Cinema at the End of Empire: A Politics of Transition in Britain and India / Edition 1

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How did the imperial logic underlying British and Indian film policy change with the British Empire’s loss of moral authority and political cohesion? Were British and Indian films of the 1930s and 1940s responsive to and responsible for such shifts? Cinema at the End of Empire illuminates this intertwined history of British and Indian cinema in the late colonial period. Challenging the rubric of national cinemas that dominates film studies, Priya Jaikumar contends that film aesthetics and film regulations were linked expressions of radical political transformations in a declining British empire and a nascent Indian nation. As she demonstrates, efforts to entice colonial film markets shaped Britain’s national film policies, and Indian responses to these initiatives altered the limits of colonial power in India. Imperially themed British films and Indian films envisioning a new civil society emerged during political negotiations that redefined the role of the state in relation to both film industries.

In addition to close readings of British and Indian films of the late colonial era, Jaikumar draws on a wealth of historical and archival material, including parliamentary proceedings, state-sponsored investigations into colonial filmmaking, trade journals, and intra- and intergovernmental memos regarding cinema. Her wide-ranging interpretations of British film policies, British initiatives in colonial film markets, and genres such as the Indian mythological film and the British empire melodrama reveal how popular film styles and controversial film regulations in these politically linked territories reconfigured imperial relations. With its innovative examination of the colonial film archive, this richly illustrated book presents a new way to track historical change through cinema.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Cinema at the End of Empire adds immeasurably to the fields of film, cultural, and colonial studies. Priya Jaikumar produces a whole new set of fascinating insights into the cultural expression of the demise of colonialism.”—Sarah Street, author of British National Cinema

Cinema at the End of Empire offers a sparkling account of the intertwined histories of British imperial and Indian colonial films. Challenging the frame of national cinema, it situates the cinematic representations of both empire and the nation in the conjuncture of late colonialism, and shows how films dealt with the pressures, anxieties, and challenges of decolonization. At once attentive to films and history, this is a truly remarkable book.”—Gyan Prakash, author of Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India

Manashita Dass

“[E]xtremely insightful and thought provoking . . . . [T]he montage of tantalizing glimpses that Jaikumar offers into a complex and fascinating but underexplored domain of Indian cinema and the creative and significant connections that she makes (between, as well as within, national film cultures) will no doubt catalyze other important and much-needed work on the film cultures of colonial India and, more generally, in comparative film studies.”
Bulbul P. Tiwari

“Jaikumar skillfully navigates treacherous theoretical waters to produce a book that is both historically rigorous and thoughtfully engaged in the study of form. . . . As the first book of a young scholar, Cinema at the End of Empire is impressive and promising. Jaikumar’s self-avowed ambition to “link form and history in a manner that actively resists universalization as well as notions of complete temporal rupture” (p.37) is not merely gestured toward but convincingly deployed.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822337935
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Priya Jaikumar is Assistant Professor in the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California.

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Read an Excerpt


A Politics of Transition in Britain and India


Copyright © 2006 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3780-5

Chapter One



In the 1930s British film journals worried about Hollywood's exploitation of Britain's film market, and Indian film journals complained of the lack of affordable equipment, of exploitative middlemen, and of a need for better stories. Although colonialism was not a preoccupying theme, it was the pervasive condition, as changes in imperial state politics and colonial relations defined the alternatives available to British and Indian film industries confronting obstacles to their development. Everything in British India was under renegotiation: the colony's right to sovereignty, the imperial state's entitlement to colonial resources, the jurisdiction of imperial administrators, and the future of empire. These contests were etched into commercial film-policy debates and film form in both territories. With this opening chapter I look ahead to the rest of the book, and write about how the angels of culture, history, and politics danced upon a pin's head of film-policy semantics and film style.

State Form

In 1932 the British Commission on Educational and Cultural Films, funded by grants from private trusts andlocal authorities, published the report The Film in National Life. The commission had been established at a 1929 conference of "some hundred Educational and Scientific organizations" to examine sound and silent films, and to evaluate cinema as a medium of education, art, and entertainment in Britain. The report is best known for its recommendations to create a national film institute, which became the template for the British Film Institute, established in 1933. Less known is the fact that the report also contained an assessment of commercial British films in the colonies. Based on its study, The Film in National Life concluded that the "responsibility of Great Britain is limited to what, by the production and interchange of its films, she can do in this country. The Colonies are under varying forms of control; and their Governments cannot be expected to take constructive action without a clear and firm lead from the Home [British] Government. There the responsibility of Great Britain is double, for what is done at home and for what is done overseas."

