July 14, 2009 11:27:34 pm
In Mohammed Sadiqs 1960 film Chaudhvin ka Chand,Guru Dutt serenades the lovely Waheeda Rahman while she blushes and moves away. The camera pans out of the cosy chamber and gently sweeps over the arched window where Rahman stands demurely,attempting to hide her pleasure at being courted. As Mohammad Rafis voice floats in the title track,the scene ends with a shot of a small pool in the garden that mirrors the lovers as they inch closer towards each other. For cinema lovers,it would appear to be a perfect romantic moment,but for professors Ira Bhaskar and Richard Allen it was more than that.
Chaudhvin ka Chand is a classic in the Muslim social genre of Bombay cinema, says Bhaskar. It captures the romance of the Indo-Islamic architecture such as the gardens and domes,the mehfil,the music and the arts and the tehzeeb. The Islamic culture has made Lucknow a fixture in Bombay cinema. On Saturday evening,Bhaskar and Allen came together to launch their book Islamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema (Tulika Books,Rs 995) at the India Habitat Centre and through an audio-visual presentation,explored the distinct Islamic imagery and culture patterns that have been part of Bollywood.
It was a subject crying to be done. We wanted to describe the Islamic imagery and the iconic cityscapes of Lucknow,Agra and Delhi that inhabited our cinema from the late 1930s to the present day, says Bhaskar who,along with Allen,embarked on the project nearly two years ago when they both met at the National Film Archives for a screening of Mehboob Khans Najma. Allen,chair of the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University,who was working on Muslim social genre and Bhaskar,heading cinema studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University,decided to work on the book. They scoured prints in archives and libraries and went through over 50 films.
To explore the way Islamic imagery has distilled itself in Bombay cinema,they have slotted them as Muslim social with films such as Najma,Chaudhvin Ka Chand and Garam Hawa; the Muslim historical with Pukaar,Mughal-e-Azam and Jodhaa Akbar; and,lastly,the Muslim courtesan films such as Pakeezah,Umrao Jaan and Sardari Begum. From the 1930s to the 60s,the centres for the imagined recreation of these stories were Lucknow,Agra and Delhi.
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The New Wave Muslim Social is now taking place in Mumbai. Previously,the plots featured nawabs,the reputation of their women and their havelis,but the New Wave has ushered in storytellers such Saeed Mirza who in Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro explores the Muslim,urban,working class characters who are looking for ways to make a life in the big city, says Bhaskar. Both Allen and Bhaskar are now planning a companion volume of essays on the same subject.
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