The Silver Screen War

mission-istaanbul-poster
(sepoy sez: you can find an introduction to purdah on the about CM page)

Greetings CM readers, Sepoy has generously offered me a spot on his soapbox, a turn at the helm, a cameo in his story? Um a chance to reach out to some gentle minds…I would like to begin by discussing the current South Asia project I am working on, somewhat related to TALIBOTHRA, in that it is about the co-mingling of religion, politics and mass media. More precisely I am trying to follow the shifting figure of the terrorist in the Hindi language film industry and am curious about how Islam comes into the picture, and in fact about the precise definition of a terrorist, an “aatankvaadi”[ātaṅkavādī]. At the moment I am not sure what forms this sniffing around will take, perhaps a paper, perhaps a class, perhaps neither? Let me know what you think…

Usually I stay away from such egregiously wide canvases and I despise the simplistic, sociological, film-is-a-mirror-of-the-Indian-State-and/or-Indian-subconscious type readings of popular Hindi films. In my mind such approaches negate the agency of the filmmakers, ignore the ambivalence of cinematic narratives and engage in propagating ideology-driven, reductive readings of Hindi cinema. I could name names but that would be pedantic and beside the point.

So why am I now doing what I hate done by others? I suspect I was propelled down this path by articles on the failure of Iraq war movies; the Times article is online but the better piece by Scott Hamrah in N+1 #7 titled “Jessica Biel’s Hand: The Cinematic Quagmire,” is unfortunately not. After screening nearly every film about the Iraq war released theatrically between 2002 and 2008, Hamrah draws some smart conclusions about both the political and cinematic situation in the US today that point to the impossibility of a Platoon, Apocalypse Now or Deer Hunter being made today. And then I read Sepoy’s posts on the US media hysteria over Afghanistan and Pakistan…unlike the Nazi, absolute-evil WW II villain in Hollywood movies, terrorists in contemporary US films are never directly Afghanis/ Saudis/ Iraqis or Muslims, the viewer has to do some work to get to those categories. The war on Terror is not the war in Iraq. At least not yet. But in India, the not-war on Terror is the only war we know, and is in fact the same war with Pakistan we have been not-waging since 1947.

Popular Hindi films made in the last ten or fifteen years have terrorists that are clearly marked as Muslim, and further have some narrative link to Pakistan. This was not always so, terrorism on the Indian screen had other names and other historical contexts (Freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Naxalites, Tamil Tigers, Northeastern insurgents). But now they are all Islamic psychopaths, trained and funded by the Pakistani government, intent on destroying India. I give you the four phases in the love affair between terrorism and the Indian film industry:

I: Just friends

In my mind Gabar Singh from the spectacular 1975 Sholay is a terrorist, albeit he has no interest in bringing down a State, or any cause beyond being evil. More traditional terror genealogies (like those found here and here) would probably start with the 1986 Karma by Subhash Ghai, a crude amalgam of Sholay and 70s Hindi cops ‘n’ robbers films. Karma features a terrorist turned mercenary played by Naseeruddin Shah—an actor to remember as I run through the terror films today. However Karma, is about vigilante justice and personal vengeance, the State only begins to get involved in the nineties with films like Mehul Kumar’s Tirangaa (1992) or Droh Kaal (1994) made by Govind Nihilani, starring Om Puri and our man Naseeruddin Shah. However, in both these films the exact political causes remain murky and the players are anonymous, the emphasis is more on espionage and reliable intelligence than violence and chaos.

An interestingly different terror film in this period is Gulzar’s Maachis (1996), set in Punjab in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the Sikh killings. This film humanizes (and thus complicates) the figure of the terrorist by presenting a possible how-he-became-one story. Such forays into alternate narratives of terrors remain rare, but thankfully do exist. Of the handful of other films that explore other histories of terror Maachis is perhaps the most widely distributed, but it would still be considered an art-house Hindi film with limited audiences.

II: First thrill

Everything changed with the Bombay blasts of 1993. Thereafter Terror in Hindi film had a target city and a cause. This is also when the talented Mani Ratnam entered the national stage with his stunning terrorism “trilogy” Roja(1992)-Bombay(1995)-Dil Se(1998). These three films are among my favorite Hindi-language films because of their breathtaking cinematography and amazing music (by AR Rehman). It is Roja which directly features the situation in Kashmir and presents us with Indian Army (good) versus Islamic militants (bad) for the first time. In the late nineties a handful of mediocre mainstream films continued to build on this scenario and link domestic terrorism with Pakistan – Jaan (1996), Border (1997) and Sarfarosh (1999) with, of course, Naseeruddin Shah.

