Saturday, September 27, 2008

Books on Indian Film: Part 1 - History

Book 2: Bollywood: A History (2006)

Written by Mihir Bose in 2006, with lots and lots of help (a whole chapter is dedicated to the people inside bollywood). Bollywood: A History focuses on different subjects such as the beginning of the Indian film industry, the film studios, he lightly touches films like Mughal-e Azam and Mother India and he also writes about the change after independence and so on.

Mihir Bose is a writer who specialises in sport. He is not a film scholar, but he is a good writer. His style is light and flowing, so no one should have a problem reading this book. It is much less school oriented then Indian Film (published by oxford university press, read post) this one is more open to the general public. For more information on Mihir Bose, just visit his web site.

Oh, god, don't get me started on the UK cover. that almost naked and wet Rekha?! Come on, I want a book that sells for it's content, not it's cover. But one thing I did realise is that Bollywood, through history, has objectified women, and in that sense the cover fits just "nicely" with what it's talking about. But, I still prefer the to dry and breast covered Rekha.

Pictures - Uk Edition (Tempus) and India edition (Roli Books)

One other thing that bugs me is the title and the content don't match 100%. Especially if the title is Bollywood: A History (the history part, is not just history). History is present in the book, but in, what I felt, was a tainted form. You couldn't help but doubt the accuracy of some things that were written because it felt more like information in the "He said, She said" category. An example of this is the speculation of the Lata Mangeshkar and C. Ramchandra romance. Lata does not mention it in her biography and C. Ramchandra is dead, while there is no actual proof, you can call this information a rumor or a hidden secret, but not history. Most of the facts are taken from other peoples work or written in quotes from people in the industry.

Anyway, gossip and rumors themselves have there place in the book. Like in the prologue, which is read more as a long magazine article (though at the end it gets more serious), is about Bose's interview of the then rising start Madhuri Dixit and how he made her cry in in front of Sunil Dutt because he asked her "So, how do you feel about being the new sex symbol of Bollywood?" He also writes about Pamela Bordes, a once Miss India turned high class escort that created much scandal and excitement at the time.

The most interesting chapter, for me, was "The Road to Bombay via Munich and London" is about the pre-studio and studio days of the educated Devika Rani and her husband Himanshu Rai. I love that Rani worked with German directors Fritz Lang and G. W. Pabst, (wow, sooo jealous!)

Anyway, what I think would have made the book better is if the titles would represent the content. Basically the problem is Bose claims to write about many events and personalities in each chapter but actually he focuses on one.

some examples are:

"The Road to Bombay via Munich and London" - Devika Rani and Bombay Talkies

"Blondes and Brunettes: Bollywood's White Woman" - Fearless Nadia

"The Explosion of the Bombay Film Song" - Lata Mangheshkar

You end up expecting a lot more then what you get.

Also the title Bollywood A History should be changed to "People who Shaped Hindi Cinema" or something like that. At least it wouldn't be false (and the book would have probably gotten a better rating from me).


Really fun and easy to read.

More explanation was written for beginners in this area if world cinema.


The author is not an expert of cinema.

The UK cover can't make me take his book seriously.

Gossip and personal experiences instead of history.

I felt that the chapters or at least there titles where not representative of what you where about to read. For example, one chapter on Bombay Film Music was mainly on Lata Mangeshkar, so if you were looking for information, let's say on R. D. Burman, you get like five lines.

Other reviews

Here is an another review of Bollywood: A History, written by Chandrahas Choudhury, on his blog The middle Stage, who I think has a similar opinion to mine.

And, here (you will need to scroll down), a review by journalist Jai Arjun Singh on his blog Jabberwock.

Stella's score: 2.5/5 (for people who actually know about the history of Bollywood)

3.5/5 (for beginners)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read this one a while ago and my reaction was very similar to yours. Plus, having recently read Manto's Stars From Another Sky, I realised just how liberally Bose has borrowed from it!

To be fair, what he said about the early days of the film industry was all new to me and I would count it as a history of sorts. His anecdotes from 40s onwards though, are pure film-lore and gossip which anybody growing up in India and interested in movies would know.