Articles

From 2011 Onwards


Good Taste in Movies

I ALWAYS CONTEND I am entitled to a PIO card, as at least 20 kg of me is of Indian origin––due to my love for the Subcontinent’s food. As I near the end of a wonderful two-month visit to India, I think I may have to revise that figure to a ‘Person of Ever Increasing […]

Battling the Gods

In Indian cinema, atheists become believers by the end of the film.

Once in Royal David’s City

CHRISTMAS IS THE biggest national festival in Britain. We don’t have a national day and our other public holidays have almost lost their religious associations, and even names: only us ancients speak of ‘Whit week’ (Pentecost). Easter is a long weekend but much less of an event than Christmas. I don’t think the message of […]

Seeking Bollywood in Brazil

INDIA HAS BEEN on my mind after spending two weeks in Brazil, which I visited for the first time as co-investigator on an AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK) Network Grant, ‘Cinema, soft power and the BRICS’, based in the University of Leeds, with colleagues who research Brazilian, Chinese, Russian and South African cinema. […]

Hindi Cinema: The Aesthetics of Excess

ONE OF THE many features of the genre that draws attention to the absence of realism in Hindi cinema is the often lavish lifestyles of its protagonists. Some Indians do indeed live like this—though in a chicken-and-egg situation, I’m not sure which came first, the films or the lifestyles—but film characters endowed with inexplicable wealth […]

The Pleasures of Melancholy

IT SEEMED SUMMER was never going to end but the spreading crimson on the Virginia creeper on the back wall and the browning leaves on the horse-chestnuts in the park prepared us for the sudden change this weekend. Now leaves are falling and the days are shorter. The squirrels are racing around the dying garden […]

10 Great Bollywood Films of the 21st Century

In the 21st century, Indian cinema celebrated its centenary – dated from Raja Harishchandra (1913), the first Indian feature – and the name Bollywood became established globally, perhaps less as a form of cinema than as a style and a brand of consumerism. It imagined the new India that could unleash its potential as a world leader, […]

Presence of Mind

DURING MY ANNUAL ‘Staff Development Review’, I was advised that I should take the Mental Health First Aid Course as part of my university’s commitment to reduce mental health discrimination, raise awareness and offer comfort. Many students confront issues of mental health, and I wonder whether this is due to an increase in psychological problems—often […]

Thirst for Change

GURU DUTT’S CLASSIC Pyaasa (1957) was released ten years after Independence, and has now achieved classic status, one of the most discussed of all Hindi films. It was released the same year as Mehboob Khan’s famous Mother India, which is seen as a great nationalist epic, and BR Chopra’s Naya Daur, films which had overt political overtones connecting them […]

Going Beetroot

I HAVE A PASSION for vegetables. But don’t worry, this is not about to become a non-veg column, in which I discuss their well-known erotic associations. The only non-gastronomic vegetable pleasures I enjoy are from growing and cooking them, although I find them wondrous to behold as objects. Click here to read the full article

Hindi Cinema: Singing in the Rain

Rain songs are not desirable in our damp climate. ‘Rain, rain, go away’ is more the thought than the oddly chirpy ‘Singing in the rain’. Yet rain songs in Hindi films can help us imagine what rain means in another climate, where an entire society is dependent on the life- giving annual monsoon. Read the […]

There’s no point asking for an apology from Salman Khan

Controversy and Salman Khan go together. He is always going to do something controversial and his fans are always going to support him. His father apologised for him, bolstering his image of a naïve and innocent person who is good at heart. It is odd because Salman is a 50-year-old man, so why does he […]

The Name of the Rose

I REMEMBER VIVIDLY how my grandfather once came home in almost a state of shock after visiting a friend of my mother’s: “She had no flowers in the house, not even a small posy from the garden.” I don’t recall if my mother and she remained friends. Fifty years later, I use my grandfather’s reaction […]

Multiplex Cinema: Being Middlebrowbeaten

Part of a new monthly column, ‘The Rachel Papers’, for OPEN Magazine. ‘MIDDLEBROW’ IS A putdown, a term deployed by cultural snobs, but it can be used usefully rather than pejoratively to look at the often ignored middle ground of Hindi cinema which lies somewhere between the highbrow art cinema and the lowbrow masala film. Read the full […]

Nargis

Nargis Dutt was such a pre-eminent figure in the history of Indian cinema that her life and work are well known. Here are the 10 images I have chosen to acknowledge one of my favourite stars. Read the full article here

A Classical Passage to India

First part of a new monthly column, ‘The Rachel Papers’, for OPEN Magazine. While the relationship of Sanskrit studies in India to that in the Western academy has been much discussed following the Murty Library controversy, not enough has been said about the wider context of classical education in India. Language debates and policy in India […]

Elephant Man

Review of Elephants and Kings: An Environmental History by Thomas R. Trautmann and Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke. On the Animals in War Memorial on Park Lane, London, two heavily laden mules approach a large curving stone wall on which are carved dogs, pigeons and other animals. An elephant features there too, which is perhaps more surprising […]

The Elephant Boy From Mysore who Became an International Superstar

Sabu was the first Indian film star on the international stage. Often called Sabu Dastagir, it seems his real name was Selar Sheikh Sabu. Orphaned at seven, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a mahout in the stables of the Raja of Mysore, from where he was recruited for the Korda brothers’ first empire […]

What are the Folks in the ‘Carry On’ Movies Carrying On About?