The odd film in these few years was Santosh Sivan’s Tamil Theeviravaathi featuring a female terrorist from a nameless organization determined to blow up a nameless politician (er Rajiv Gandhi anyone) in 1999. Once again we see that rare attempt to move away from a conflation of “terrorist” and “Muslim”. Such a move will not occur again until Mani Shankar’s Tango Charlie in 2005 that deals with the situation in the Northeast of India. However, both are art-house films with limited distribution and impact.

III: Saying it out loud

The military events at Kargil in 1999 launched a slew of Indo-Pakistan war films. A few were romance films on patriotic steroids like Anil Sharma’s Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, Yash Chopra’s Veer-Zaara, and Kunal Kohli’s bizarre Fanaa. The majority were action-war films on patriotic steroids like VV Chopra’s Mission Kashmir, Raj Kanwar’s Farz, J. P. Dutta’s LOC Kargil and Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya.

Perhaps the most bizarre of these testosterone monsters is Rohit Shetty’s Zameen which starts with a historical event: the attack by Islamic militants on the Indian parliament in 2001 but then spirals into the skies and never lands on anything resembling reality. Of course this aerial nature is no coincidence for Zameen is clearly post-9/11 in its obsession with airplanes as weapons. From this point onwards, there was no turning back for the Bombay film industry: terrorists in India=Islamic militants=Pakistani minions.

IV: After the thrill is over :

The final phase, as I see it, is too recent to definitively categorize as it begins with the attacks on Mumbai last Nov, or “26/11” as many call it. There are a number of terror films already on the market: Santosh Sivan, the director of the Tamil Theeviravaathi is back with Tahaan, a film about a Kashmiri boy and his donkey caught up in the Kashmiri war, it aspires to be Au hazard Balthazar but cannot help being Koi…Mil Gaye; Speaking of formulaic junk there is Kunal Shivdasani’s Hijack that stretches the global terror network scenario to its full, thin limit with B grade special effects and actors; I have not seen Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday starring the veteran terrorist-actor Naseeruddin Shah but I hear it is good, and not just from the savvy New York Times. Another 2008 film I want to watch is Nishikant Kamat’s Mumbai Meri Jaan, starring the magnetic Irrfan Khan.

As I end this speculative list of films I want to mention a few more art-house ones that deal with the theme of terror in vastly different ways: different from both each other and from the slew of films I discussed. I should add that both of them were directed by women—the only female film makers thus far— Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) and Nandita Das’ Firaaq (2008) starring our old friend Naseeruddin Shah. Unfortunately, I have yet to see the Das film but was very disappointed with the Sen. I found the story of Mr and Mrs Iyer predictable and politically facile and its cinematic structure was generic and clichéd. Firaaq promises to be richer, though perhaps more harrowing as it is set in Gujarat after the 2002 communal riots, and perhaps is not even a terror film strictly speaking … I have a weakness for mosaic narrative structures in films, episodic vignettes that build around a central node (a period, a place or an event). As a film on violence I suspect this one will be no more illuminating than any of the rest and simply a liberal attempt to humanize the enemy and break down the “us” versus “them” discourse.

So what did I learn from this short journey, except that the mainstream Hindi film industry—a huge, uniform juggernaut that deserves the name Bollywood—is getting less inclusive, less varied, less individual and more jingoistic? Was there even any other result possible given the nature of the modern entertainment industry and global capital? I happen to disagree with the Culture Industry as Mass Deception folks and think that there are always spaces for dissent, ways to differ. Call me a fool, go ahead.

