What is history in the historical film?

RAVI VASUDEVAN

WHAT is History in the Historical Film? The question of how history finds expression in and through cinema is one of great interest, raising issues for historians of how one proceeds in terms of archival research and research techniques. In this essay my main focus is the popular industrial genre of the historical film. The genre’s particular codes and practices in its production of a historical imagination requires that we open up the range of questions we ask into an exploration of rhetorics, narrative forms and sensory attractions, and into the materiality of film’s historical imaginary.

Here an investment in folklore, mythology and legendary notions of historical romance constitute the substance of what is produced and used in the historical film. It is this mix which also indicates that the boundaries of genres are fuzzy, as storytelling forms seep into each other. With the revival of the genre in the last decade or so, the revisiting of so-called medieval history, the relationship between the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals, Rajputs and Marathas have become the recurrent focus of many films today.

I will take instances from the early studio period of the cinema, including films such as Sant Tukaram (Fattelal and Damle 1937), which were called devotional or saint films, but were based on historical figures and drew other historical figures into their world, if not with chronological verisimilitude. This will open up the issue of genre boundaries, and how their very fuzziness generates interesting potentialities.

The feminist historian Uma Chakravarti proposed that all films are historical. This is at one level true: all films become historical documents, and thus constitute an important archive about the contexts, cinematic and extra-cinematic, in which they were made. However, all films are not about history, and so do not strictly conform to the narrative and generic category of historical. Other precisions are required. In industrial parlance, ‘historicals’ are understood to be films about pre-modern history. Films relating to modern topics, from 19th century reform movements to nationalist subject matter were not called ‘historicals’. Neither was an art cinema oriented reflection on history, e.g. Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) or even period works relating to topical subjects such as his Charulata (1964).

Another important field is that of newsreel and documentary as vehicle of historical reflection, as for example compilation films made by Films Division on themes such as the freedom struggle. A quite different dimension of historical time emerges in the engagement with the recent past. Films like Dum Laga ke Haisha (Sharat Katariya 2015) for example give sensory weight to this recent history through the sphere of material cultural experience, for example, the presence of the audio cassette as a marker of what it meant to live about 25 years ago, and to listen to one’s favourite music. So, alongside the large-scale cinema with huge production capacities to build an ancient and medieval world, there are these other notions of a historiography within cinema, and a more comprehensive account needs to map this diverse range of practices.

A crucial question is how cinema engages and addresses spectators, audiences and publics, and the type of historical sensibility films cultivate. Cultivation is a concept singularly inadequate to understand publics which assemble at cinema halls to denounce films for how they depict a particular community, as in the case of the so-called Karni Sena and its attacks on the sets of Padmaavat (Sanjay Leela Bhansali 2018). Here, William Mazzarella has made the important formulation that cinema is a key institution in facilitating ‘an open edge of mass publicity’, offering contentious actors the opportunity to publicize themselves as aggrieved members of a community hurt by misrepresentation.1 This is not a recent phenomenon, and goes back to the period of early cinema, when communal sensitivity was regularly paraded in front of cinema theatres. The more common audience situation can be better understood through the lens of communities of readers and viewers, with historical themes circulating as nautanki texts and performances, in cheap chapbooks, Amar Chitra Katha comic books, and in film song books.

To explore the historical film genre, I want to draw upon a certain body of scholarship that seeks to problematize academic history and its claims to a superior status in relationship to popular forms of understanding. For example, Vivian Sobchack wrote perceptively on the subject some 30 years ago, generating formulations that are still very valid.2 Following Hayden White she argues that both academic scholarship and the Hollywood historical epic construct interpretive narratives that fore-ground past human events as coherent and significant. Both are temporally reflexive, they reflect on past time and, implicitly, the time in which they are situated. This may be done in different ways and using different techniques, but pose the same philosophical question: how to comprehend ourselves in time? So here Sobchack argues for an overlap rather than a difference between the popular and the professional. The difference lies in the aesthetic and sensory form of engagement.

Building a connection between a dramatized and romanticized historical past and our contemporary becomes the critical issue for historical scholarship. What are the connections, how are they forged? Between something which seems remote, grandiose and monumental in its design, and ourselves living ordinary, mundane lives? For example, scenes from the Delhi Sultanate or from the Maratha Peshwa Kingdom, are staged as intricate spectacle. And the speech registers, the rhythms of dialogue delivery are escalated in terms of pitch and scale. What is the register of continuity between such escalated forms and our everyday?

