singh, Amitabh Bachchan as well as other, more contemporary figures of Hindi action cinema.

Considering the social ground that shaped these films’ mode of action and their distinctive misc en scene, Hindi Action Cinema examines the changing economies of film production, distribution, and exhibition in Bombay over eight decades. In the process, the book raises new questions about the nature of this film genre and challenges established conceptualizations of the relationship between a film and its socio-economic context.

The book will appeal to students and scholars of film and cultural studies as well as to the general reader interested in Indian cinema.

Valentina Vitali teaches film history and theory at the University of East London.


It is not a question of presenting works in correlation with their time, but, rather, in the time in which they are born, of presenting the time that knows them. —Walter Benjamin, ‘Literary History and the Study of Literature’

RAJKUMAR SANTOSHS GHATAK/ LETHAL (1996) TELLS The STORY OF KASHI NATH (Sunny Deol), the son of a nationalist hem who sets out to free the residents of a small town from the terrorizing regime of arch-villain Katya (Danny Denzongpa). Ghatak features several fights and nearly all of them are witnessed by a (diegetic) crowd. The final confrontation between Kashi and Katya inscribes the spectator in the viewing position of the crowd, standing by and cheering as the hero kills the other man. This type of mise en scene is very common in action cinema and there is nothing particular about this film that one cannot find in many other action movies. Except, that is, the time that knew Ghatak as a film. I first saw it as a newly released film in 1996. 1 was then living in Allahabad, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, at a time when the popularity and influence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was fast rising in the Hindi belt. Watching the film’s closing scene from my balcony seat, I remember thinking then that I was seeing a film that was part of a swelling cultural-ideological wave which would be flooding large parts of the country for a long time to come. In many ways, this book emerges from, and is an elaboration of, that impression of seeing a film, not simply as a story or as a cultural object that may or may not be a work of art, but as an integral moment of an unfolding historical process.

Conventionally speaking, one might say that this book is about the relationship between history and cinema. The problem with such a formulation is that it risks suggesting that cinema is one thing and history another, the relationship between the two being a matter for historians and film theorists to discuss in an interdisciplinary exchange. Historians have many useful observations to make about films and about cinema as a cultural form, while film scholars have written insightful things about the history of their object of study, but juxtaposing cinema and history as distinct, though related, fields of enquiry obscures the fact that cultural forms emerge from within history The question is thus less about how a film’s relation to history should be understood, than the reading and understanding of films as technologically and industrially bundled discursive constellations animated by the very substances and rhythms that we refer to as history Films are primary sources every bit as much as statesmen’s diaries, minutes of governmental meetings, or the objects and detritus that can be found on the sites of ruined cities. Just as historians have to pay serious attention to the specificities of the media in which source material is encountered, so the specificities of cinematic discourses considered by film theorists are not separate from, but are an integral part of historiography.

When films have been examined as primary sources, attention has tended to focus on two particular aspects of the indexical dimension of films) The most widely practised approach has been to examine what the films’ stories have to say about events or periods already defined and labelled by historians. Plots, dialogues, and their settings are scrutinized to identify historically pertinent information in what film scholars call the pro-filmic event, that is to say, in the ‘reality’ recorded by the camera and the microphone. Although documentaries and newsreels are the types of cinema privileged by this approach, it is generally conceded that documentary aspects may also be discerned in fiction films. For instance, in the 1950s some French critics2 regarded feature films as quasi- documentaries about actors: a film starring Ava Gardner was seen as, among other things, a film about the actress Ava Gardner. There are merits to this proto-modernist way of reading films as being also about the materials with which they are made, but, in practice, because of the reductive understanding of a film’s ‘materials’, this remains a rather limited approach to cinema as history.

A second, more sophisticated, way of dealing with cinema as history has been to examine a film as a historical account marked by emphases and omissions that are due to state- or self-censorship, lack of money, or psychic repression. This approach, pioneered by Marc Ferro 1988 [1977] and Pierre Sorlin (1980), involves measuring the film retrospectively against other historiography accounts that, although not necessarily taken to be ‘truthful’, are nevertheless understood to be offering a fuller and more objective picture than the one presented by the analysed film. The film’s emphases, omissions, or simply ‘distortions’ are examined by resorting to certain techniques of psychoanalysis—and especially to Freud’s account of the four processes of distortion at work in dreams.

The information disclosed by such an approach can provide useful clues to the way a film functions as a text-in-history, bearing the marks of the geo-temporal location, of the conditions of its production and / or circulation, and of the institutions that regulated both. But this approach has also tended to put more emphasis on what is not in the film, rather than on assessing what is. For instance, in his analysis of Lev Kuleshov’s Po zakonu/Dura Lex/By the Law (1926), Ferro maintained that ‘the historical and social reading’ of this and other films enabled historians ‘to reach invisible zones in the past of societies—to reveal self-censorship or lapses (which remain in the unconscious of participants and witnesses) at work within a society (1977: 20). Along the same lines, Sorlin argued that cinema underscores a way of looking; it allows the distinguishing of the visible from the invisible and thus the ideological limits of perception in a certain age. [U]nder the cover of an analogy with the sensible world, which often allows it to pass as a faithful witness, cinema creates a Fictional universe by reverting to comparison, matching, development, repetition. ellipsis (1977: 242; English translation from Casetti 1999).

Psychoanalysis can have a significant role to play if we are to understand how thoughts arid intuitions are transformed as they are made to migrate from one level of consciousness to another, or from one medium into another. But, as Freud once said, there are times when a cigar is just a cigar. Notions of condensation, displacement, or secondary elaboration are to be kept in mind as a useful way 0f tracking when the image of a cigar is not just a cigar, that is to say when it stands in as a symbol of some other preoccupation. However, it is equally important to be able to tell when a cigar is just that, what brand it is, what economic circuits must be operating for that cigar to get to that smoker in that film at that place and time, and why someone such as that smoker may want to purchase and smoke it. By attaching importance exclusively to a film’s distortions, that is to the relations between the visible and the invisible (or repressed), the approach pioneered by Ferro and Sorlin overlooks many of the complexities that the visible (and the audible) itself involves; its direct and immediate (or unmediated) implications, rather than its more or less hidden associations.


Photographs vii
Note on the Transliteration of Film Titles and Names ix
Acknowledgements xi
Introduction xiii
1. The 1920s 1
The 1910s 3
The 1920s 11
The Action Ingredient 20
Sharda Film Company and Master Vithal 32
Conclusion 49
2. Women in Action Films in the 1920s and 1930s 56
The 1930s 72
From Artistic Pictures Corporation to Wadia Movie tone 80
Fearless Nadia’s Stunt Films 100
3. Interlude: The 1950s 119
The Bombay Film Industry during Nehru’s Administration 119
Post-Independence Euphoria and the Marginalization of Action 127
4. The 1960s 134
The Bombay Film Industry in the 1960s 134
The Economy in 1960s India 140
Dara Singh and the Hindi Small-budget Film 144
Dara Singh’s Wrestling Films 154
5. The 1970s 184
The Literature on the ‘Angry Young Man’ 184
Prelude 190
Indira Gandhi’s U-Turn 193
The Bombay Film Industry in the 1970s 196
The Action Films of Amitabh Bachchan 206
6. Contemporary Action Cinema 230
Bibliography 245
Index 260
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