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Transcript of Shree 420
The honesty problem
The lies Raj tells:
he is married to Vidya
He saved Vidya from drowning
He has worked in a laundry before
He really does own these clothes
He is mining gold in Tibet
Rich vs. Poor
Is there a difference between lying to the rich and lying to the poor?
1947: 80,000 telephones in India (population 350 million)
Virgins and Vamps
Wearing the same sari
The ambiguity of the ending
India's desperation: the selling off of the family jewels
Capitalism and Socialism
Immediately after Gandhi's death, there is a fight inside the Congress Party between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for control over Gandhi's legacy:
Patel represents capitalism
Nehru represents a mixed economy
real socialism (land to the tillers, workers' ownership of production) was not really in the cards
Recognition all around that poverty is deep and cannot be resolved easily -- so who should be prioritized?
At the time, India's economy is 80% rural, 20% urban; the state prioritization of industrial production over consumer goods meant that real living standards actually declined in the 1950s, even though there were substantial amounts of economic growth.
“In late 1954 [Jawaharlal] Nehru proposed to the Chief Ministers of all the states meeting in the National Development Council that social and economic policy should be informed by a ‘socialistic picture of society,’ in which ‘the means of production should be socially owned and controlled for the benefit of society as a whole,’ but in which there was ‘plenty of room for private enterprise provided the main aim is kept clear.’ This position was endorsed by the Lok Sabha in December 1954 and by the Congress party in its session at Avadi in January 1955, which passed a resolution committing itself to the view that the purpose of planning was the ‘establishment of a socialistic pattern of society where the principle means of production are under social ownership and control.’” (Tomlinson 175)
“A man who has made his money through a scam is more respected than a man who has made his money through hard work, because the ethic of Bombay is quick upward mobility and a scam is a short cut. A scam shows good business sense and a quick mind. Anyone can work hard and make money. What’s to admire about that? But a well-executed scam? Now, there’s a thing of beauty.” (Mehta 28)
“This desire for the city was created largely by Bombay cinema. Nearly everyone I knew in Patna loved Hindi films. Young women wore clothes and styled their hair according to their favorite heroines. The neighborhood toughs copied the flashy clothes of film villains, even memorizing and mouthing their dialogues, such as a line attributed to the actor Ajit instructing his sidekick: ‘Robert usko Hamlet wala poison de do; to be se not to be ho jayega’ (Robert, give him Hamlet’s poison: from ‘to be’ he will become ‘not to be’). No one knew which film this was from, or indeed if it was from a film at all. Ajit’s villainous characters were so ridiculously overdrawn that he attracted a campy following that would often invent dialogues. Then there were Patna’s own Dev Anand brothers, all three of whom styled their hair with a puff, in the manner of their film-star idol. Emulating their hero, they wore their shirt collars raised rakishly and walked in the actor’s signature zigzag fashion—trouser legs flapping, upper body swaying, and arms swinging across the body. Like many others, I remember the comedian Johnny Walker crooning in Mohammed Rafi’s voice, ‘Yeh hai Bamabi mei jaan’ (It’s Bombay, Darling) to the tune of ‘Oh My Darling, Clementine,’ in CID (1956).”
Bollywood: A "national" cinema?
1) A cultural vacuum exists at the moment of independence -- there is no "India" yet
2) At independence, literacy in India is around 11% (currently closer to 70%)
3) Bollywood -- really an omnibus term -- "popular Hindi cinema"
4) the "formula" film that becomes dominant by the 1960s
5) two traditions: Parsi Theater and the Indian People's Theater Association (IPTA)
6) does Bollywood produce the "Bombay fable" of a city perpetually in crisis after the halcyon days of an imagined cosmopolitan past?
“This narrative is widely shared and deeply believed because it presents itself as historical fact. The nostalgic ‘tropical Camelot’ and the dystopic city of slums appear as compelling bookends of Mumbai’s story because they seem to have the force of historical truth. In fact, it is a trick of history, inviting us to believe its Bombay-to-Mumbai tale as an objective reading of the past when it is a fable. To accept it at its face value is to get ensnared in the fabulous spell that history casts. What requires examination is the history of this fable. What enable the composition of the city’s image as a ‘tropical Camelot’ in the past, and what has produced the picture of the dysfunctional, out-of-control city of the present?” (23)
The Bombay Fable
Trying to understand why between roughly 1960 and 1990 all of the movies are distressingly similar -- and what this says about the "ideology" of the Hindi film
Argues that because film was "undercapitalized" film production always had to be "serialized" (the watch metaphor) -- so you could work on separate parts of the film without anyone knowing what the whole would turn out to be
This was a result of the shift away from the studio (as a result of black money moving into the industry) and an unwillingness to take state money (again, because of black money)
This results in two parallel phenomenon: distributors become more powerful than producers; stars become more important than scripts
And the serial production means that each component is working from a separate tradition:
Urdu poetry (the lyrics were produced by famous poets early on)
So everyone, working in isolation, more or less needs the film to be the same -- good vs. evil, romance, love as tradition
Prasad: “to the extent that the component elements of the test arise in traditions that have a separate existence or in traditions that, arising in the context of the film itself (like the star system), acquire an independence that retroactively determines the form of the text.”
vs. Hollywood where the script takes precedence
Camera and corruption
Romance/Bildungsroman -- education plot
Comedy: as close as you can come to tragedy without the characters being in any real moral or mortal danger -- not catharsis but relief
both Bildungsroman and Comedy require a hero that is an outcast/down on his luck (vs. tragedy which classically requires nobility)
In both genres, you are guaranteed a happy ending--you always know that the protagonist is safe
(explanation for the diffusion of the melodrama at the end of the narrative
420 and 840