The failure I have charted here has more to do with two factors: the limitations of the Hindi film form and the limitations of the discourse on terrorism. The masala-musical Hindi filmi narrative form is not designed to capture political complexity, or explore historical conundrums; it is designed to entertain, to make people lust, laugh, swoon, sing and be terrified or angry. Any admirable treatment of terrorism within the confines of this form would look a lot like Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se. When I think of films that succeed in other parts of the world in representing political quagmires and cataclysmic violence the first films that come to mind are Gillo Pontecorvo’s ultra-realist, documentary-style Battle of Algiers or Alain Resnais’ ultra lyrical, experimental Hiroshima Mon Amour, neither one of which is anything close to the formulaic, hyperbolic Hindi form. The most obvious way a hybrid, sensationalist form would deal with terrorism would be to spin it into an over-the-top action-filled nationalist saga, or an over-the-top Romeo and Juliet type love story—examples of which clutter our screen today.

As for the subject matter: terrorism in the beginning of the twenty-first century, particularly in South Asia…I know of few fictional narratives I admire that deal directly with it (Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale is probably my favorite on international terrorism). The core term itself is simple, the OED defines it as: “A policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorizing or condition of being terrorized.”

This could in fact describe the “policy” of a number of creatures in horror films or monster films (alas, genres not largely popular in India). This definition also allows for a wider exploration of the structure of terror, the varied nature of an aggressor-victim relationship and so on. I find this interpretation or definition hugely promising. Unfortunately, it is the post Bombay attacks and post 9/11 definition that is unequivocally accepted by all the Hindi film narratives produced today and not the earlier one: “Terrorism is an ideology of violence intended to…cause terror for the purpose of exerting pressure on decision making by state bodies. The term “terror” is largely used to indicate clandestine, low-intensity violence that targets civilians and generates public fear.” [Terrorism in asymmetrical conflict: ideological and structural aspects, By Ekaterina Stepanova, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, quoted in Wikipedia]

If this is indeed the accepted theme, there is little a cinematic narrative can do beyond what we have in cinema (from anywhere in the global) today. It is this discourse that unites the US, Israel, UK, Spain and India into an axis of victims, terrorized by international Islamic groups.

Finally it should be said that I am not surprised to see the Hindi film industry snap into line with the international discourse on terrorism. After all it was the city of Bombay that bore the brunt of the worst of the attacks on civilians in India in the last 50 years. Other cities see sporadic, small bomb blasts, or intermittent riots but it is Bombay who gets the maximum treatment. Even after its avowed cosmopolitan openness. Would not the film industry freak out just a little bit?

23 thoughts on “The Silver Screen War”

  1. Re: “DIN noo raj Farangi da, tey Raat noo raj malangi da”

    What. A. Dialog. Seetis & Taalis. [Throws coins at monitor.]

    I would exclude the likes of Bhagat Singh from the “terrorist” movies, because there is never any sense in the movies that he is anything other than entirely virtuous; if he is a terrorist, then Attenborough’s Gandhi is part of the tradition of Hollywood representations of convicts. [Aside: the best Bhagat Singh movie from Bollywood is Raj Kumar Santoshi’s The Legend of Bhagat Singh, written by Anjum Rajabali; it’s the one that is the most honest about the fact that he was a communist, and is otherwise relatively solid historically]…

    Aside, since Conrad brought up Fanaa: note that this film reflects the times & the Indo-Pak peace process by having a RAW agent mouth that India and Pakistan were both victims of (Kashmiri) terrorism. The terrorist outfit of which Aamir is a member (and in which his grandfather appears to be the only other member :-)) does not appear to be funded by anybody, have any connection to anybody, and operates from a forest (in reality, Poland) where there are no Kashmiris, or even animals. Gotta love it.

  2. “I think you ignore the genre of Bollywood films where “the Muslim” is a terrorist, but a sympathetic character who has been led “astray”, or who responds to violence and injustice by becoming a terrorist. ”

    On the other side of border what is now called Lollywood, has its share of Terrosits/Freedom fighter movies. I have not seen any recently but in my tweens, there was a rush of movies like , NIZAM, JABROO and MALANGI etc. Here the hero is a tall, fair complexion, with nicely trimmed mustahce, Yusuf Khan or Akmal, with a black turban little different than present day Taliban Black turban, on a white horse. He is a hybrid of Robin Hood( robbing the rich local collaborators of the Farangies and giving to poors ,with usually a beautiful daughter), Bhagat Singh ( willing to die for his conviction)and Allama Iqbal (eloquent dialogues like ; DIN noo raj Farangi da, tey Raat noo raj malangi da etc; ).
    I wonder if at present the hero of the movie may be a general Musharraf or Kiyani look alike, leaving a US war ship in a chopper with brief case full of dollars to eradicate poverty from the land or a Mullah Omar look alike issuing diktats from unknown place to keep the faith alive!