Sobchack urges us to consider how one recognizes oneself as a historical subject of a particular kind when addressed by cinematic techniques that assert the magnitude of our past. In her words:

 ‘The genre formally repeats the surge, splendour, and extravagance, the human labour and capital cost entailed by its narrative’s historical content in both its production process and its modes of representation. Through these means, the genre allegorically and carnally inscribes on the model spectator a sense and meaning of being in time and human events in a manner and at a magnitude exceeding any individual temporal construction or appropriation-and, most importantly, in a manner and at a magnitude that is intelligible as excess to lived-body subjects in a historically specific consumer culture.’

More important than accurate detail is a sense rather than a precise knowledge of a particular period, its courts, costumes, speech-forms, armed combat and weaponry. The key here is the bid to engage spectators through a general rather than particular sense of historical identity. If for scholars of Hollywood it was struggles of Jews and Christians in the Roman and Egyptian worlds that took centre stage, in the context of Bombay cinema, it has been the relationship between Rajput and Maratha to the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Imperium. The historical genre generates a mode of excess to frame these turbulent times, a mode that lifts the individual addressee out of him/herself to be immersed in the spectacle of figures carrying in themselves the claims of collective destiny. Sobchack outlines a key drive in the fashioning of this transcendent form, that of mass cultural consumption involving the commodification of the historical.  This is to repeat, in the making of the film, the infrastructural scale of the history it evokes, in the employment of labour and crowds, in the mounting of massive sets, in the flaunting of capital.

To generate an aesthetics of monumentality and astonishment involves not only sheer logistical displays – now most commonly available in ‘Behind the Scenes’ and ‘The Making Of…’ YouTube videos, but also a display of technological virtuosity, the evolving technologies of cinematography, special effects, and so on. Robert Burgoyne,  another scholar of the historical film recalls an observation of Roland Barthes, that as he watched certain widescreen movies, he felt he was sitting on ‘the balcony of History’.3 There were also pre-cinematic forms which anticipated cinema’s immersive capacity, like the panorama, a large scale 360-degree painting, lit with gas and fuel, and portraying dramatic historical subjects, for example, of ships battling at sea, masses of soldiers laying a fortress to siege. And we can think down to the sound and light shows as another instance of bids to immerse ourselves in the texture of historical time.

As Burgoyne notes, to re-enact is to create a re-experience. You were not there, and I’m now going to put you into this space of history through the technologies at my command. Cinematic technologies carry the past into the present and future, pulling audiences into their slipstream, and conjuring destinies without limit in their collective fashioning. Thus the genre contrives to conjure a sensory history for its audiences that binds them to the fate of peoples and emergent nation-states, and of populations which have not yet seen emancipation.

 

 

One of my concerns is to place professional history in the midst of other ways of ‘doing’ history, to generate a kind of meta-historiographical reflection that will enable conversations amongst different investments. I draw on Sant Tukaram and Pukar (Sohrab Modi 1939) to explore some of these issues. More contemporary films include Bajirao Mastani (Bhansali 2015) and Padmaavat. I take Sant Tukaram to explore the boundaries of the historical and non-historical, and those of genre. In popular forms these boundaries tend to be fluid, even as a certain regularity of meaning and value accrues around iconic historical figures.

Saint films referred to the Bhakti movement and were popular in the 1930s and early 1940s. They positioned the saints as historical figures who engaged with other historical figures in a fluid way that was not necessarily chronologically accurate. As many scholars have noted, these films captured the move into new kinds of languages of faith and devotion and speech and poetry that unsettled the hierarchies of control and authority exercised by Brahmin scholarship and Sanskrit learning.

Sant Tukaram, one of the best known of these films, can be placed in a cinematic ecology in which Shivaji was a prominent reference point. As Urvi Mukhopadhyay shows,4 from the period of silent cinema in the 1920s, Shivaji, other significant figures of Maratha history like Sambaji and Bajirao I, and famous events such as the attack on the Sinhagad fort, were recurrent in the cinema of Kolhapur and Pune, and remained durable attractions. The historical romance, Bajirao Mastani, relating to the period after Shivaji, also had earlier versions from 1925, made in Maharashtra and in Hyderabad by the well known director, D.N. Ganguly.

