Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Colonial Geographies of Cinematic Traffic

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Kadamba, Lower Ground Floor

One fallout of the more utopian strain in transnational film studies might well be an eviscerated understanding of the relation between cultural traffic and twentieth-century colonialism. This paper investigates a history of Indian film exhibition in Fiji, a former British colony with records of Indian indentured labor since 1879. Based on slim traces in Indian trade journals and studio papers of the 1930s this paper focuses on intra-regional and inter-ethnic historical solidarities as well as tensions generated by colonial circuits of film trade.


Even as Indian talkie studios, anxious about the high costs of the talkie conversion, were trying to locate new film markets, pockets of overseas Indians saw the talkie as a vehicle for asserting cultural and linguistic identity in their new homelands. In 1932, The Indian Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd., Suva, wrote to an Indian film distribution concern highlighting the need for ‘Indian-acted’ and Hindustani-language films. The letter also displayed a concern for receiving ‘good prints,’ an anxiety that gestured towards the hierarchies of exhibition circuits wherein older, worn, and recycled prints were often sent to territories in the South. While ‘Bollywood studies’ has placed much emphasis on the meanings of Bombay cinema for middle-class diasporic audiences, there has been no systematic study of the material and political relations between cinema and indentured labor under British colonialism. This paper presents an unfamiliar map of Bombay cinema’s mixed constituencies and a shared desire for the radical promise of cinematic modernity.

Debashree Mukherjee

Columbia University, United States

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