  3. Aside on A Wednesday: I personally find this film highly problematic, although it is a well made film. But ideologically, it seems to me to glorify the sort of fascism that far too many in the urban middle classes already subscribe to. Definitely worth a watch, but don’t get (ideological) hopes up…I am looking forward to the Tamil remake of this, partly because it does seem to be in spirit more akin to a Tamil vigilante film, but mostly because it will bring together Kamal Haasan and Mohanlal.

  4. Re: “This was not always so, terrorism on the Indian screen had other names and other historical contexts (Freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh, Naxalites, Tamil Tigers, Northeastern insurgents). But now they are all Islamic psychopaths, trained and funded by the Pakistani government, intent on destroying India.”

    I should have included this in the above comment: the above the are the lines I was responding to.

    I would also disagree that Naxalites and Tamil Tigers and NE insurgents were ever habitually represented on the Hindi film screen — in fact the only films that I can think of featuring Tamil Tigers and NE insurgents were directed by Mani Rathnam, a Tamil film director (the former was a tamil film; the latter, Dil Se) — Tango Charlie is an exception, but this film is a disneyland of Indian insurgencies, with the film lurching from one to the other. Sarfarosh did feature both Pakistani-backed terrorists (although Naseer’s character, offensively a ghazal-singer in the pay of the ISI, is animated not by religion but by a sense of historical injustice, as he lost everything during Partition) as well as Naxalites (who purchased arms from the Pakistan-backed terrorists as well as the money-minded Marwari seth). There has not been a trend IMO to replace a broader category of terrorists with Muslim ones; instead, it has been to replace the cartoonish, unmarked anti-nationals seen in Karma etc. in the 1980s, with the Muslim jihadi fanatics of the 1990s, and (perhaps more recently) also the upstanding Muslim youths led astray due to injustice perpetrated on them. Indeed, since the start of the Indo-Pak peace process 5-6 years ago, jihadi fanatics have mostly vanished relative to their heyday in the late 1990s.

  5. Purdah: I think you ignore the genre of Bollywood films where “the Muslim” is a terrorist, but a sympathetic character who has been led “astray”, or who responds to violence and injustice by becoming a terrorist. Thus we have Fiza (Hrithik becomes a terrorist after the Bombay communal violence of 1993); Mission Kashmir (Hrithik becomes a terrorist when he finds out his parents were accidentally killed by the Indian military); Dhoka (the lead female protagonist becomes a terrorist after she is raped by Indian policemen); you mentioned Dil Se already (although Manisha’s communal identity is ambiguous). These films of course feed into an older masala trope, where a virtuous man becomes a gangster/criminal in response to injustice — typically these films are about the “contest” between this criminal (who exposes the system’s own criminality in a sense) and a younger hero/oppositional figure who upholds the status quo and represents its goodness: Mother India is perhaps — perhaps — part of this trend, but we certainly see it in full flower by the mid-1970s: Adalat (both the innocent-bumpkin-turned-gangster and his son are played by Amitabh Bachchan); a decade later, Mashaal (Dilip Kumar reforms thug Anil Kapoor, then himself becomes a gangster while Kapoor has become a crusading journalist. For Rati Agnhotri, I’d be anything), and many more. Kaalia is a variant of this, where Bachchan is transformed from Myshkin Idiot to cool gangster, but there’s no real virtuous opposition figure (perhaps testimony to the fact that by the early 1980s, Amitabh had become, as Truffaut called him, the “one-man industry”, and others were often dispensed with).

  6. There is no back story as such, but stray dialogues in the film (as well as the fact that his speech/lingo is clearly supposed to “represent” some kind of rural dialect) do “situate” him (MacMohan tells Gabbar towards the end, after the dacoits have captured Hema Malini, that they had seen her dancing at a wedding a year ago; the staging of the legendary Helen “Mehbooba” song suggests usage, and indeed, it is Gabbar’s habit of going to check out dances etc., like a sort of perverted twin of the aristocrat, that enables Jai and Veeru to try and get him there).

