Debashree Mukherjee

Feb 25, 2021

Bombay Hustle

Making Movies in a Colonial City

Columbia University Press 2020

In 1935, the writer Baburao Patel writes the following about Bombay’s film industry:

“In India, with financing conditions still precarious, the professional film distributor thrives. . . . He comes with a fortune made in share and cotton gambling, advances money to the producer at a killing rate of interest plus a big slice of royalty and recovers his investment by blackmailing the exhibitors into giving heavy and uneconomic minimum guarantees. His only aim in life is to multiply his rupee and in prosecuting this aim he does not worry about the future of the industry or about the existence of the producer or exhibitor.”

It’s a hectic time for India’s film industry, as it is for films everywhere, as the silent era becomes the talking era. Debashree Mukherjee’s Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City (Columbia University Press, 2020) examines this key period of India’s film industry, from finance and casting to screenwriting and production, and brings into view the experiences of the marginalised film workers and forgotten film studios that made up this early period of industry.

In this interview, Debashree and I talk about the transition from silent to talking movies in Bombay, along with the historical context and working conditions for those in the city’s historical film industry.

Those interested in learning more about the film industry in 1930s Bombay can visit the Wildcat of Bombay Instagram account at @wildcatofbombay (recommended by Debashree!)

Debashree Mukherjee is Assistant Professor of film and media in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Debashree edits the peer-reviewed journal BioScope and has published in journals such as Film History and Feminist Media Histories. In a previous life Debashree worked in Mumbai’s film and TV industries as an assistant director, writer, and cameraperson. More information can be found on Debashree’s website, and she can be followed on Twitter at @Debashree2017.

You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of Bombay Hustle. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.

Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.

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