The report highlights, in condensed version, three related aspects of the British State's attitude toward commercial cinema during late empire. In the 1920sand1930sstate-fundedcommitteesinBritain,thecolonies,andthedominions assessed local film production, transforming a new cultural industry into manageable, organizable data. The desire to influence colonial film industries underwrote these official collations and productions of knowledge about film, which in turn guided the rationalization and regulation of British cinema within the domestic British market. At the same time, colonial and dominion film industries reacted to Britain's regulatory initiatives with varying degrees of reservation as they asserted their boundaries of cultural sovereignty. In the first part of this book I deal with the parallel operation of such domestic and imperial negotiations, which began in 1927-28 when the British State assessed both the British film industry and the Indian film market, rendering them cognate territories for potential state intervention. Subsequent to its evaluation of Britain's industry, the state resolved that British film production was a necessary industrial sector for Britain and worthy of measured domestic protection, as provided by the Quota Act (chapter 2). At the same time, the state accepted an evaluation of Indian film as a luxury industry that was best left to its own devices (chapter 3). Here was a linked state apparatus-with the government of India answerable to the British parliament and the Crown-arriving at opposing definitions of two film industries in relation to their respective domestic markets.

A series of questions become interesting in this context. What kinds of arguments and lobby groups did British film producers utilize to acquire state assistance? Why and on what terms was the Indian film market assessed? Who conducted the investigation in India, and why did the state withdraw from active intervention there? Answers to these questions demonstrate that the state's adjudication of the British film industry as essential and of the Indian film industry as inessential altered the authorized boundaries of state power with regard to cinema in both countries. A liberal state's authority derives in part from its jurisdiction over differentiating between "public" and "private" spheres, "essential" and "tertiary" industries. Liberal-state rationality or "governmentality" operates through the codification of social and cultural information to generate a legitimate agenda for state intervention or restraint in relation to its populace and their governing institutions. This Foucauldian conceptualization of the state as a collective of practices operationalized through multiple points of attempted and actual regulations frames government and society in mutually constitutive terms. However, for Foucault the correlative of the state's suasive power is the free (rather than the colonial) subject. Foucault's theory of the liberal state necessarily brushes up against the West's simultaneous application of nonconsensual state power in the colonies to convey the contradictory operations of Western political modernity.

The British State, constitutionally liberal at home but not in its colonies, was an agent of modernization in both domains through the twinned enactment of liberal and imperial policies. Scholarship on the colonial state in anthropology, ethnography, literary studies, and history has long offered evidence of such circuitous historical mappings by studying "the metropole and the colony as a unitary field of analysis." The virtue of this analysis is that, by shifting attention to the role played by colonies in the definition of a modern British state, it moves beyond orientalist ideas of Britain as the "unconscious tool of history" that brought colonies into modernity and a capitalist trajectory. The field of cinema studies has remained largely untouched by this work, owing perhaps to the specialized nature of our discipline. To begin with an analysis of the British State in film history alone, considering the metropole and the colony in conjunction demands several necessary revisions to existing accounts.

First, it points to the need to re-evaluate (direct and indirect) intertwinings of British and colonial film industries in relation to a state that defined its role through presiding over both. Second, an analysis informed by the consonant functions of the state in relation to Britain and its colonies remedies a critical asymmetry. Scholarly discussions have been forthcoming about the impact of decolonization on postcolonial nations but reticent with regard to its significance for the industries and identities of colonizing nation-states. In film studies this has produced a curious lack of dialogue between work on postcolonial national cinemas and European national cinemas, though both have been prolific and productive areas of investigation in themselves. The bulk of available scholarship on Indian cinema focuses on the period following India's independence in 1947, examining the relationship between cinema and national identity or the Indian nation-state. This concentration of work conveys, by its definitional emphasis, the importance of decolonization to the development of a film industry in India. (Unwittingly it also reproduces the "postcolonial misery" of Partha Chatterjee's description, because the study of the region's cinema remains tethered to the end of colonialism as its primary temporal reference point.) Meanwhile, the significance or insignificance of colonial and dominion markets remains largely uninterrogated by studies that emphasize the centrality of U.S., European, and domestic markets to the industrial strategies of a nation like Britain.

