Articles

From 2011 Onwards


The Heart of the Song

Lata sang for all of us. Her voice was instantly recognisable. Whoever the star, she brought us into the heroine’s inner life.

The Scent of Mumbai

A perfumed passage to nostalgia

Power on Trial

Jai Bhim and the search for justice in Indian cinema

Romancing the Pathan

Tracing the masculinity of star power in Hindi cinema

The Hippy Gaze

India through the prism of counterculture

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The Parsi journey across history and cultures—with a stopover at Irani café.

The Pilgrim’s Progress

From the martyrdom of Thomas Becket to the holy relics of Hindi cinema.

The Mind of Bengal

It is easy to see why Ray’s films were classed as arthouse in the West. In Calcutta, they were screened in cinemas which showed regular Bengali films, whose audiences in the 1950s and 1960s didn’t watch much Hindi cinema.

Exile and the Kingdom

THE UK IS in official mourning for HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, known to my generation as the DofE, or Phil the Greek.

Remembering ‘Anand’ and Its Gallows Humour of an India at Ease With Its Differences

Rewatching Anand recently was like seeing a different film. The story was the same, of two unlikely friends. Dr Bhaskar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan), a medical doctor, is the author of a book, Anand, about his relationship with Anand (Rajesh Khanna), who is dying of cancer but wants to enjoy every minute of what is left of his life. Read […]

The Indian Pastoral

I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT agriculture, even though my family were farmers three generations ago. I stayed on farms as a child and enjoyed milking a cow and the lambing season, but it was muddy and smelly. I’m far too sentimental about animals to pass muster in the country. I never ate rabbit after hearing that […]

Magic Mountains

WE’VE JUST HAD the coldest weather in the UK in 25 years, with even some stretches of the Thames freezing. Many of us who grew up in the 1960s didn’t have central heating and this meant frozen and leaking pipes. So for those of my generation nothing beats viewing snow from the comfort of a […]

May the Road Rise up to Meet You

WE’VE JUST SAID goodbye to one of the worst years most of us recall. There were also sad goodbyes, leaving only memories. I hope this year will be one where the goodbyes aren’t sad but bring the promise of happy returns. Read the full article here

Soumitra Chatterjee: The Constant Actor

LONG BEFORE I EVER saw a mainstream Hindi movie, I watched Indian films at the British Film Institute (BFI) and at arthouse cinemas in London. Most of the films were made by Satyajit Ray, but also the occasional Mrinal Sen, Goutam Ghose. In those days I could see films only in cinema halls, rarely on […]

The Sacred Feminine

A FEW YEARS AGO, an invitation to IIT Guwahati allowed me to fulfil two long held ambitions. One was to go to Kaziranga (which was even more magical than I had hoped), and the other was to visit the Kamakhya temple. The underground part of this Shaktipeeth has an uncanny atmosphere, what could be called an energy, […]

An Orthodox Thought

LIKE MANY PEOPLE worldwide (Netflix doesn’t give ratings), I’ve been hooked on Shtisel, an Israeli drama series about four generations of the Shtisel family living in contemporary Jerusalem. I’ve not been so drawn into a series since The Sopranos, fascinated by both, perhaps because they share the same hook: how do traditional values and societies, of which […]

Ageing in Life and Films

IHAVE TAKEN EARLY retirement from my job as Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema but will continue my forty-year association with SOAS University of London as Professor Emerita and through my former students and colleagues and the global network of South Asianists. As Shailendra wrote and Lata sang, ‘Ajeeb dastan hai yeh, kahan shuru kahan […]

The Scent of India

COVID-19 IS MAKING me nostalgic. It’s not possible to travel to India currently, and I would love to be spending some of the monsoon there, preferably in Goa with not much to do. I’m watching films (mostly Bengali, with some Hindi serials and the occasional new film such as Raat Akeli Hai and Gulabo Sitabo, and, […]

The Outsiders

AS EVERYONE ELSE under the lockdown, I’ve been watching serials and films, mostly in Hindi and Bengali, with a diversion to the wonderful Babylon Berlin which took us to the German film industry of the 1930s, which brought to mind the founding members of Bombay Talkies. Read the full article here