The Marathi film ‘Carry on Deshpande’, which will be released on December 11, is an obvious reference to the popular British series. What were they all about anyway? Read the article

Why the Closure of Mumbai’s Iconic Rhythm House is a Blow to Scholars of the City

The final notice has now been posted on the Rhythm House website that the shop is closing down and the online business is going.  It feels like reading an obituary notice as this old friend has been part of my bond with Indian cinema and the city of Mumbai, in particular this area of town where I […]

10 Great Bollywood Romance Films

Hindi cinema’s genres are very loosely defined, with almost all films having a central romantic theme. It’s not just the romantic melodramas, the romcoms, the romantic action films… The typical story and structure of a Bollywood romance is that a beautiful man and woman meet, take some time to fall in love, then an unexpected […]

Obituary: Saeed Jaffrey, 1929–2015

Saeed Jaffrey was one of the few Indian actors who became as famous in the West as in his home country, and was equally loved for his popular comedies and his serious roles. He worked across theatre, film, television and radio, while taking equally seriously the role of bon vivant and playboy in his private […]

Pyaasa: A Poetic Tale of Redemption, But Will Today’s Audiences Like It?

Pyaasa is usually regarded among the best Hindi films ever made, made within the conventions of Hindi cinema but which extends beyond them, the result being a film that appeals to both Indian and international audiences. Read the article

Narendra Modi Comes to Bollywood Britain

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India arrived Thursday in the U.K. where, after his official visits, he will address tens of thousands of Britons of Indian origin at Wembley Stadium and elsewhere. Some of these will have been born in India and East Africa, but many will be from families who have lived in Britain […]

Why Salman Khan will never be guilty in the eyes of his biggest fans

Salman Khan has today become the second leading Bollywood star in two years to be sentenced to a sizeable prison term, following his conviction for culpable homicide after a hit-and-run accident; this follows Sanjay Dutt’s imprisonment in 2013, also for five years, for illegal possession of weapons. Read the article

Kitne Saal ho Gaye?

I’m often asked about which Hindi film people who’ve never seen one should begin with. Shaley remains a good choice as its clear story, quirky characters, humour and catchy songs work well. Its plot is familiar from the western, and many scenes are inspired by famous ‘spaghetti westerns’, but it blends this with elements of the Hindi film, […]

Review: Thinking Animals

Animals who speak are found in ancient myths and fables from Aesop’s to the Panchatantra and the Jatakas, in children’s fiction, such as Kipling’sThe Jungle Book, in animated film (although Dumbo is mute) as well as in more recent tales such as the scurrilous Me Cheetah, 2009. These animals talk and think like humans, despite their nature. Novels in […]

Time Out London: The 100 Best Bollywood Movies

Here, we celebrate mainstream Hindi movies – the big films that have been wowing audiences in India and beyond for more than 60 years. To find the top 100 Bollywood movies, we picked a select bunch of Bollywood experts and asked them for their favourite Hindi movies. From there, we discovered these 100 great Bollywood movies – […]

Girls, ‘Dosti’ and Love

The 1970s saw a spate of films about men whose dostana/dosti looked at relationships between adopted brothers (Parvarish, 1958), real brothers who were separated (Waqt, 1965), and friends who became brothers (Dosti, 1964). While Raj Kapoor mourned the loss of friendship in Dost Dost Na Raha (Sangam, 1964), Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra) celebrated their eternal bond, Yeh Dosti, in Sholay (1975). Read the article

Why Bollywood Gave the Kiss a Miss

Among the many myths about Indian cinema, one of the most prevalent is that kissing is banned. However, early films such as Zarina (dir. Ezra Mir, 1932), which caused such controversy it was removed from the circuits, featured 86 kisses. There is no legal prohibition on kissing in Indian cinema but it largely vanished from […]

Interview: ‘Bollywood is Cautious with Politics’

Film academician Rachel Dwyer, whose books and essays on Hindi cinema are widely cited in film journals across the world, rues the fact that there is very little scholarship on Tamil cinema, citing it as a reason for it not receiving much attention compared to Bollywood. Read the interview

Brilliant Moments in Bollywood

Time Out Dubai: As India celebrates their Independence Day on August 15, we take a look at some pinnacle scenes from the country’s cinema throughout the decades. Read the article

Yash Chopra: Tribute to a Bollywood Great

The work of director Yash Chopra is one of the glories of Indian film, his career bridging the Hindi cinema of the 1950s and the globalising India of today. Rachel Dwyer pays tribute to the late Bollywood legend. Read the article

A Lahori Weekend

The most exciting part of any Literature festival is the speaker line-up, obviously because it adds to the quality of the sessions, but also because it gives us – the plebeians – a chance to be in the general vicinity of literary stalwarts. The thrill of running into them in say, the queue for the […]

