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Bombay Cinema's Encounter with the 1960s

Final Report Summary - 1960S BOMBAY CINEMA (Bombay Cinema's Encounter with the 1960s)

This research project on Bombay cinema in the 1960s explores the global transnational currents that influenced cinematic practices in India. We have tried to map the relationship between the arrival of colour as a technological, aesthetic and cultural moment and the explosion of infrastructures such as aviation, the automobile, the railways, highways and various architectural developments of the 1960s. These encounters have been further placed within the landscape of international tourism of the 1960s which impacted on the choice of locations, forms of mobility, the designing of interiors, the role of music and the cultural politics of stardom. Through a combination of archival, ethnographic, theoretical and philosophical approaches, the project has tried to foreground and map what we refer to as “a geography of colour” - an assemblage of technology, tourism, global turbulence and infrastructural expansion.

The move to colour in India was a slow and painful process and it was only in the second half of the1960s that the industry made its full transition. In 1960s India cinematic colour was new, wild and uncontrollable – it was simultaneously associated with fantasy, spectacle, deceit and obfuscation on the one hand and overwhelmingly ‘real’ and authentic’ on the other. The journey from one technology to the other was viewed with both excitement and great suspicion generating a complicated discourse amongst filmmakers, technicians and the popular press. All these issues have been collated through extensive archival research and interviews.

Our research has shown that between 1951 and 1961 colour is rare, difficult to mount and a luxury that only a few filmmakers could indulge in. Until 1975 there was no colour stock production in the country. The film industry in India had to rely on imports of colour stock which proved to be extremely difficult in the midst of an acute foreign exchange crisis faced by the country. All negative and positive film stock was imported from U.K’s Kodak manufacturing facility at Hounslow till the mid 1970s. Throughout the 1960s discussion of issues relating to the import of raw stock, complications with licenses and quotas kept appearing in newspapers and magazines.

This was not just a matter of the availability of film stock – issues related to processing centres, equipment for shooting and climate conditions were frequently raised as difficulties that technicians and film professionals had to deal with. Some engineers had to play a major role in altering the machines to adapt them to temperatures in India. Thus information about labs, processing techniques, shortage of raw stock, and colour correction procedures percolated via the press. This obsessive focus on the material base of celluloid led to constant discussion on issues related to make up, light sources, the colour of costumes, art direction, cinematography and other specific techniques. In 1964 a special award for the best colour cinematographer was instituted in memory of Ambalal Patel, a pioneer in the trade of photographic and film equipment.

A major highlight of the research has been the discovery of direct links between cinematographers shooting in India and in the U.K. V.K Murthy, a well known cinematographer from India, worked on the sets of Guns of Naverone in 1960 to train himself in Eastman colour shooting strategies; Radhu Karmakar, another major cinematographer, worked with British cameraman and director, Jack Cardiff to train himself in the art of Technicolor shooting. These links made us realise that a substantial part of the research should follow the work of particular cinematographers in Bombay who made the transition from black and white to colour. This has proven to be a significantly new direction the research has taken. Several of the Indian technicians mentioned reading the American Cinematographer during the 1960s to figure out certain techniques of shooting on colour stock. The revelations about the cinematographers have strengthened our original assumptions about transnational cultural traffic in the 1960s.

In tackling these issues we adopted a comparative engagement with Hollywood as a methodological device. The transition to colour in Hollywood was a gradual process, while in India, despite the existence of a limited number of colour experiments, the transition is literally compressed within the decade of the 1960s. During this period we have shown how the presence of Muslim socials, adventure stories, period and fantasy films co-existed alongside a parallel and much larger thread of films with tourism, travel and consumption at the centre. Through extensive research of the cinematic output we have highlighted a world of repetitive images such as the yellow car moving up the mountain, the train winding through the hills, the colorful landscape of European cities, and the world of contemporary interior spaces dotted with several kinds of colorful objects.

While the analysis and interpretation of cinematic images frames one part of the research, we have also been able to highlight the concrete expansion of tourism in 1960s India and its fairly direct relationship to the cinematic output of the decade. Tourism saw an accelerated expansion in the 1960s leading to the establishment of the Indian Tourism Development Corporation or ITDC in 1966. ITDC operated under the Ministry of Tourism and set up offices in different parts of the country, emerging very quickly as the driving force in the promotion and expansion of tourism. One of the most persistent campaigns mounted by the Ministry of Tourism carried the byline “To know India, see India”. The production of space in these advertizing campaigns drew a new map of iconic India with its heritage sites, its temples, monuments, sculptures and landscapes. The imagination of this space was fuelled by the reinvention of the railways in the 1960s as it shifted gear to aggressively enter the sphere of tourism.

Our research establishes the concrete links between tourism, the expansion of the rail network, the arrival of colour and the cinematic imagination of sites such as Kashmir, Darjeeling, and other well known tourist destinations. The train thus became a significant presence in the films of this decade, emerging as the site where romance combined with the exploration of scenic and heritage sites. The expansion of railway passenger traffic in the 1960s gave rise to the typical “summer vacation” captured in several advertisements of that period. In 1965 almost 45 crore people (450 million) were on the move. It was during this decade that the drive to use posters and billboards at the railway stations of the country to publicize films was termed “railway publicity” by the film industry. They believed that railway publicity allowed them to target a mobile and expanding middle class audience. The train was literally in the image and outside of it as an imaginative force, propelling the transformation of cinema.

The appearance of a disconnect between widespread economic crisis in the country and the cinema of this emergent decade has often led to the latter being identified as excessive, consumerist and escapist, a form that was desperately trying to break free from the Nehruvian moment of developmental consciousness that had marked the period immediately after India’s Independence from colonial rule. But this is obviously a surface reading. The worldwide context of the 1960s unleashed many currents – of which a questioning of prevailing values of family, sexuality and pleasure remained an important one. Sensation and hedonism were viewed by some as a political stance. Whatever one may imagine that time to be now, its transformative potential and lasting impact cannot be underestimated. In this research we have revisited 1960s India to analyse the ensemble of sensations filtered through the technology of colour and new forms of infrastructure. As an encounter, travel and the erotics of tourism held out all kinds of possibilities of sexual desire, especially for young women and men. The hill station, the global city, the highway, the nightclub played on screen as a backdrop or as a site to be conquered and occupied. This was in every sense a new space of India, a new erotically charged map that seemed to have tapped into and made visible some of the powerful forces that emerged in the 1960s across the world.

Greater knowledge about this transformative period in Indian cinema history, together with a new understanding of the transnational flows of labour, technology and image regimes in the 1960s, will be useful not only within the context of the international academic community, where scholarly research on Indian cinema is still comparatively underdeveloped, but also within the wider society. This project's original contribution to knowledge will provide both the European cultural industry and European policy-makers with new historical information with which to reflect on and compare the current moment of globalization. Our research – and the networks we fed into while in London - will also enhance the understanding of and respect for Indian cinema history in Europe, thereby benefitting community relations and the social inclusion and integration of South Asian diasporic communities in Europe.