Studying British cinema in the late 1920s and 1930s demands an acknowledgment of multiple alterities to engage Britain's extensive territorial reach during its increasing vulnerability to Hollywood. British film policies were defined by a complex set of maneuvers as the imperial nation-state adapted to an environment of colonial/dominion sovereignty, U.S. domination, and domestic factionalization. Similarly, films produced in India responded to Hollywood's cultural and Britain's political supremacy by drawing on variegated commercial, linguistic, and visual influences. By the 1930s, the colony was a center for film production and ancillary film-related businesses. So the third aspect that emerges from a dual assessment of Britain and India is the need to broaden definitions of colonial resistance, looking beyond colonial responses to British and Hollywood films to consider as well what the colony produced under political constraints. The analysis of Britain and India in tandem leads to an account of the colonial state's evaluations of the Indian film industry and simultaneously highlights the Indian film industry's stance toward the state, including the industry's development in the absence of assistance from its government.

As is well documented by scholarship on colonial cinema, the British State assessed India as a site for censorship. Britain also evaluated India as a center for film production and a potential market for British films, which has received scant attention from film scholars. Surprisingly, British evaluations of India were frequently at cross-purposes. Were Indians impressionable natives to be monitored and exposed to edifying images of the West? Were their locally produced films worthy of attention? Were they an untapped market resource to be enticed for Britain's profit? An eloquent expression of this bafflement can be found in The Film in National Life, which conveys a firm opinion of cinema's role in an Africa strangely divested of Africans ("In Africa, [film] can aid the missionary, the trader, and the administrator" [137]) but is disjointed when talking about India: "Great Britain owes a duty to the Dominions; the Dominions to Great Britain and to each other; and India owes a duty first to herself.... The film can as well display the ancient dignity of the Mahabharata as teach the Indian peasant the elements of hygiene and sanitation" (137).

References to educational films mentioned awkwardly alongside productions based on the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic that served as a popular source for colonial Indian films, suggest confusion over the role of cinema in a colony with its own popular film production. "India has at once an ancient culture and an illiterate peasantry," notes the report, continuing that the nation is "midway between the two points. She is producing films which are as yet far from good, but which might become works of beauty, while many of her peasantry are as simple and illiterate as African tribes" (126). The "midway" status of India reflected, in some senses, the political liminality of India's position in relation to Britain. Dyarchy had been established in India in 1919, which meant that at the level of the provincial government, power was shared between British agencies and largely elective legislative councils. By the 1920s and 1930s, while India was not quite a colony (the executive body was accountable to the legislature, and the latter had some Indian representation), it was not a dominion either (the most important subjects were reserved for British officials; Indian representation was primarily ceded at the local and provincial rather than the central government, on a controversially communal basis; and the British parliament retained the power to legislate for India). So most British state documents refer to the territory as "the Dominions and India" or "India and the Colonies."

India's own film production and its film industry's discourse from this period offer refreshing alternatives to such mystifications. The record of colonial Indian cinema, though patchy, does not merely replicate imperialist frameworks of knowledge. To this end, the Indian Cinematograph Committee (ICC) interviews conducted by state representatives in conversation with members of the Indian film industry between 1927 and 1928 make a thrilling document. In lively debate with the state committee on the possibility of granting special preferences for British films in India, vocal Indian film producers, actors, distributors, and exhibitors disabled the premises of the state questionnaire by revealing contradictions in the committee's position. To hear their side of the story, a discussion of Britain and India requires a turn toward Indian films, film journals, newspapers, and state-instituted committees, and an examination of Indian cinema on its own terms (chapters 3 and 7).

