Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry

Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry

by Tejaswini Ganti

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Producing Bollywood offers an unprecedented look inside the social and professional worlds of the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry and explains how it became "Bollywood," the global film phenomenon and potent symbol of India as a rising economic powerhouse. In this rich and entertaining ethnography Tejaswini Ganti examines the changes in Hindi film


Producing Bollywood offers an unprecedented look inside the social and professional worlds of the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry and explains how it became "Bollywood," the global film phenomenon and potent symbol of India as a rising economic powerhouse. In this rich and entertaining ethnography Tejaswini Ganti examines the changes in Hindi film production from the 1990s until 2010, locating them in Hindi filmmakers' efforts to accrue symbolic capital, social respectability, and professional distinction, and to manage the commercial uncertainties of filmmaking. These efforts have been enabled by the neoliberal restructuring of the Indian state and economy since 1991. This restructuring has dramatically altered the country's media landscape, which quickly expanded to include satellite television and multiplex theaters. Ganti contends that the Hindi film industry's metamorphosis into Bollywood would not have been possible without the rise of neoliberal economic ideals in India. By describing dramatic transformations in the Hindi film industry's production culture, daily practices, and filmmaking ideologies during a decade of tremendous social and economic change in India, Ganti offers valuable new insights into the effects of neoliberalism on cultural production in a postcolonial setting.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Tejaswini Ganti mines her extensive contacts in an industry generally closed-off to outsiders to provide us with in-depth analyses of the sensibilities, compulsions, and desires of important figures in the film industry, as well as the social practices of film production. Producing Bollywood provides unique insights into the forces that shape the production of films in one of the largest film industries in the world. By going beyond the hype surrounding 'Bollywood' and eschewing simplistic dismissals about escapism and the profit-making drive of Bollywood filmmakers, this book enables us to understand the cultural logics that shape the production of Bollywood film. Based on more than a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in multiple sites of film production, Producing Bollywood is truly a trailblazing work."—Purnima Mankekar, author of Screening Culture, Viewing Politics: An Ethnography of Television, Womanhood, and Nation in Postcolonial India

"This is the first book on Bollywood to combine a deep knowledge of the dynamics of script, song, stars, and style in this cinematic world with an equally keen sense of the unique nature of the politics, finance, and cultural prejudices of the film industry. It will be an indispensable benchmark for all future studies of Bollywood and of similar cinematic industries worldwide, and it will interest media scholars, anthropologists, sociologists of culture, and the curious general reader."—Arjun Appadurai, New York University

American Ethnologist - Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria
Producing Bollywood is a lucidly written and thoroughly researched ethnography of a film industry whose products are deeply interwoven in the ordinary life and politics of hundreds of millions of people.”
Media International Australia - Rodney Jensen
“[O]ffers extraordinary insight into the production processes of the late 1990s…. [T]he thoroughness and comprehensive review of trends in this book must be highly commended.”
Choice - L. M. Proctor
“The book is rich in anthropological and historical data, theoretically astute, accessible, and great fun to read. It is a must for anyone interested in Bollywood or other film industries, and for scholars interested in the effects of neoliberalism and globalization in India. Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.”
Studies in South Asian Film - Sushmita Banerji
“Producing Bollywood is a riveting read. It draws carefully thought out connections between cultural formations, changing discourses of legitimacy and nation building. It is to Ganti’s credit that she is able to bring rigorous ethnographic tools to bear upon fieldwork materials put together over a decade and more.... Overall, this is a timely and much needed insight into the intersections of the political economy of production, consumption and legitimization of mass cultural products. It should interest readers and students of Mass Media, Film Studies, Culture Studies, South Asia, Anthropology and Ethnography.”
Economic and Political Weekly - K. V. Nagesh
“The book may be useful to anyone interested in sociology, anthropology, cinema, media, communication, cultural studies, development studies and other interdisciplinary fields. The book is indispensable for those who still use the terms Hindi cinema and Bollywood interchangeably and ?nd it unproblematic.”
International Journal of Communication - Ritesh Mehta
“In Producing Bollywood, the first truly comprehensive ethnographic account of the Mumbai-based film industry, Tejaswini Ganti crafts an ode to an India in deep transition, via the multifaceted lenses of a glamorized and iconic subsection of its Hindi-language filmmakers and actors. . . . [A] landmark study.”
American Anthropologist - Sanjukta Dasgupta
“Ganti’s book is a commendable pioneering initiative. It will be useful for students, researchers, and those interested in South Asian film studies.”
Visual Anthropology Review - Harjant S. Gill
“Tejaswini Ganti’s Producing Bollywood is perhaps the most comprehensive and in-depth account of the Hindi film industry to date...Despite being 440 pages in length, Ganti’s accessible writing style makes this ethnography a joy to read.” 
Contemporary South Asia - Gabriel Shapiro
“Filled with first-hand accounts of the inner workings of the vast Mumbai-based Bollywood film industry collected through numerous interviews and extraordinarily extensive fieldwork undertaken over the course of more than a decade of research, Producing Bollywood meets a previously unfilled need on the part of those engaged in studying Indian cinema and culture by letting a large part of this varied and diverse industry speak, as it were, for itself.”

