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Wanted Cultured Ladies Only!

Wanted Cultured Ladies Only!: Female Stardom and Cinema in India, 1930s-1950s

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 272
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    Wanted Cultured Ladies Only!
    Book Description:

    Wanted Cultured Ladies Only! maps out the early culture of cinema stardom in India from its emergence in the silent era to the decade after Indian independence in the mid-twentieth century. Neepa Majumdar combines readings of specific films and stars with an analysis of the historical and cultural configurations that gave rise to distinctly Indian notions of celebrity._x000B__x000B_In tracking Hollywood's influence on India's conventions of stardom, Majumdar argues that discussions of early cinematic stardom in India must be placed in the context of the general legitimizing discourse of colonial "improvement" that marked other civic and cultural spheres as well, and that "vernacular modernist" anxieties over the New Woman had limited resonance here. Rather, it was through emphatically nationalist discourses that Indian cinema found its model for modern female identities._x000B__x000B_Beginning with a history of the idea of stardom in India, Majumdar considers questions of spectatorship, gossip, and popularity as they pertain to two popular stars, Sulochana and Fearless Nadia, who occupied the highbrow and lowbrow ends of the spectrum of stardom in the 1930s and evoked very different fan responses. With the breakdown of the studio system in the mid-1940s, new configurations of stardom arose from the establishment of a star-based production system. To examine this "stardom racket," Majumdar analyzes the impact of star monopoly on textual and performance conventions through the half-century-long vocal dominance of playback singer Lata Mangeshkar as well as the 1950s actress Nargis.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09178-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-14)

    Cinema arrived in India on 7 July 1896, just six months after the first public screening by the Lumière brothers in Paris. By the 1930s, alongside the material technology of filmmaking, such as raw film stock, cameras, projectors, lighting equipment, and, most recently, sound systems, Indian cinema had imported the less material but no less powerful cultural apparatus of the Hollywoodmodeof filmmaking, which was then, in varying accents, grafted onto existing Indian forms of entertainment. A stock-taking account of the history of Indian cinema written for the 1933 annual issue ofRangbhoomi, a Hindi weekly film magazine which...


    • 1. The Split Discourse of Indian Stardom
      (pp. 17-49)

      In the 1932 annual Puja issue of the English-language film weekly,Filmland, director Charu Roy complains that in nearly fifteen to twenty years of filmmaking in Bengal, “there was never a film whose market value was mainly due to its feature player.” This, he says, is unlike Hollywood, where “generally we find that the public cares more for the featuring star than for the producing company.” He unfavorably compares Bengali cinema’s inability to profit from its stars not only to Hollywood but also, more immediately, to Bombay cinema. Even though he says that “most of us [in Bengal] have [a]...

    • 2. The Morality and Machinery of Stardom
      (pp. 50-70)

      The film “star” in India was constituted out of the competing demands of a Western model of celebrity derived from Hollywood, which defined identity in terms of interiorized private lives, and an Indian model of public identity, with its deep-rooted avoidance of a written discourse of gossip. In the 1930s, a decade of intensified struggle for Indian independence, the divided Indian star discourse was shaped by a wider nationalist project, even though cinema’s direct engagement with the actual events of the day was minimal. The earliest Indian filmmakers, such as D. G. Phalke and Baburao Painter, who were producing mainly...

    • 3. Real and Imagined Stars
      (pp. 71-92)

      In writings about the bad reputation of cinema, there was usually a slippage between the loose morals of individual actresses (never named, but referred to in generalized insinuations) and of the cinema as an institution (in the form of lewd producers and directors). Several types of texts that appeared in the pages of mainstream journalism give a sense of the contradictions marking this type of discourse. All these texts concerned the work environment to which actresses in the cinema were exposed. Although they may have taken opposing stands on the question of whether the cinema was an appropriate work place...

    • 4. Spectatorial Desires and the Hierarchies of Stardom
      (pp. 93-122)

      In the preceding chapters I argued that the dominant cinematic and extra-cinematic discourse on female stardom in 1930s film worked from an implicit structure of oppositions. On one side, there was low-class status aligned with public performance, and implications of sexuality and immorality, while on the other side there was upper-class status linked to a type of modern female identity that combined education, social responsibility, and female propriety. Such a model of normative femininity could propose only a certain type of acceptable female star, emerging from the educated upper classes, and playing roles matching the social norm of domestic virtue...


    • 5. Monopoly, Frontality, and Doubling in Postwar Bombay Cinema
      (pp. 125-149)

      In the 1930s cinematic stardom in India had been figured primarily as an absence, a recurrent complaint being the perceived lack of “genuine” stars, who were understood in the context of a general discourse of improvement of Indian cinema. Stardom in India was negatively conceptualized, both technologically and morally, against standards derived from Hollywood and from Indian nationalist concerns. From the rhetoric of absence, discussions about stardom from the mid-1940s began to shift to its polar opposite, a rhetoric of excess. Now there were too many stars crowding the film firmament, and anyone, it seemed, could become a star overnight....

    • 6. Nargis and the Double Space of Female Desire in Anhonee
      (pp. 150-172)

      Nargis was a major star for roughly a decade from 1948 to 1958, when she retired at the peak of her career at the age of twenty-nine.¹ But the public narrative of Nargis did not end with her retirement. The post-1958 Nargis star persona was one of the earliest to exemplify the paradoxical relationship between star persona and film text that is in place even today in commercial Hindi cinema. While the star persona is established, confirmed, and authenticated by specific screen roles, once that persona has been fixed in the public mind, it becomes freed of the need to...

      (pp. 173-202)

      Thus far I have considered the implications of the public circulation of the female body in star discourses in India cinema. The demands of a cinematic form that privileges song sequences produced the imperative to technologically separate singing voices and acting bodies. In this chapter I turn to the implications of the circulation of the female voice for star discourses in India. I examine the operations of stardom within song sequences and the dynamics of aural, as opposed to visual, stardom. Focusing on the voice of Lata Mangeshkar as a monumental and singular site of stardom and displaced interiority, I...