Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid reconstructs an era of film that saw an unprecedented public visibility attached to the moving image and to its social usage.
Nowhere has the cinema made more foundational a public intervention than in India, and yet Indian cinema is consistently presented as something of an exception to world film history. What if, this book asks, film history was instead written from the Indian experience?
The cinema was not invented by celluloid, nor will it die with celluloid’s growing obsolescence. But ‘celluloid’ names a distinct era in cinema’s career that coincides with a particular construct of the twentieth-century state. This is not merely a coincidence: the very raison d’etre of celluloid was derived from the use to which the modern state put it, as the authorized technology through which the state spoke and as narrative practices endorsing its authority as producer of the rational subject.
The debate on Fire centrally located spectatorial negotiations around the constitutional right to freedom of speech at a key moment in modern Indian history when Article 19 was under attack from pro-Hindutva forces. And the Emergency (1975-77) saw a New Indian Cinema politically united against totalitarian rule but nevertheless rent asunder by disputes over realism, throwing up new questions around the formation of an epochal moment in independent India.
Ashish Rajadhyaksha is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society (CSCS), Bangalore, and a critic and writer on cinema, art and culture. He is author and editor (with Paul Willemen) of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, and author of Ritwik Ghatak: A Return to the Epic.