Book Review: Bombay before Bollywood: Film City Fantasies by Rosie Thomas

Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2014

XV+ 325

Rs 875

ISBN: 978-8-125-05362-0

Review by Prateek

Reviewed by Prateek, University of Queensland, Australia

‘However, this is in no conventional sense a history of Bombay cinema’ Rosie Thomas writes in Bombay before Bollywood: Film City Fantasies (3). Thus, the book, a marvel created after more than 30-year-long research, records her insight into the alternative history of Bombay cinema, and in addition provides a condensed history of subaltern Bollywood and auteurs/actors associated with it. The book celebrates Indian cinema studies that has become an established academic discipline over the past decade and simultaneously cautions us to challenge and complicate certain versions of Indian cinema history that have become fossilized. Rosie Thomas, Professor of Film Faculty of Media, Arts and Design, University of Westminster, UK, inducts a subaltern genre of Bombay cinema in its complexity: pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial into the larger framework of internationally acknowledged Bollywood in a space of 10 chapters. Therefore, the book is an attempt to narrate more stories about Bombay cinema with which one can “reassess some of the myths and hazy generalizations that have grown up around its history” (Thomas 3).

The book can be considered as the most recent enterprise of Subaltern Studies. Subaltern Studies was initially conceived as a three-volume series to revise the ‘elitism’ of colonialists and bourgeois-nationalists in the historiography of Indian nationalism (Guha vii). Today, after the publication of ten volumes, the project has achieved a global status. Although, by the end of the 1980s, Subaltern Studies was the most dynamic sector within the emerging disciplines of postcolonial theory and cultural studies in the Anglo-American academy with countries ranging from Africa to Latin America partaking in the discipline, still it was never used in a full-fledged manner in regard to Indian cinema studies. Thomas becomes a pioneer to implement it in Indian cinema studies. Like the authors of Subaltern Studies, Thomas adopted a ‘history from below’ paradigm or ‘bottom-up’ approach to contest ‘elite’ or ‘top-down’ cinema history writing…Access Full Text of the Review

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