Indian Cinema: A Very Short Introduction

A revisionist history of the world’s largest movie industry

Nov. 23, 2016
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On page one of Indian Cinema: A Very Short Introduction, film historian Ashish Rajadhyaksha confesses that he has not written a “proper history” of his subject, pleading that so vast a subject cold not be contained within the 35,000 words allotted him by Oxford University Press.

But a few pages in, it’s apparent that he has written a history, not an exhaustive one to be sure, but a revisionist account. Rajadhyaksha is trying to get past the usual topics that frame accounts of Indian cinema for a different perspective. Perhaps there is no one “Indian cinema” but the famous Bollywood plus several regional film industries mirroring the nation’s linguistic and ethnic diversity. Rajadhyaksha classes the arrival of cinema in the subcontinent under the British Raj with the birth of that nation’s popular culture, which began in the 19th century with photography studios, mass produced prints and newspapers and transformed local traditions through Western technology.

And then, as Rajadhyaksha stresses, any history of Indian cinema is based on patchy sources. The world’s most productive movie industry, outpacing Hollywood by far for number of feature films released, has properly archived only a small fraction of its output. Little remains from the silent era but odds and scraps. Rajadhyaksha is in a position not unlike the post-war German critics who tried to reconstruct their country’s pre-Nazi cinema from spotty memories and incomplete prints. He’s taken an early step toward understanding his subject with A Very Short Introduction.

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