Professor Rosie Thomas (University of Westminster)
Indian Cinema’s Islamicate Fantasies:
nationalism and the B-circuit ‘magic and fighting’ film, 1900-1960
About the paper: Eschewing the conventional focus on Indian cinema’s socials and mythologicals, this lecture will explore the ‘magic and fighting films’—the fantasy and stunt genres—of the B- and C-circuits in the decades before and immediately after India’s independence. Drawing on archival traces—from film fragments, shooting scripts and newspaper advertisements, to memoirs, posters and publicity stills—the lecture will argue that it is time to acknowledge the influence of globally-circulating popular stories on the development of India’s many forms of cinema, past and present. The transcultural fantastical tales of the Arabian Nights inspired not only an Indian film version of Ali Baba in 1903, a decade before D.G. Phalke’s first film, but also a stream of fantasy or jadoo (magic) films set in quasi-Islamicate, enchanted ‘other’ worlds, from the pari (fairy) films of the silent era to the magical never-never lands of many 1950s hits. The lecture will remind us that, alongside nationalist orthodoxies, a significant stream of Bombay cinema has always revelled in cultural hybridity, borrowing voraciously from global popular culture and engaging with transcultural flows of cosmopolitan modernity and postmodernity, largely beneath the radar of the Indian nationalist elite.
About the speaker: Rosie Thomas is Professor of Film, Director of the Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media (CREAM), and Co-director of the India Media Centre at the University of Westminster. She is co-founder and co-editor of the Sage journal Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies. Her early research as a social anthropologist was on the Bombay film industry and, since 1985, she has published widely on Indian cinema. Throughout the 1990s she worked as a television producer making documentaries, arts and current affairs programmes for Channel 4, many on South Asia related topics. Her current research is on the history of Indian stunt and Islamicate films. Her monograph Bombay before Bollywood: Film City Fantasies was published by Orient Blackswan (2013) and SUNY Press (2015).