Interview at Lahore Film Festival

British-born Rachel Dwyer is an absolutely unconfused desi when it comes to her taste in films. An ardent viewer of Bollywood, Dwyer has not only followed Indian cinema through history but also — perhaps, more importantly —published a number of research papers and books. Her works, such as the 2002 biography on Yash Chopra, have […]

Interview: More masala, please: ‘Bollywood formulas, Hollywood genres’

LAHORE: “Hindi film is predicting its demise since the beginning. Every year producers who have had failures tout that the industry is finished due to television, dvds, changing technology and that there is a need to modernise. And then a Dabangg comes along. Films have to keep changing otherwise people will get bored,” said Rachel Dwyer, […]

The Guardian: 10 Classics of Indian Cinema, Decade by Decade

Among the few silent films that remain are three Indo-German co-productions that predate the arrival of the German technicians and directors who worked in the Bombay Talkies studio in the 1930s. The Light of Asia was shot in India but edited and processed in Germany and intertitled in English. The script was adapted from Sir […]

A Beautiful Life

The newly released film on Milkha Singh,Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,is one of a growing number of Hindi biopics made in recent years. Bollywood’s masala films wildly mix genres. But producers and audiences have always identified genres — from mythologicals and devotionals to gangster and action — and now biopics are becoming increasingly popular. Read the article

Review: Trunk Lines

In India the boundaries between animals, humans and gods are extremely porous. Souls are held to transmigrate across these boundaries; gods may take on animal or human form – or both simultaneously – as Vishnu does in his ten incarnations, or Ganesha who has an elephant head and a human body. Nor are elephants entirely […]

Time Out Mumbai: 100 Memorable Moments

We didn’t want to put three Bollywood stars on the cover of pay flippant tribute by way of a fashionably declaim photo shoot. To mark a century of Indian cinema, we put together an estimable panel of cinephiles, critics and industry folk, who selected a list of 100 memorably scenes from films across the country. […]

Elephant In The Room: Tracing The Path Of The Gentle Giant Through Indian Culture

The seeds of my elephilia were sown when I was a child, with elephant toys, and stories from Babar to Rudyard Kipling’s “Toomai of the Elephants”. When I began my study of India as an undergraduate learning Sanskrit, I was intrigued by the elephant imagery in courtly literature. Women had the gait of an elephant […]

Yash Chopra Obituary: End of a Love Story

When in 1996 I first thought of writing about Yash Chopra, many people in India asked why him when there were other equally interesting figures working in the film industry. What prompted the question was that Yash Chopra’s career spanned several phases, with quite distinct breaks between them. At this stage, the new type of […]

The Kings of Hindi Comedy

Although little is as unfunny as the study of comedy, Sigmund Freud’s 1905 book, The Jokeand its Relation to the Unconscious, argues that comedy arises when thoughts and emotions that lay hidden in the subconscious are expressed consciously. Hindi film melodrama foregrounds the emotions and blends them in its inimitable masala, so we can, as Amitabh Bachchan says, leave the […]

Rajesh Khanna Obituary: The Original Superstar

Rajesh Khanna, India’s first superstar, was adored by his fans for decades, but has never been given any academic recognition. Although he was the major star of the early 1970s, he was so eclipsed by Amitabh Bachchan‘s hip and brooding persona that his role in the film industry has been neglected. Read the article

As Reel As Possible

The biopic has been a relatively unproductive genre in Indian cinema, despite the massive international critical and commercial success of the Indo-British biopic, Gandhi (1982, directed by Richard Attenborough) and its hatful of awards, among them eight Oscars. Although biopics form only about 5% of Hollywood’s output, they have high visibility and an enviable success […]

Sallubhai Superstar

The massive success of Bodyguard has confirmed Salman Khan as a phenomenal star, surpassing even his record-breaking Dabangg. Academics and journalists have discussed Aamir Khan’s extraordinary talent as a producer and marketer as well as his risk-taking selection of roles as an actor, and Shah Rukh Khan’s rockstar qualities, which could launch him internationally if […]

Top Ten Muslim Characters in Bollywood

Muslims have long played a major role in the Indian film industry. The industry has given us many Muslim iconic figures such as actor Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan, seen as the actor’s actor in Hindi cinema), actresses Madhubala (Mumtaz Jehan Dehalvi, for many the greatest beauty to grace Bollywood screens) and Waheeda Rahman (often in […]

My Favourite…

It’s harder to pick a favourite character than a favourite star. The latter is always attractive and charismatic but often not an interesting character. While in real life we may prefer people of “good character”, the rogue in a story or a film is often more appealing than the hero or heroine. As the Wife […]

Book Review: The Holy Land

India: A Sacred Geography by Diana L Eck Winston Churchill claimed that “India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the equator.” While the second part of his statement has been proved wrong, it is unlikely he had any idea quite what the first part meant. While India is indeed […]

Gandhi would have been amused at being played by an Englishman, Nehru told Richard Attenborough

His film about India’s Father of the Nation was enough to guarantee Attenborough’s greatness. Click here to read the article