Bollywood cinema in Rushdie's Fiction

Jennifer Takhar

Indians have cinema under their skin, and India's cinema stars enjoy enormous celebrity, which can be known to escalate into mighty political power. So how can we find evidence of popular or masala cinema in Rushdie's fiction?

One finds everything there, comedy, tragedy, dance, etc. all aspects of human life in the same filmI try to do (the same thing) in my writing" says Rushdie. The highly unlikely is always possible in Indian film, miracles take place right before us, sensational deus ex machinas are run-of-the-mill, Indian films transport us to a universe parallel to reality but a little more attractive and gaudily coloured, where scenarios eschew logic. This filmy 'monstrous' diversity is incorporated in Midnight's Children and The Moor's Last Sighwhere "melodramaupon melodrama; (is produced, and) life acqui(res) the colouring of a Bombay talkie (Midnight's Children, 148).

"'Nobody from Bombay should be without a basic film vocabulary'" (33) declares Saleem Sinai and this film vocabulary is widespread in the novel. In Midnight's Children Saleem explains his diegetic movements with a cinematographic lexicon: "we cut to a long shot (33)hands enter the framecutting from the two-shot of lovers to this extreme close-u (217).coming out slowly into long shot a cruel censor's cut." (217) and at the end of the chapter entitled "Alpha and Omega" the various narrative threads end with a " (Fade-out)" (237). The famous "turkey-jerk" figures prominently here when the two lovers Amina Sinai and the communist Qadim Khan, meet at the Pioneer café : "faces tumbling softly towards faces, but jerking away all of a sudden." (217). This "turkey-jerk away" refers to strict Indian film censorship which forbids kissing on the mouth (note that today "tongue-twisting" is permitted in movies) : "screen kisses brutalized by prudish scissors which chopped out the moments of actual contact" Rushdie explains in Imaginary Homelands that these 'non-kisses' were his "first memories of (cinematic) censorshibefore comprehension dawned, I wondered if that were all there was to kissing, the languorous approach and then the sudden turkey-jerk away" (49).

Saleem spies on his mother and her lover when they are 'playing out' their bollywood love scene behind the window/on the screen of the Pioneer caf&ecute;. Saleem observes them as if he were watching a bollywood film : "what I'm watching here is.an Indian movie..two strangers, each bearing a screen-nameact out their half-unwanted roles. I left the movie before the endwishing I hadn't gone to see it" (217). Syal in New Quest neatly encapsulates Rushdie's very own masala fiction enterprise when he states that the author "has dextrously coupled the fantastic with the factual.he refers to Hindi films quite frequently and much in Midnight's Children is in the 'style' of Hindi film-with exaggerations, improbabilities, bizarre situations and all the paraphernalia of a box office bonanza" . 11/12/1985.

In The Satanic Verses it seems that Gibreel Farishta is the author's mouthpiece concerning his film tastes : His top ten favourite films are deshi/home-made and aggressively popular : "Mother India, Mr. India, Shree Charsawbees (Mister Four Hundred and Twenty)" but the rugged neorealistic Bengali cinema also appeals strongly to him as is witnessed by explicit reference to "Ray, Mrinal Sen(and) Gathak" (475). In The Moor's Last Sigh especially these film references are developed upon. Mother India and Mr.India are brilliantly deployed in connection to the mother-son, father-son theme running conspicuously in the novel as a sort of jocular caveat : "the all-conquering movie Mother India (one of the) mega-grossing Bollywood flicks" (137) Even the heroine of the film, Nargis shows up in The Moor's Last Sigh with her husband Sunil who played the part of her reckless son in the film. (She married him after the release of the film) With The Moor's Last Sigh Rushdie has finally expressed the intensity of his emotional attachment to Nargis and by extension his attachment to India, by lingering on particular film scenes with her in the lead role : "O Nargis with your shovel over your shoulder and your straight black hair tumbling forward over your brow!" (137) It is pertinent to make clear that in this tellurian scene Nargis is knee-deep in rich brown earth, with her two surviving sons, pulling a plough through the soil and imploring a fast departing village community not to abandon their land. This is Rushdie's special focus on Nargis as mother-earth elucidating the migrant's lament at having abandoned a homeland. By dint of its occupation with the struggle of humans against the natural forces of the earth Mother India is the quintessential South Asian "film of the earth."

Whilst Nargis sips her "nimbu pani" (lemonade) at one of Aurora's lavish parties, her husband defends the film against the polemics raised by the hostess, who with her comments, is suggesting that the film deals with the theme of incest. (a reference to the off-screen relationship between Nargis and Sunil) : "'What sexy lives you movie people leadofy: to marry your own son, I swear, wowie.'" (137) The film Mr. India is mentioned and a synopsis of the storyline is provided by Moraes, who thinks about his own father and his estrangement from the rest of the family : "The hero (of the film) was a slick young loverboy trying to convince us of his super-heroic powers : no paternal connotations there.just a made-in-India runty-bodied imitation Bond." (167) Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, the two greatest Bengali film makers, also appear under the pseudonym of "Sukumar Sen" , a name which unifies their names and their style. Moraes expounds upon their "realist" genre, (173) our narrator even cares to signal the attack directed against Sukumar Sen/Satyajit Ray by the fifties Bollywood queen Nargis : we learn that his films "were attacked by Nargis for their Westernised ğlitism" (173).

The film title Shree 420, more importantly the number 420, which prevails in the two novels is "associated with fraud, deception and trickery." (196) In The Moor's Last Sigh, Abraham's adopted son is nicknamed "Shri Adam Zogoiby" (359) by Moraes, he is of course the same Adam, Parvati's son, from Midnight's Children. In this context, the allusion refers to the honorific title Shri (Mister in Hindi) that is largely attributed to the wealthy who are venerated even if their money is earned through dishonest ways. Moraes lists all the crimes committed by Adam, the man who causes the debacle of Abraham's empire.

In The Moor's Last Sigh Dhirendra is a cameo role actor in Bollywood (339). The Goanese bisexual artist Vasco Miranda is also a film maker and he has produced a surrealist piece (Kutta Kashmir Ka ('A Kashmiri'-rather than Andalusian- 'Dog')" (148), which is a cloaked reference to the infamous film Kissa Kursi Ka (A Tale Of A Chair-- 'the seat of power') by MP, Amrit Nahata, which was destroyed at the time of Emergency for its flagrant disparagement of Sanjay and Indira Gandhi.


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