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By Tejaswini Ganti

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5213-6

Chapter One

From Vice to Virtue

The State and Filmmaking in India

On May 10, 1998, filmmaking in India was accorded the status of an industry by the BJP-led Central government, laying to rest one of the most frequent complaints regarding the state's attitude toward the enterprise of filmmaking—"We're not even recognized as an industry!"—I had heard from Hindi filmmakers during my initial fieldwork in 1996. What was so surprising about the announcement was that none of the filmmakers I had met during my fieldwork ever believed it would happen; they were firm in their views that the "step- motherly" treatment they received from the state, both at the central and regional levels, would continue indefinitely. And yet, two years later at a conference titled "Challenges Before Indian Cinema," the union information and broadcasting minister, Sushma Swaraj, announced industry status for filmmaking.

If the Hindi film industry was not an industry prior to 1998, what was it? What does it mean to be recognized as an "industry" by the Indian state? Why did the state finally recognize it as such? What impact has industry status had on filmmaking in Bombay? That India produces the greatest number of feature films in the world is a fact proudly touted and disseminated by the state in a variety of arenas, and yet for decades the Indian state had officially treated commercial filmmaking as an activity akin to vices like gambling and horseracing. What brought about the change in state attitudes toward filmmaking?

In this chapter, I examine how cinema—its role, significance, effects, and influence—has been imagined and discussed in India by the state primarily at the national level, or what in India is referred to as the "Center" or Central government. Not only does such an examination reveal the complicated place of cinema in the politics of national prestige, nation-building, and development, but it also provides the context to understand Hindi filmmakers' own self-positioning and quest for cultural legitimacy, which I will be discussing in subsequent chapters.

Rather than referring to a monolithic entity, I use the term "state" as a shorthand for an assemblage of practices and institutions that enact governance through a variety of domains under the sign of the Indian state (Gupta and Ferguson 2002; Gupta 1995). Cinema has played a significant role in state discourses about development, nationhood, and modernity in India since Independence in 1947. For over a century, cinema has been woven into the fabric of urban life to such an extent that it seems ubiquitous and, unlike television, was never state-controlled. Though film production primarily has been a private enterprise, it has been an object of state regulation in India since colonial times through censorship, taxation, allocation of raw materials, and control over exhibition through the licensing of theaters. Cinema has also been seen as a "problem," warranting the attention of a number of government commissions, inquiries, and symposia in independent India.

The significance of the granting of industry status, and its radical departure from previous policies, can be understood as a transformation in the regimes of value (Appadurai 1986; Myers 2001)—from modernization to cultural sovereignty—within which cinema has been situated over time in India. I argue that the Indian state's declaration marks a taxonomic shift (Clifford 1988) from a Nehruvian developmentalist paradigm, in which film was solely valued for its pedagogical and communicative potential, to the contemporary neoliberal conjuncture where the existence of multiple, prolific filmmaking traditions are regarded as examples of native ingenuity and a source of economic growth. This shift in attitude has been an important factor in allowing the gentrification of the film industry, especially in terms of its exhibition practices, discussed in this chapter and in chapters two and nine.

