Looking for the Bombay Film Actress in an Absent Archive (1930s–1940s)
This chapter examines the status and work of women in the early Bombay film industry (1930s–1940s), using the historiographic productivity of actresses embroiled in scandals as an entry point. It reconstructs scandal narratives in a jigsaw fashion using a variety of sources, including film magazines, biographies, creative nonfiction writing, fan letters, and interviews conducted in Bombay from 2008 to 2013. The chapter considers how the film historian might use “illegitimate” sources of history to approach lived histories of Indian cinema's work culture. It approaches scandal as a discursive form that proliferates textually and orally rather than as a temporally contained mediatized event. Taking two Bombay actresses of the 1930s and 1940s, Devika Rani and Naseem Banu, as case studies, and moving outward from the initial scandal narratives, the chapter re-imagines the possibilities and pressures that stars like them encountered in the film studio as well as in the public eye. It argues that the early film actress should be seen as a manifestation of, and model for, the urban working woman in 1930s and 1940s Bombay.
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