Carry On Doctor

‘HELLO, HELLO, it’s me,’ said my husband, looking worried. I didn’t know I’d been unconscious for several days but I realised my wrists were loosely tied to a hospital bed. ‘Yes, it’s you. Who else could it be? Why am I here?’ Read the full article here

Rishi & Irrfan

WE HAVE LOST two very different superstars. Irrfan, the boy from nowhere, who wasn’t handsome in the conventional Hindi film manner, but whose excess of talent and charm carried him to the top at home and overseas. Rishi, born a star, Bollywood royalty, for whom Lata Mangeshkar, Nargis and others were always part of his […]

The City of Perpetual Pursuit

A RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOK in which I was involved, Bombay Before Mumbai, a Festschrift for the Australian historian of India, Jim Masselos, who wrote his PhD on the city at the University of Bombay in the early 1960s, covers the city from very many angles other than the cinematic imagination. Read the full article

A Letter from Dhaka

I FIRST HEARD OF Bangladesh in 1971, not just because of George Harrison, but because my mother made me donate a portion of my meagre pocket money for cyclone relief. What goes around comes around and this year I went to Bangladesh for my first brief visit, as a speaker at the Dhaka Literature Festival, and […]

The Pull of the Provincial

I AM A GEORDIE, or a Northumbrian—that is, a person from the northeast of England. We’re a distinctive group, known for our strong to incomprehensible accents, directness (to put it politely) and a fondness for the good life. We are seen as the Punjabis of England: jovial but lacking sophistication and learning. Just as with […]

Learning from Hindi cinema’s classroom aesthetics

THE TURNING OF the seasons is the sign that it’s time to go back to school. The August Bank Holiday on the last Monday of August in England has a feeling of desperation as one tries to hold on to the long days while knowing they will soon be over. I imagine it’s different for […]

The Sporting Spirit

THE CRICKET WORLD Cup, the Men’s Final at Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix all took place on one day. While many were torn between at least two of these, I was not among them. Sports—or games, as they were known then— were compulsory at school but this was before games for women were taken seriously. […]

A South Asian Summer in London

JUNE IS THE time of the annual migration of Delhi and Mumbai elites to London and it’s the time for Indian literature and film festivals. I’m looking forward to catching up with literary friends at the talks and parties of Jaipur Lit Fest in London and filmi friends at the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film […]

The National Spirit

MAINSTREAM HINDI FILMS are more concerned about striving for emotional accuracy than the aesthetics of realism. Read the full article here

April Is Not the Cruellest Month

THE SPRING EQUINOX seems a more logical time to begin the New Year than January 1st. Indeed the New Year in England was March 25th (Lady Day or the Feast of the Annunciation) from 1155 to 1752 when the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750 brought in the Gregorian calendar in line with the rest […]

Where the Guest is God

FOR VISITORS FROM overseas, the biggest risk to health in India is what I have coined: ‘militant’ hospitality. Any occasion, indeed any excuse, means that one must press some special food and drink on one’s guests. For extreme hospitality moments, I have tried to master the trick of putting my arm over my plate to […]

My Indian Hall of Fame

I’M OFTEN ASKED to list my 10 favourite Hindi films ever, over the last decade, since the millennium, or since Independence. Read the full article here

The Twain Shall Meet, But…

EDWARD SAID’S TERM ‘Orientalism’, a view of the East that makes it essentially different from the West, is well known. The reverse gaze, Occidentalism, of the East at the West, has received far less attention, perhaps because of the focus on power, not least through colonialism and its acquisition of knowledge about the ‘East’. However, […]

Flood, Mud and Blood

I SHOULD HAVE BEEN in Kerala this week with Mr D, in search of elephants in Periyar and Wayanad and to revisit Cochin. I thought of Coorg as an alternative destination till I realised that it too had been hit terribly hard by the monsoon rains. Our postponement is totally insignificant in the face of […]

Scotch Whimsy

I WOULD HAVE HAD a perfect holiday on the west coast of Scotland had a friend not emailed me a link to The Road to the Isles, a song which has traditional roots but around World War I became a popular music hall number and military march. Even though my ancestors left the Isles over a century ago, I was misty-eyed, reaching for my tartan-shortbread-whisky, as we drove up the Road to the Isles, known more prosaically as the A830.

