23 July 2013

SOUTH INDIA THROUGH A GLASS, SPARKLY


When Permanent Black signed on this book, the agreement was that it would include around 40-50 illustrations. In print, the book will have more than 200. How come?

The reason is that the author is very persuasive. And he is very persuasive because he is both incredibly knowledgeable about his area of specialization, Telugu cinema, as well as enthusiastic about it to the point of being nuts. Facing a book which came in with four times the number of illustrations agreed to in the contract, it was surprisingly easy all the same for Permanent Black to say 'to hell with the agreement' because there is something quite special about this author's involvement in his subject. He has dug out an incredible array of songbook covers, film posters, and newspaper adverts from the most obscure and unknown private sources, and they are of immense value to his history.

The other thing about this book is that you don't need to be a Film Studies wallah to follow it. Srinivas has boned up on Film Studies theory and chucks in some impressive nuggets from it now and then, but he is careful to take it easy with the technicalities and jargon. He wants to reach you and me first, and Ravi Vasudevan, Madhava Prasad, and Ashish Rajadhyaksha later. (That he has also satisfied them is clear if you read to the end of this blog entry.) 

Centrally, this book is a social and political history of the Andhra region written by a madly involved cinema buff. And it is brilliant, in part because it so unusual. It shows us large sections of political and cultural life in urban and hinterland South India through the camera lens. No one ever saw Hyderabad, Teluguland, the Telengana region, Rayalseema, etc. etc. the way Srinivas sees it. His perspective is genuinely fresh, his enthusiasm for the world he investigates so infectious that you'll feel caught by the throat once you start reading it.

 Here is what the jacket blurb says:

This book provides a picture of the Telugu cinema, as both industry and cultural form, over fifty formative years. It argues that films are directly related both to the prominence of an elite which dominates Andhra Pradesh and other parts of India, and to the emergence of a new idiom of mass politics.

Looking in particular at the career of Andhra Pradesh’s best-known film star Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR), S.V. Srinivas reveals how the Telugu cinema redefined ideas of linguistic identity and community feeling within a non-literate public in South India. Dissecting NTR’s remarkable election campaign of 1982–3, he shows processes of political transformation and electoral mobilization via film, newspapers, and audio cassettes. He uncovers the complicated ways in which Indian politics can be linked with movie-going and, more broadly, cultural consumption. Cinematic and political performance are shown to be inextricably connected in ways disctinctively Indian.

NTR and the Telugu cinema, Srinivas argues, have shaped important aspects of Indian political and cultural modernity. Their legacies continue into the present time—when film has yielded pride of place to television, when the future of Andhra Pradesh’s statehood is unclear, and when Indian star-politicians no longer feel certain of success in the quest for power. 

S.V. SRINIVAS is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, and co-ordinator of the Culture: Industries and Diversity in Asia (CIDASIA) research programme there. He was educated at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and the University of Hyderabad. He has taught at Arunachal University (now Rajiv Gandhi University), Doimukh, and held visiting positions at the National University of Singapore and Hokkaido University. He was ICCR Visiting Professor of Indian Culture and Society at Georgetown University for 2012–13. His publications include the book Megastar (2009) as well as many essays on popular culture as an industry.

WHAT THE BIGWIGS OF CINEMA STUDIES SAY
“This book provides a historical and theoretically informed perspective on how Telugu cinema was implicated in, and contributed to, the rise of a new ruling caste-class constellation, the emergence of the star-politician, and a new idiom of mass politics in the Andhra region ... It skilfully weaves strands of economic, political, and social history with film history and textual analysis."Manishita Dass

“S.V. Srinivas’s Politics as Performance is an ambitious historical account of the agrarian background, caste profile, and political functions of the Telugu film industry, including a sustained narrative of the rise of N.T. Rama Rao. An exemplary text of film industrial history and political analysis, Politics as Performance makes a powerful argument for the importance of cinema studies in expanding and reconfiguring social science and historical research.”Ravi Vasudevan

“S.V. Srinivas’s long awaited book on Telugu cinema, seen from the vantage point of movie star-politician N.T. Rama Rao’s career, radically repositions the very concept of a star, and indeed that of the cinema, within modern politics. His site of inquiry, Andhra Pradesh, reveals an extraordinarily complex twentieth-century social and economic landscape, and the further manifestation of that landscape in one of India's largest film industries opens up new definitions of film narrative, the film industry, and the overall film economy. This approach to the cinema provides a completely new frontier for the discipline of film studies.”—Ashish Rajadhyaksha

“Unusually for these times, this is a work of film history that does not ignore the larger socio-economic realities of which any culture industry is a part. Indeed it seeks to demonstrate how the channels of mutual determination between socio-economic, political, and cultural instances work in practice. The Telugu film industry, one of the biggest in India, will now be assured of its place in Indian film history with Srinivas’s comprehensive, interdisciplinary study.” M. Madhava Prasad



Hardback / 454pp / Rs 950 / ISBN 81-7824-372-5 / 200+  rare archival pictures / world rights / SEPTEMBER 2013 / Published in 'The Indian Century' series, in association with The New India Foundation


also from permanent black

Ravi Vasudevan
The Melodramatic Public
Film Form and Spectatorship in Indian Cinema

Ranjani Mazumdar
Bombay Cinema
An Archive of a City

Mukul Kesavan
The Ugliness of the Indian Male and Other Propositions

Kathryn Hansen
Stages of Life
Indian Theatre Autobiographies

Jyotika Virdi
The Cinematic ImagiNation
Indian Popular Films as Social History

Monika Mehta
Censhorship and Sexuality in Bombay Cinema




15 July 2013

KATHRYN HANSEN RETIRES

Admirers of Kathryn Hansen's 
Kathryn in Austin, Texas
many contributions towards understanding North Indian culture, literature, and theatre will want to read this interview. It provides an excellent synoptic view of a scholar who has devoted a large part of her life to a deeply empathetic engagement with things Indian. Not many know that she played the sitar and became, when she first came to India, a friend of Nikhil Banerjee.