My discussion of the discursive field created by the state about filmmaking focuses on the central place of cinema in moral, aesthetic, developmentalist, and modernization discourses about Indian society. I base my analysis on documents and statements from key periods in the history of the Indian state, spanning from the independence movement in the 1930s, the Nehruvian era of the 1950s, the post- Emergency period of the late 1970s and early 1980s, to the era of economic liberalization in the 1990s. Each period has been shaped by the marking of an anniversary connected to the presence and history of cinema in India: in 1938, the Indian Motion Picture Congress commemorated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Indian cinema, marking the date (1913) of the first Indian feature film; in 1956, the Film Federation of India celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Indian cinema by using the first sound feature, produced in 1931, as the benchmark; in 1981, the fiftieth anniversary of talkies was celebrated by the Indian Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences; in 1995–96, the 100th anniversary of the invention of cinema itself became a cause for commemoration by state institutions such as the National Film Archive and the National Film Development Corporation. The texts and documents accompanying these commemorations are a rich source of information about transformations in attitudes toward, and expectations of, filmmaking in India.

In order to understand the larger ideological context framing state attitudes toward filmmaking in independent India, I first describe how national leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru perceived cinema, laying the foundation for state policies for nearly five decades. Then, I discuss in detail the ambivalence displayed toward films and filmmaking by the "developmentalist state" as manifest in regulations such as taxation and policy prescriptions of the cultural bureaucracy. Finally, I examine the granting of industry status, along with the changing attitudes about cinema in the neoliberal context of the late twentieth century.


Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, who in 1913 made the first feature film in India and later earned the appellation "Father of Indian cinema," was explicitly nationalist in his motivation for making films—he wanted to create Indian images for Indian audiences and establish a completely indigenous or swadeshi industry. Yet the Indian National Congress (INC), one of the main organizations fighting against colonial rule, did not accord the medium much importance. Most leaders viewed the cinema as "low" and "vulgar" entertainment, popular with the uneducated "masses" (Kaul 1998). These attitudes are exemplified in the public statements of two of the most prominent leaders of the independence struggle, Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. While Gandhi rejected film on the whole as immoral and culturally inauthentic, Nehru viewed film as a dangerous but potentially useful pedagogical medium. Meanwhile, filmmakers at the time responded to their public statements not by countering their criticisms, but by casting film within the terms of discourse set by Gandhi and Nehru.

Gandhi's antipathy toward cinema, which probably stemmed from it being a "foreign" technology, was central to the INC's disregard for film as a potential tool in its mobilizing and organizing efforts. Gandhi declared many times that he had never seen a single film, comparing cinema with other "vices" such as satta (betting), gambling, and horseracing (Das Sharma 1993: 136). When the Indian Cinematograph Committee was conducting its exhaustive study of filmmaking and film-viewing in India in 1927, it sent a questionnaire to Gandhi asking him his views about the state of cinema in India. Gandhi returned the questionnaire to the committee with a letter stating that he had no views about the "sinful technology." His letter, dated November 12, 1927, states, "Even if I was so minded, I should be unfit to answer your questionnaire, as I have never been to a cinema. But even to an outsider the evil it has done and is doing is patent. The good, if it has done at all, remains to be proved" (in Kaul 1998: 44). Other examples of Gandhi's disinterest in—and distaste for—cinema included his refusal to send a congratulatory message for the official souvenir being published on the occasion of the twenty- fifth anniversary of Indian cinema, in 1938. His secretary's reply to the request states, "As a rule Gandhi gives messages only on rare occasions, and this is only for a cause whose virtue is ever undoubtful. As for the cinema industry, he has the least interest in it, and one may not expect a word of appreciation from him" (in Kaul 1998: 44). Gandhi emphatically expressed his negativity toward cinema, along with his recognition of its growing popularity, in his paper Harijan, in an issue dated May 3, 1942: "If I began to organize picketing in respect of them (the evil of cinema) I should lose my caste, my mahatmaship" (in Kaul 1998: 45).

Gandhi's persistent aversion to cinema did not go unnoticed by Bombay filmmakers. K. Ahmad Abbas, a noted screenwriter, director, journalist, novelist, and short-story writer, who in the late 1930s was working as a publicist for a leading studio, Bombay Talkies, wrote an open letter to Gandhi, which was published in the English- language magazine Filmindia, dated October 1939. The tone of the letter is one of filial respect: Abbas addresses Gandhi as "My Dear Bapu" (My Dear Father), wishes him a happy birthday, and "craves his forgiveness" for disturbing him during such a turbulent time (war had just broken out in Europe). He represents himself as a child—a "son of India"—who is rushing to Gandhi, the father of the nation, seeking his approval of the cinema, which he characterizes as the "new toy," for his generation.