In Sant Tukaram, Shivaji does not conjure the traditional historical spectacle related to action and adventure and his encounter with the Mughals and other Muslim rulers. Against the grain, in a fictitious encounter with Tukaram, he expresses a quite different disposition. In the sequence I refer to Shivaji, inspired by the great sincerity and spirituality of Tukaram, wants to give up all material wealth, worldly authority and his position as king. Tuka admonishes Shivaji, saying he must not give up the duty assigned to him. In fact, everyone should fulfil the obligations and duties they were born into. And it is through the path of duty that each would find his or her way to the Lord. So each would have a path to the heavens but only, it would appear, by abiding by the duties and obligations their caste warranted, at first glance an extremely conservative formulation.

But when we look at the sequence, we come away with a different impression. I want to suggest that the film undertakes something like a cinematic thought experiment. To be pedantic, the meeting it depicts has no historical plausibility or verisimilitude. However, popular belief has it that Shivaji and Tuka met. By honing to that belief, the film does something unusual, it brings to a halt the iconicity of the heroic Maratha tradition, by giving Shivaji, and the audience, pause for thought. It is as the film, by unsettling chronological history and its evidentiary proofs, is also unsettling the conventional understanding we are offered of historical actors.

Bringing these two figures together generates a new, unstable chemistry. The cinema intervenes such that the organicity of caste form and destiny underwritten in Tuka’s speech is unsettled by a work of wondrous transformation. The heroic entity is brought to a standstill, goes into a trance and it seems he and the audience assembled around him are made vulnerable by his inaction. For enemy forces, drawing on the malevolent intelligence of a local Brahmin Salomolo who seeks to undermine Tuka and his popular following, take advantage of the situation and make a bid to attack Shivaji. But wherever they look, they find Shivaji, his aura distributed amongst the public at large. And this is done through cinematic techniques of stop-motion editing which substitute one figure for another, such that everyone becomes Shivaji, and everyone becomes king, an image of popular sovereignty.

It is through such techniques of chronological and perceptual unsettling, where what is said and what we see do not corroborate each other, that interesting resources to think about history come into view: for the potential it houses, the desires that are latent, as much as the verifiability of events. Here we are working on and working with history to create different effects through new technologies of representation.

My second example from the early period is a classic configuration which will be revisited with Jodha Akbar in 2008. It is the locus classicus of communal amity which undergirds the historical film in its idealistic form, a form which seeks out the durable sources of Hindu-Muslim coexistence and mutual respect. This is the Mughal-Rajput relationship, one defined by allegiance and loyalty, trust and friendship, but also alliances based on interests, and susceptible to suspicion, duplicity and fear. In Sohrab Modi’s 1939 film Pukar, the focus is on the Emperor Jehangir and his relationship to his Rajput ally, Sangram Singh. Modi made another important historical film, Sikander (1942) a couple of years later, about Alexander’s invasion of India and how reconciliation takes place between him and the Hindu king Porus. Pukar draws attention to a particular feature which Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Jodhaa Akbar (2008) also engages.

The Mughal-Rajput relationship always had to be continuously worked on. Any professional history will take us through the tortuous paths of alliances made and broken, the vicissitudes of misunderstanding and treachery, the renegotiation of territories and treaties which went into the relationship between the Rajputs, the Sultanate and Mughal Empire and many other Muslim kingdoms.

 

 

I will provide a brief summary. Jehangir has the reputation of dispensing an impartial and objective justice, one available to anyone who rings the bell of justice in the palace. The emperor responds by providing the petitioner with an audience. The film shows how a particular judgment by the emperor puts the relationship between Rajputs and Mughals to the test. A young man, Mangal Singh, in love with a woman is accosted by two men from her family and, in defending himself, kills them. The father pulls the bell of justice, and testifies against Mangal Singh with his dying breath. Despite Mangal having a defensible case, he flees, and when he is brought back to face Jehangir’s justice the emperor sees his flight as evidence of guilt and sentences him to death; he brooks no mediation or supplication.

Mangal’s father is Jehangir’s close courtier, Sangram Singh, played by Modi. Ironically it is Sangram, confident in the even-handedness of Jehangir’s judgment, who brings Mangal back, only to bear witness to the harshest of verdicts. Now, as in the way of moral fables, the emperor is himself confronted with the spectre of personal loss that he has subjected his Rajput ally to. The Empress Nurjahan, testing her archery, accidentally kills a dhobi, a washerman. Sangram happens to be passing through the area when this event takes place, and insists that the widowed wife Rani present herself in the court, ring the bell and secure the justice which is her due.