    Aside: I remember reading somewhere, but now cannot remember the book’s title, that in a handful of places audiences cheered Gabbar cutting off the hands of Thakur (while the film certainly ends by re-inscribing Thakur as the head of a virtuous economy, by 1975 it is too late for Hindi cinema’s thakurs: he has symbolically been rendered impotent by the loss of his hands, and must rely on two thieves (both far more outsiders to the milieu than Gabbar, two “unmarked” urbane guys) to get Gabbar (of course, the old colonial trope of the “metropolitan” having to save the rural from itself — this trope has continued unchecked over the years, most openly and noxiously in recent years in the well-meaning Swades, specifically SRK’s speech on caste etc.) But post-Sholay, most thakurs in Hindi cinema (when they still had thakurs, back when a film might actually be set in rural India, or even India) were villains, and typically ones who would incarnate the corruption of the status quo: cops would be in their pay, they would rape poor village girls, etc. (Amjad Khan himself played just such a thakur in Ganga ki Saugandh: in the film, the Brahmin Amitabh ultimately leads a coalition against him, one including Dalits (headed by Pran, the father of Bachchan’s love interest) and Muslims).

  7. Conrad/Qalandar: An illuminating read on Gabbar – I also think he seems to be the logical conclusion of the local ghunda gone mega. I havent seen Sholay in a while but is there any hints to his back-story before his encounter w/ Thakur? Was he a “local” dacoit?
    That machine gun/India scene is for the win, as the kids say.

  8. Conrad: you mean the late Anrish Puri, not Om Puri. Good comment heer — agree completely on Tango Charlie: it was marketed and released like a mainstream film (it featured Bobby Deol and Ajay Devgan, which made its flopping all but inevitable by 2005, but that is a different issue)…

    I always saw Karma as a more right-wing “re-do” of Sholay, and a more disturbing film (not in an interesting way), although it does have its moments. It is also one of only two films that I know of (the other is Mandi) where Hyderabadi Naseeruddin Shah plays a Hyderabadi. The “state” is very much a factor in this film, as it was in the Anil Sharma films starring Dharmendra from this period (Tehelka, Farishtay): in all these films, the villainous baddie is explicitly anti-India, is allied to foreigners, and has control of territory on or just outside India’s frontiers. By contrast, Gabbar’s mythic force in Sholay arises in part from the fact that he is no cartoon of the poisonous foreigner threatening “us”, but that he is very firmly rooted in the “domestic” ethos — he isn’t “of” the village of Ramgarh, but he is part of the landscape, and no outsider. [I might add that in Sholay’s original ending Ramesh Sippy had Sanjeev Kumar kill Gabbar at the end, but the sequence had to be re-shot as the Indira Gandhi government didn’t like the idea of people taking the law into their own hands at a time when memories of Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement were fresh, and in the year the Emergency was declared. A decade later, Karma “redeemed” this aspect of Sholay; by then, greater vigilantism and “corrective” violence had become more common in Hindi films (not to mention that such violence had become more and more legitimate even in mainstream politics), so much so that Amitabh Bachchan gunned down an entire state cabinet in Inquilab (1984; the year Amitabh was elected to the Lok Sabha).

  9. The masala-musical Hindi filmi narrative form is not designed to capture political complexity, or explore historical conundrums; it is designed to entertain, to make people lust, laugh, swoon, sing and be terrified or angry.

    You should check out Fanaa with Aamir Khan and Kajol; it is perhaps a little strange in having a Kashmiri terrorist as the main protagonist and love interest and doesn’t follow the simple jingoistic stereotype although it remains firmly within the Indian nationalist narrative.

    In my mind Gabar Singh from the spectacular 1975 Sholay is a terrorist, albeit he has no interest in bringing down a State, or any cause beyond being evil.

    IMO this is a totally wrong reading of Gabbar and the concept of a terrorist. Not everyone who uses terror is a terrorist. Gabbar is simply the end line of the figure of the rural bandit-villain who bases his rule on the coercion of the local rural populace. This has a long pedigree in Indian cinema going back to the 1950s, with films like Ram Ganga and Mother India; the only difference was that in the earlier films the bandits/villains were shown very much to come from rural society itself and had personal kinship bonds/relations with the local population which was the main source of dramtic tension and motor of conflict, usually translating into a conflict between brothers, parents and children etc. This bond meant that their use of violence was selective and targeted and terror was used rarely and against specific targets. Gabbar is merely an extreme manifestation of this figure but has no links personal or otherwise with the rural society he dominates; hence any restraint on the use of violence is removed and the instutionalisation of terror as a generic tool is prevalent. I don’t think this makes him a terrorist per se, just a new kind of villain; increasingly from this period on Bollywood villains exhibited many of these proclivities – you only need to think of Om Puri’s numerous villain roles for this, though few came close to rivalling Gabbar’s. Gabbar’s character clearly echoes the lawless and sadistic villains that were predominant from the late 60s onwards in the Spaghetti Westerns – I think some scenes such as the famous fly scene are almost identical.

