Notes on a Scandal: Writing Women’s Film History Against an Absent Archive

Mukherjee, Debashree

Very early into the life of cinema in India it became apparent that this new phenomenon would generate talk. In its affective manifestations, cinema was able to circulate more freely and widely than the physical film object. Fan magazines and tabloids were regularly swamped by letters demanding biographical information about stars. The studios that were associated with these glamorous names became sites of intense speculation and wonder. The film studio was exciting both as an emblem of technological modernity and as a thrilling heterosocial work space. This combined excitement can be glimpsed in a description of the new Ranjit Studio: “Ah, the new studio—the new Ranjit studio! It is big and beautiful with such perfect acoustics that even if the director tried a tete-a-tete in whispers with the heroine it would all come out on the sound track as distinct as the song of a lark.” (Judas, 1938, p. 14).

In this article I cast a critical look at the figure of the female film professional, approaching her as a manifestation of, and model for, the urban public woman in 1930s and 1940s Bombay. I will look at the film studio as a space that mythologized some women, sidelined others and made all women socially suspect. The Bombay film studio is rarely studied as a site of work. I suggest that it is precisely as a site of work that the studio impacted modern imaginings of the city and the urban self. These urban enclaves with their impressive buildings, their dedicated workforce, and their promise of erotic sociality, represented an alternative possibility for the working self. They were quite unlike the mills in Tardeo or the office buildings in Fort and swiftly became a locus of much speculative desire. I approach the film studio through the idea of scandal, a constructive mode for approaching hidden histories of women and their work (Image 1).

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BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies

More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
SAGE Publications
Published Here
February 3, 2016