Abbas expresses his surprise and "pain" over Gandhi's remarks, reasoning that he would not have been so perturbed by such statements generally—for his own father felt similarly about films, thinking them an "imported vice from the West"—but Gandhi's position as a national and world leader imbued his opinion with much greater significance and consequence. Abbas fears that Gandhi's disapproval would reinforce others' hostility toward the medium, which would prevent cinema, "one of the world's most useful inventions," from achieving its full potential and leave it open to abuse by "unscrupulous people."

Abbas then wonders how it is that Gandhi developed such a poor opinion of the cinema and asks whether he has ever seen a film. He admits that many films are of questionable aesthetic, social, and moral value, and that many producers "exploit the baser passions of man to make money." Abbas also concedes that Gandhi and others of his generation would disapprove of the "playful romanticism" his generation "gloats over" in most films, and that he does not expect Gandhi to see or approve of romantic films. Abbas describes cinema as a neutral medium of expression, which could be "an instrument of much good in this world." He discusses other inventions, such as the radio and the airplane, which have revolutionized and benefited modern life, but should not be condemned because they have also been exploited by "unscrupulous persons," such as Hitler, for undesirable ends.

Abbas speculates that the root of Gandhi's distaste for cinema lay with the fact that most films dealt "exclusively with sex and love themes." In order to counter such an impression of cinema, Abbas elaborates the various pedagogical functions films have fulfilled in other countries. He discusses how documentaries and other types of nonfiction films have been utilized for the purposes of education, news, general knowledge, anti- crime, and political information. He assures Gandhi that the demand for these sorts of "extra-entertainment, non-commercial films" is increasing, and that a considerable portion of the program in cinemas is being devoted to such "useful" films. Abbas also states that, even among entertainment films, "the socially useful and morally uplifting element is steadily on the increase," and then lists twelve such examples, both Indian and American, which he guarantees that if Gandhi were to see, he would have "nothing but praise for them." Among the American films, Abbas lists Life of Louis Pasteur, Life of Emile Zola, and Boys' Town; the Indian examples include films about poet-saints such as Sant Tukaram and Sant Tulsidas. He points out that each of these films has been very popular with millions of cinemagoers all over the world. Abbas further informs Gandhi that some "patriots" are attempting to "produce a film record of your own inspiring life."

In his closing, Abbas expresses his feeling that the nationalist movement led by Gandhi has "indirectly caused much purification and regeneration" in Indian filmmaking. He attributes Gandhi's leadership as having created an environment conducive for improvements in cinema, resulting in better and "more socially useful films." Abbas presents a narrative of improving standards in cinema connected to the increased interest in the medium by "honest and socially conscious people," and states that a decade earlier, good films were not produced because "educated and 'respectable' folk" viewed films as "evil and loathsome." He asserts that such prejudices are breaking down and argues, "The 'cleansing' of the Indian films will be in direct proportion to the number of honest and responsible people who are able to take the place of ignorant profiteers, who dominated the industry for so many years. We want more decent people to take interest in this industry, so that it becomes an instrument of social good rather than a tamasha [spectacle]" (in Bandyopadhyay 1993: 145). Abbas's argument, that cinematic quality is connected to the class position of its producers, is a view still articulated by contemporary filmmakers, a point I elaborate in chapter three. He warns Gandhi that the future of good filmmaking in India is actually in his hands, pleading with him to change his opinion about cinema: "But these people may be discouraged and kept away if you and other great men like you continue to count the cinema among such vices as gambling and drinking. You are a great soul, Bapu. In your heart there is no room for prejudice. Give this little toy of ours, the cinema, which is not so useless as it looks, a little of your attention and bless it with a smile of toleration" (in Bandyopadhyay 1993: 145).


Excerpted from Producing BOLLYWOOD by Tejaswini Ganti Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Tejaswini Ganti is Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University. She is the author of Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema.

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