Eye of the Tiger

INDIA’S LIFE EXPECTANCY has almost doubled since Independence, and has now reached 65, though it remains much lower than in the richest countries (in China, it is 76). Even if we factor child mortality into this, India’s population remains one of the youngest in the world, with about half being under 25 and two-thirds under […]

Mumbai Mail

My train journey across Hindi cinema Read the full article here

Being Salman Khan

BEING A FAN of Salman Khan may lead to guilt by association, namely accusations of supporting the killing of endangered species, drunk driving and abusing women. How do we Salman fans reconcile these charges with our pleasure in watching his films? Why is he one of the most dependable stars of Hindi cinema, the last […]

The Intimate Fantasy

ONE OF THE MOST powerful political speeches of the 20th century was Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream…. His dream was more than just a hopeful vision or a wish, but also prophetic. This waking dream or wish for the future is different from the sleeping dream, where the dreamer may not have […]

An Oscar, Finally, for James Ivory, Maker of Stylish and Upper Middlebrow Cinema

At 89, James Ivory has become the oldest person to win an Oscar, passing even Ennio Morricone (87 in 2016), and also the oldest to win a BAFTA. Although this was Ivory’s first Oscar, he has been nominated several times for Best Director and Best Picture, while Merchant Ivory Productions has won six Academy Awards.

Farewell, Our Chandni of Moonlit Romance

She could change expressions as quickly as clouds pass over the sun. In moments, it could change from sad, happy, adoring or scared to surprise.

Diva for All Ages & Eras

The mourning for Sridevi in the press and on social media is not surprising as her status as one of India’s leading female stars is undisputed.

The Perfect Mausi

THIS WEEK MY 22-year-old nephew is starting work as an intern at a think-tank in Delhi. I seem to be the most excited about all this, while he is quite calm. My friends are pulling out all the stops to ensure he has a smooth beginning to his time in India. Yet, advice is needed about things a young Brit hasn’t seen— servants, geysers, quilts (rather than duvets), bathroom taps.

British Film Institute’s Honour is a Reminder of Forgotten Director Waris Husain

Despite having directed some of the biggest actors of film and television, the 79-year-old filmmaker remains relatively unknown in India.

Om Puri Obituary: India’s Face of the World

From Indian art films to Bollywood, British cinema and Hollywood, Om Puri straddled it all.

The Beauty of the Indian Winter

WE HAVE NOW passed mid-winter, the darkest day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere, so our days are getting lighter. The Christmas lights, on trees, houses and the high street, will be coming down 5th or 6th January, depending on how you count your Twelve Days of Christmas, and soon we all begin beating ourselves up over our health, trying new faddish diets, and planning escapes to the sun.

The thinking woman’s crumpet: Shashi Kapoor was the sort of gentleman we don’t have in films anymore

The many obituaries of Shashi Kapoor published recently all drew attention to his quality of being a gentleman. It’s hard to think of a star for whom that would be the defining characteristic today and reflects a changing idea of the ideal male both off and on screen.

Shashi Kapoor: The Last Romantic

His image off and onscreen was of a sophisticated and elegant cosmopolitan, but he was also a theth Punjabi, a Kapoor, who lived life big, fond of his drink and food.

Imagining the Idea of Indianness in Hindi cinema

I SAID I WOULD not dare to speak on Satyajit Ray in Kolkata, the city in which he lived and which many of us know through his work. I reiterated that I wouldn’t be comfortable to work on Ray, given his deep roots in Bengali culture, in particular in its literature, of which I know little and that only in translation. Ray is an important figure to me personally as his films were the first Indian cinema I saw.

Bollywood gets bigger, stays proudly Indian

There are fewer big Bollywood hits but they are getting bigger. Last year’s Dangal surpassed all others, while the two Baahubalis, PK, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and others are lasting hits.

Shiraz: A Love Story Of The Taj

It is thought only around 25 or so films survive from the silent period of Indian cinema. Many of these are fragments so the British Film Institute’s restoration of a complete film print is a particularly welcome event.