    More traditional terror genealogies (like those found here and here) would probably start with the 1986 Karma by Subhash Ghai, a crude amalgam of Sholay and 70s Hindi cops ‘n’ robbers films. Karma features a terrorist turned mercenary played by Naseeruddin Shah—an actor to remember as I run through the terror films today. However Karma, is about vigilante justice and personal vengeance, the State only begins to get involved in the nineties with films like Mehul Kumar’s Tirangaa (1992) or Droh Kaal (1994) made by Govind Nihilani, starring Om Puri and our man Naseeruddin Shah

    I have to say, I disagree again here. Karma is an interesting film, I remember watching it several times as child since it was a relatively big hit when it came out; yet the figure of the State looms ominously throughout the film if rarely made explicit. It is also a film at least partially about personal redemption, since in the style of the Dirty Dozen, the group of heroes welded together to destroy the bad guys are former criminals, murderers or otherwise good-for-nothing types with one exception. And who whips them into shape? Dilip Kumar’s ex-police/jailor; who disgusted with the inability of the State to track down and destroy the villains, decides to raise, train and fund his own private mini-commando group to do so recruiting Shah and others on the way. The whole film is shot through with nationalist iconography that relies on Gandhian and Nehruvian concepts of culture and patriotism from the fantasy of the early scenes where prisoners are shown to be rehabilitating themselves through productive manual labour and singing uplifting patriotic songs and collective excercises in a typical Gandhian ideal of social harmony to the more explicit end scenes where Dilip Kumar’s character corners Dr. Dang and manages to machinegun an outline of India around his figure then extolling the tiranga. This scene was quite famous at the time, I enclose a cheesy link to it below!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Li1d_zy77jQ&feature=related

    The ideological message and symbolism is pretty clear; from the exchange of taunts that occur in the film; whether it is DK’s police officer replying to Dang’s taunt that in Hindustan everything is for sale, by replying that him and by extension not all servants of the state are not; to the argument over what it means to be soldier DK has with Shah, who objects to the other younger recruits being separated from their love interests and embarking on what seems to be a suicide mission. The figure and role of the state becomes perhaps more explicit and differently configured but it incorrect to say it does not exist in these films.

    Such a move will not occur again until Mani Shankar’s Tango Charlie in 2005 that deals with the situation in the Northeast of India. However, both are art-house films with limited distribution and impact.

    I wouldn’t describe Tango Charlie as an art-house film; not sure why you say this. It isn’t a conventional Bollywood film but has pretty much a mainstream cast and doesn’t exactly stray outside the consensus that exists on a lot of the issues covered and the undercurrent patriotism is fairly explicit. The only reason it gets favourable mentions is because it doesn’t tend to glorify violence or war but its representation of the Indian security forces and those who fight them is quite stereotypical for the most part. It also isn’t really about the Northeast as such, only the first half of the film takes place there; the final third is located in the perennial favourite battlescape of Kashmir where the eponymous heroes go down fighting Pakistani soldiers and irregulars.

  10. This is a very interesting project, though one would be deterred by the staggering scope of your inquiry. I think the most terrifying figure in the Western imagination is Nieztschean Superman, travelling through such incarnations as Milton’s Satan, Kurtz, Hannibal Lecter, R’as Al Ghul and Joker from the two post 9/11 Batman films et. al; the ultimate challenger to our flawed system. Transmuting this figure to Bollywood seems impossible, and I don’t know if anyone has tried. I guess one distinction to be made is between evil/terrorism–a boundary which is often blurred in Western discourse. What about Mogambo? He, too, was a terrorist, albeit with a very different agenda of domination. Great post!