Permanent Black was privileged to be approached by her to publish STAGES OF LIFE: INDIAN THEATRE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES (2011), one of the most accessible, readable, and enthralling books on our list. In this she both contextualizes four important autobiographies by four theatre personalities from the days of the Parsi theatre, and translates all four from Hindustani/Gujarati into excellent contemporary English.

Books by heavyweight scholars can seem intimidating; this isn't one of those. Kathryn Hansen entices you into the Bombay and Calcutta and Lahore and Karachi worlds before Bollywood with anecdote, poster reproductions, and critical analysis in prose that's never difficult. You don't have to be interested in theatre and cinema to enjoy this one, it's a book for everyone. Here are two small bits from it:

FROM KATHRYN HANSEN'S INTRODUCTION TO THE ACTOR JAYSHANKAR SUNDARI
"In the early twentieth century, leading Parsi and Gujarati companies still hired men to perform women’s roles.  All the autobiographies mention this practice as routine, just as they refer to the employment of women as actresses, which had begun in some companies, as problematic.  None of the other autobiographies, however, describes how it felt for a man to play a woman’s role.  Sundari’s autobiography is extraordinary in documenting his experience as a female impersonator.   No other “lady actor,” as such performers were sometimes called, has left such an insightful account of the process of transformation from man to woman.  Sundari was a female impersonator of the highest order.  Through his method of total identification with women, he created idealized feminine characters that were widely imitated.  Sundari’s stage movements, attire, and speech became models for women offstage.  He was second only to the great Bal Gandharva in bringing about changes that led, paradoxically, to greater freedom for women."

AN EPISODE FROM JAYSHANKAR SUNDARI'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY
"[...] There was one other incident between 1908 and 1909, when we were rehearsing Chandrabhaga.  One evening, as I was coming down the stairs in the Gaiety, Mr Clement the ticket master said to me, “A woman wants to meet you.  She’s sitting outside in her carriage.” 
I went to the door of the orchestra section and saw a beautiful young Parsi lady.  I approached her carriage and asked, “Did you wish to see me?” 
She smiled modestly and said, “Do you have a copy of the drama Lalita Dukhdarshak? I saw the play last week and enjoyed it very much.”
“Some books are on sale in the auditorium,” I said.  “Maybe the ticket master has it.  I’ll ask him to arrange a copy for you.”
The ticket master came up and said the book was sold out.  He recommended that she go to a certain bookseller.
“Mister Jayshankar,” the Parsi lady retorted.  “How can I go there, being a woman?  Can’t you order the book through the ticket master?  I’ll come and get it next time.”           
I did just that.  But she couldn’t come the next day, and several days later a letter arrived from Matheran in elegant handwriting.   It read, “My dear Jayshankar, I cannot forget you.  You have inhabited my heart.  You are such a gentleman—this I realized from our first meeting.  And seeing the Theosophy ring on your finger made me very happy.  I want to open my heart and tell you so many things.”
It was obvious from the handwriting that the letter was from a woman, but the mode of address struck me as odd.  There was no signature, and I wondered who the woman might be.  Suddenly I remembered the Parsi lady from a few days earlier.  Still, I couldn’t be sure it was she.
All my incoming letters were first read by my bosses before being handed over:  it was how they kept me under surveillance.  They were always alert lest another theatre company lured me away.  So they were abreast of everything in my life, and this had two consequences.  First, I bridled at these restrictions and was angry, and second I had to constantly bottle up my desires.  But like it or not, my life was the target of their moral rescue, and I was powerless to oppose it."

GIRISH KARNAD AND STUART BLACKBURN SAY ...

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“These four autobiographies of artists and writers who shaped early Indian theatre during its most creative period are as riveting as the fare that the theatre itself provided. Kathryn Hansen’s lifelong and perceptive involvement with that rumbustious enterprise infuses every word of her translation of these texts.”Girish Karnad

“Kathryn Hansen has given us a special kind of book—one with many voices, on many layers, which cohere in a single, satisfying picture.  Autobiographical accounts of early pioneers of the Parsi theatre are enriched by the author’s considerable knowledge of this theatre, its performance styles and people and languages. This well-produced book includes original thinking about a number of topics, including autobiographical writing in India, its history in India and first-person narratives as a form of cultural memory.  The narratives themselves, which lie at the heart of the book, are lovingly translated, combining humour, flare and intimacy.  They read as they were written and bring us inside this world where stages of life were sung and danced and spoken under the lights.”— Stuart Blackburn


So, a book for everyone. And a career for her fans to admire and congratulate Kathryn Hansen for. We hope she will write many more books as brilliant as her last, and publish them all with us.