The idea of autonomy in cinema or culture is a complex one. My claim is that nascent institutional forms of the Indian film industry and evolving forms of Indian cinema laid claim to economic and aesthetic autonomy from the state in what were perhaps the most effective ways of resisting the British government, competing with Hollywood film imports, and defining a national imagination. Prem Chowdhry discusses the ways in which defiance of British authority was evident in India's hostile reception of select British and U.S. films. Without denying the significance of such mobilization, it must be acknowledged that Indian cinema's emerging independence at the level of commerce and film content rendered British cinema incontrovertibly ineffectual in the colony.

Of necessity, aspirants of the Indian film industry relied on their own financial resources. Indian film trade organizations emphasized the need for the Indian industry to sustain itself without state support. Speaking at the first Indian Motion Picture Congress (IMPC) in 1939, Chandulal J. Shah, owner of India's Ranjit Studios noted: "It is a tragedy that we the national and nationalist producers are not given any facilities in our country by our own Government and States whereas the British, American, and even German Producers have often been welcomed to make use of everything India possesses. We must end this intolerable situation by our united effort." Baburao Patel, the inimitable editor of filmindia, a leading Bombay film magazine, expressed similar sentiments in a characteristically provocative exchange with F. J. Collins, publisher of the rival journal Motion Picture Magazine, whom Patel accused of being "a supporter of foreign interests." "The Indian film industry never asked for a Quota Act as the Britishers did against the Americans. People in our industry never worried about the foreign competition however intense it has been. We have always welcomed healthy competition but we strongly object to the ungrateful and dirty insinuations which the hirelings of these foreign interests have chosen to make against our industry and its men ... (by) calling the Motion Picture Society of India 'a self-constituted organization with no credentials.'"

Despite Patel's affronted objection, the colonial Indian film industry and its institutions could well have been described as a "self-constituted organization" struggling for credentials. In 1921 the censors endorsed 812 films, of which only 64 were of Indian origin. Over 90 percent of the imported films were from the United States. (According to Indian silent- and early-sound-film director Naval Gandhi, Universal Studios had the largest share in 1927). By 1935 Hollywood and other film imports led by a narrower margin, constituting a little over half of the total feature films screened in India. The 1930s also witnessed the collapse of Madan Theatres, a major importer of U.S. films, and the success of Indian studios, particularly Bombay Talkies and Ranjit Movietone in Bombay, New Theaters in Calcutta, Prabhat in Pune, and United Artists Corporation in Madras. Though the studios had mostly disintegrated by the mid-1940s and dominant genres of colonial Indian cinema (including mythological, historical, devotional, and stunt films) had lost their immediate popularity, Indian films had secured a stable domestic status by 1947.21 Historians Eric Barnouwand S. Krishnaswamy attribute this to the invention of sound, arguing that the Indian filmmaker "now had markets which foreign competitors would find difficult to penetrate. The protection which the Government of India had declined to give him though a quota system had now been conferred by the coming of the spoken word."

To place their observation in a broader context: Indian silent cinema evolved a distinctive visual and performative idiom that was redefined and consolidated with sound and the emergence of film-related businesses (such as film journalism and song-books that bolstered the indigenous star system) to cultivate a strong domestic market for the local product by the 1930s. This was a decade of innovation and experimentation as filmmakers explored local content, learned from European and U.S. film-production techniques, and used their films to implicitly oppose the colonial government. They sought ways to simultaneously combat imports and survive with a foreign power at the nation's helm. Thus the autonomy that Indian films sought to claim from the state was not absent of a cultural interface with multiple contexts but in fact dependent on it.


Excerpted from CINEMA AT THE END OF EMPIRE by PRIYA JAIKUMAR Copyright © 2006 by Duke University Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xii

Introduction 1

1. Film Policy and Film Aesthetics as Cultural Archives 13

Part One. Imperial Governmentality

2. Acts of Transition: The British Cinematographic Films Acts of 1927 and 1938 41

3. Empire and Embarassment: Colonial Forms of Knowledge about Cinema 65

Part Two. Imperial Redemption

4. Realism and Empire 107

5. Romance and Empire 135

6. Modernism and Empire 165

Part Three. Colonial Autonomy

7. Historical Romances and Modernist Myths in Indian Cinema 195

Notes 239

Bibliography 289

Index of Films 309

General Index 313

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