  11. Regional films are far more than players, especially where Tamil and Telugu films are concerned, which — each — produce as many films a year as Bombay does. In certain parts of the North too, the hegemony of the Hindi industry has come under increasing question in recent years with the rise of the Bhojpuri industry (serving a niche and a need Bombay films no longer do). I am more familiar with Tamil than Telugu films, and representations of terrorism are mostly absent from Tamil films. I mean completely — this holds true for the more urbane films as well as the ones targeted to smaller towns/relatively rural markets (conversely: the hero who is himself a terrorist and murders corrupt politicians is a hallowed type in Tamil masala cinema)…

  12. I am probably the wrong person to talk about Indian movies since I do not know Hindi and have seen very few Indian movies after the early 50’s. But I read a couple of books recently which indicate that it might be an interesting area to study. The first is Pankaj Mishra’s ‘Temptations of the West’ which indicates that the world of movie making in Mumbai is surreal. Suketu Mehta has a few pages in ‘Maximum City’. There is a more professional book by Brian Larkin “Signal Noise’ which studies cinema (to mt inexpert eyes) as a part of infrastructure, unintented consequences of development, opening up of social spaces etc. His work is based on his studies in Nigeria where Lebanese merchants introduced Bollywood cinemas in the 50’s. Apparently the popularity and influence is quite different in the North from the South. I would assume that in India too, there may be differences from cities to towns to villages and from area to area. I would also think that the popularity of the sort of films discussed in the post may not be much in coastal Andhra ( I come from that area). Even the popularity of the actors seem to be based on caste affiliations. I have met people who said that there was no meat in film songs and they preferred the old type dramas where the actors used to sing their guts out ( sometines there would be up to five Krishnas competing with each other in the same drama). The popularity of the dramas is on the rise, I am told. So, if the current Bollywood or Tollywood movies do not fill some needs, they may have to share their space with other forms of entertainment. In any case, I would be interested to know the results of the study.

  13. Sepoy: Say more because it seems counter-intuitive to that whole body-politic thing.

    There is a reason I avoid using “Bollywood” and it is because the Hindi film industry is different from Hollywood in a lot of key ways (though this is changing): Regional film continues to be a player in the India market (though less in the diaspora) and the Bombay industry mechanics work in a vastly different ways in Bombay, things like script writing, funding, stars, etc. So if 9/11 had happened in LA…who knows what would have happened? Maybe the films would be less huge disaster/ paranoid parables and more local? I do think it interesting that no major indie film from a New York director has worked on terror…except for the maudlin 11’09”01 – September 11.

    I don’t know how Tamil films deal with terror, or Bengali but the point I was making about Bombay was perhaps a non sequitur….I wanted to ground the discussion in the particular history/ geography of Bombay a little and gesture to the fact that this unique perspective impacts the narratives. It did need more explanation, thanks for pushing!

  14. Thanks for the tips Qalandar. Re: “Finally it should be said that I am not surprised to see the Hindi film industry snap into line with the international discourse on terrorism.”

    This might have much to do with the orientation of the segment of the Indian audience that the films are increasingly targeted to — NRIs and upwardly mobile urban Indians — towards “the West”, economic liberalization, sense of “manifest destiny”, etc.

    No doubt Hindi popular film turned to “global” markets (arguably with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995) and has never looked back , so joining the axis of victims was even easier.

  15. PS– as a (brief) coda, the piece should also mention the figure of the Hindu extremist in Hindi cinema. A marginal cinematic figure, but given he dates almost entirely from the last few years (the superb Hey Ram (2000); Dev (2004); Rang De Basanti (2006); Delhi-6 (2009)), might offer a pointer toward an emerging trend…

  16. Re: “Finally it should be said that I am not surprised to see the Hindi film industry snap into line with the international discourse on terrorism.”

    This might have much to do with the orientation of the segment of the Indian audience that the films are increasingly targeted to — NRIs and upwardly mobile urban Indians — towards “the West”, economic liberalization, sense of “manifest destiny”, etc.

  17. I am intrigued by this geography/emotive understanding connection you make at the end. Do you mean to say that if 9/11 had happened in LA, we would not have seen the “restraint” shown by Hollywood circa 2002-2003? I remember well the controversy that the baddies on season one of 24 were eurotrash (when there are REAL terrorists to deal with!)
    Say more because it seems counter-intuitive to that whole body-politic thing.

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