From Biblio, July August 1999, p. 15.
Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema
(New revised edition)
By Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willeman
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999, First edition published in 1994, 658 pp., Rs 1,495
For almost four decades, I have wanted to know about Shin Shinaki Boobla Boo, a film most readers of this review would never have heard of. There is a very personal reason for this desire. Long years ago, I was old by my brother that my pet name was derived from this film whose title apparently intrigued my father. He never saw the movie, but was sufficiently struck by its unconventional title to name me (for domestic purposes) after it. And, in reciprocation, I called him Boo, instead of Baba. Sadly, he has missed reading this piece by nine months, but I stand informed about the film behind my pet name. Wish he could too.
Shin Shinaki Boobla Boo, probably released in 1952 (a question mark follows the date in the entry in this volume; Dad, I recall, told me it was 1954, on the eve of my birth), was the story of lovers Shin Shinaki (Rehana, playing ballet dancer) and Boobla Boo (Ranjan, playing bandit). Don't ask me who Rehana and Ranjan were; I'd never heard of them. But, the story was by Ramanand Sagar who needs no introduction, as the cliche goes. "Sunday ke Sunday" C. Ramchandra, the much-neglected musical genius, composed the music; P.L. Santoshi not only produced and directed but also wrote the dialogues and lyrics and Sadhona Bose, the fusion danseuse, performed in a lead role.
All that is, perhaps, trivia. What isn't is that Shin Shinaki Boobla Boo was the "unlikely first victim of the Central Government's power to overrule the Censor Board, an action enabled by the Indian Cinematograph Act passed that year," the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema informs us. The film, initially given a U (Universal Viewing) certificate, was subsequently banned on account of its "low moral tone" and also because it "throws the glamour of romance and heroism over criminal characters, treats sacred subjects irreverently and is, in consequence, opposed to the interests of public decency and morality". The ban was later revoked, but the controversy predictably spelt doom for the film's commercial prospects. My pet name has quite a history!
The Encyclopaedia is not merely about trivia. Nor is it a mere reference guide for forgetful foray-ists into filmi writing. The exhaustive volume has a remarkably holistic approach to cinema as the most powerful medium of popular culture, the most potent building block of contemporary Indian nationalism.
What distinguishes this encyclopaedia from standard commercial ventures into this lucrative arena is the political philosophy t hat the authors Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willeman attempt to impose upon it. Without beating about the bush, the authors of this authoritative compilation reveal their politico-academic predilection. Through the deconstruction of India's cinematographic evolution, they have set about to unravel the complexities of the Indian "nation" and the character of the state. Consequently, politics is deftly woven into the introductory narratives.
Entries, too, have a startling political undertone. Why else should here be an engrossing item on "Naxalite" in an encyclopaedia of Indian cinema? Admittedly, however, his unlikely entry is the briefest yet most succinct account of the Maoist-inspired, ultra-left, extra-parliamentarian movement, dubbed 'infantile disorder" by establishmentarian Marxists who freely quoted Lenin to suit their purpose in debunking this challenge. The introductory accounts in the volume, not surprisingly, therefore, have repeated references to Marxist historiography on India, from D.D. Kosambi to the Subaltern school. A cynic would have been tempted to sarcastically remark, "Begani Shaadi mein, Abdulla Deewana" (from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai). But the compilation is so masterly that such ideological forays must be overlooked.
The only problem is that future scholars of India's popular culture at places like UCLA, Columbia, Oxbridge, Witswatersrand and, perhaps, even JNU, might just be naive enough to interpret Indian cinema within the matrix determined by the compilers of the volume. They might actually start linking the political preamble given to every year since 1896 in the initial pages, to cinematic developments of that year.
It's interesting, for instance, to suggest that the lilting "Cheen-o-Arab hamara, Hindustan hamara, Rene ko ghar nehi hai, Saara jahaan hamara" penned by Sahir Ludhianvi for Phir Subah Hogi was aimed at mocking Jawaharlal Nehru's self-important assertions of friendship with Zhou Enlai and Gamal Abdel Nasser, his cohorts in the now defunct Non-Aligned Movement. But can we please leave a good song atone? There is too much of the ideological baggage of the '60s in the volume and I wish the authors had not burdened us with their political philosophy But then, this is the volume's commercial USP. To that extent, can one fault the Rajadhyaksha-Willeman duo?
While this 658-page magnum opus is not intended for cover-to-cover reading, film buffs will find some delightful factoids strewn across its superbly designed and exciting pages. Looking up the entry on Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma, my favourite music directors, I stumbled upon a gem: Pyarelal learnt music from a Goan, Anthony Gonsalves, which prompted the duo to compose the '70s hit number "My name is Anthony Gonslaves," deftly scripted by their steady lyricist, Anand Bakshi.
There are, however, some significant omissions in the compilation. For instance, I was distressed not to find an entry on Tannia, although there is a passing mention of her in the entry on Shobhana Samarth. Talking about Tanuja, another surprising omission is Sandow MMA Chinnappa Devar, celebrated boss of Dandayuthapari Films, makers of a series of highly successful animal-oriented films in the '70s. Devar's first commercial megabit, Haathi Mera Saathi, starred Tanuja opposite the then reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna and marked her comeback to the Hindi screen. Considering her virtuoso performances in semi-commercial Basu Bhattachharya ventures like Anubhav and Aavishkar, surely the impish daughter of Shobhana, sister of Nutan and mother of Kajol merited a decent entry.
But then, the task that the authors set for themselves was, in Ashish Rajadhyaksha's introductory words, "gigantomanic". Had they confined themselves to Hindi alone, the project would still have been stupendous. But they have expanded its scope to cover every regional language in which significant films have been made over the last 100 years. "Himalayan" would be an understatement for the courage and commitment such an adventure must have entailed.
Given the mind-blowing size of the canvas on which Rajadhyaksha and Willeman have attempted to paint the myriad tales of the world's entertainment industry, relatively minor instances of oversight deserve to be overlooked. As they themselves hope, this volume should serve as the beacon for other students of the craft to compile even more complete encyclopaediae. Perhaps, some day, we shall have an exhaustive compilation of the entire history of Indian cinema. It will probably require several CD-ROMs to fit in all the data, but the effort will be worth the endeavour. After all, Indian cinema does not belong to India alone. It is part of humankind's modern heritage.
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