From 2011 Onwards

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.

When Booker Comes to Bollywood

I WILL NEVER FORGET my heartbreak when the first school prize was announced when I was ten. It was the neatness prize for which the main criterion was good handwriting. At university, in the days before word processing, I had to read my essays aloud because of the backward- sloping scrawl. Even I couldn’t read it, much to everyone’s amusement.

Why you would find it impossible to pick a favourite Satyajit Ray film

All of Ray’s films share certain features not usually seen in mainstream Indian cinema. Read the full article here

Dancing in the Dark

NEVER BELIEVE ANYONE who says they don’t like dancing. It’s so much part of what it means to be human, an instinct like poetry or music. While some people must have been put off dancing for some reason or another, it’s never too late to rediscover it.

When Burkha-Clad Women Wept for the Niloufer of Nikaah

THE OVERWHELMING public support for the Supreme Court judgment on Triple Talaq may enable wider discussion of divorce in India, not just as a legal issue but about marriage itself and its breakdown. Hindi films, which are so preoccupied with love and marriage, have given little space to divorce, whose unhappiness is the antithesis of […]

India @ 70: Iconic Movies of Independent India

Film scholar Rachel Dwyer lists 70 movies that made us laugh, cry, think, dance and debate. Go ahead and hit the rewind button for these screen classics. Read the list here

Partition in Hindi Cinema: Violence, Loss and Remembrance

Although one might expect censorship due to the sensitivity of the issue, Hindi films began referring to Partition almost immediately after the events. Read the full article here

Missing in the Scene

WESTERNERS AND SOME Indians remain intrigued by the ‘caste system’, so I will doubtless disappoint many when I say that no such system exists. The category of caste was contested by India’s nationalist leaders in the hope it would fade, and caste discrimination, especially the practice of ‘untouchability’, was outlawed in the Constitution of India […]

The Promise of Summer

WE’VE PASSED MIDSUMMER, the wonderful time in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere when the sun barely sets. It really is the middle of summer, now that May and June—when the leaves are lime green and soft and the flowers are at their best—are over and we are in the second, heavier part of […]

Why is govt neglecting Bollywood, a major source of soft power?

Has yoga’s soft power efficacy been tested with overseas consumers, or is it more about mobilising domestic Indian opinion, strengthening national unity, with soft power merely a spin-off? Read the full article here

Friends Are Forever

‘A MAN IS KNOWN by the company he keeps’ is a proverb from Aesop’s Fables, whose origins lie in the Panchatantra. Friendship is key to the Nitishastra, with the first two books of the Panchatantra called the Mitrabheda (the separation of friends) and Mitralabha (the acquisition of friends). Read the full article here

All About Family Values

TOLSTOY FAMOUSLY WROTE in Anna Karenina, ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Happy families are great fun to be part of or to be with, but they make for very boring stories. Read the full article here

My Name is Anthony Gonsalves

“MY NAME IS Anthony Gonsalves,” sings Amitabh Bachchan (or, rather Kishore Kumar), after he jumps out of a huge Easter egg at the Catholic Gymkhana. Manmohan Desai’s wonderful Amar, Akbar, Anthony is a crazy caper about national integration. Three Hindu brothers, separated on August 15th under the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, are each brought up in a […]

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 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 […]