The untouchable widow would not have gone to the court by herself. It is as if she does so only because the Rajput commands her. This, I suggest, sets up a particular field of political force. Confronted with this situation, Jahangir comes to a remarkable judgment. He says that just as Rani lost her husband, so the Queen too must lose hers: Rani must kill him using the same weapons, the bow and arrow that killed her husband. Now, going back to the motif of the historical genre’s grandiosity, the aura of Jehangir is built up with great visual deliberation. This is observable in a series of royal entries into the court that punctuate the film, and in the climax, an escalating series of close ups, his face becoming bigger and bigger in the frame, as he commands Rani to release the arrows. His face swamps the frame, the audience at court, and, indeed, the audience at the cinema.

As the event unfolds, we also see the distraught Queen’s reactions, the scene and her presence made spectral by her placement behind a thin, fullscreen purdah. The public gathered at the court is socially mixed, it is not only populated by courtiers. So it is a mixed public which is present in this scene, and everyone is thrown into a state of shock and disbelief at the emperor’s announcement. Despite herself, Rani is about to accede to Jehangir’s orders, when Sangram intervenes. Sangram brings the woman into the court, arraigns her as moral pressure on the emperor, and then he stops her action. It is as if Sangram wields power in the scene – power over the untouchable woman, a larger social power – and it is this power which undergirds Mughal authority and thereby demonstrates the contingency and dependence of that authority on the Rajput.

Sangram’s utterances remain those of the loyal ally and subject, who even when he commands Rani to stop, does so because we your subjects, cannot lose you, our emperor. At this point, Rani withdraws and offers her forgiveness to the Queen. No, admonishes Sangram, she dare not forgive the Queen because that will place the Queen in her debt. She cannot forgive, she can only accept compensation, and we then see what is almost like a fantasy scene, as she and her son are bedecked with jewels to compensate the loss of her husband. A peculiar set of transactions have taken place, transactions which at once showcase the power of the Rajput while reiterating his loyalty. He comes across now as someone who uniquely commands the social realm, is able to channel its latent power in the figure of the untouchable woman, but can also pull that power back and neutralize it. Thus is disclosed a field of force, historical testimony to a dual track where Rajput loyalty and devotion reveals its other side in an authority which the emperor does not command.

The historical film does two things here. It tells a tale about history that is at once fantastical, the stuff of cautionary fables, and revelatory, where relationships are penetrated and laid bare. It does this by cinematic means, by working with the spatial parameters of the court, and its organization of authority, and subjecting the stability of these parameters to extreme pressure, as in the shock of reaction shots and the monumental image of imperial form brought to the brink of negation, relayed by the wonderful actor with kohl-lined eyes, Chandra Mohan. In the process, history acquires presence in the contemporary of that time, bringing into view layers of social, caste-based authority critical to the way not only the present but the future will be orchestrated. Here we can see the juncture between history as monument and the emerging edifice of the contemporary, the now, the historical produced from the present.

Along with the monumental comes the question of the antiquarian. This is very pertinent to the historical because, as a film genre it is invested in the look of the past, for example, the detail of warriors clothing, the helmets, swords and armour which costume departments assemble, the use of robes, gowns and jewellery in the courts, and also the question of set design. Gilles Deleuze,5 parsing Nietzsche, noted of 19th century histories that they involved a tripartite dynamic. This was between the monumental, encompassing the comparison and succession of civilizations, the antiquarian, investing in the look of the past, and the critical-ethical, which turned on emancipatory logics in historical narratives.

 

 

While we have observed that the monumental tends to avoid excessive detail, in apparent counterpoint to the antiquarian, the work of art direction and costume design has evolved in intricate ways to give more purchase to the ‘look’ of the world being constructed.6 The antiquarian moves in closer, into the texture of time, how it felt and looked and how people conducted themselves. The double-track of the monumental and the antiquarian is suggestive because, within the sweep and scale of built form and cinematic scale resides a focus on detail, even if such ‘detail’ may acquire a scaling upwards in its effects. Is this a distinct sphere of authentication? Where a film assembles its material from is relayed in the credits and in film publicity. This ranges from the contribution of elephants by the royal court of Jaipur to Light of Asia (Franz Osten 1925), augmenting the splendour of the court from which the prince would withdraw and renounce all worldly desire to become the Buddha.

Jewellery became a recurrent object of interest, with the same royal house loaning royal jewellery to the film producers. Here there is a peculiar gap between the impact of jewellery on screen and in print publicity, especially in the black and white tonalities of Light of Asia. The Jaipur princely state’s material presence in the making of the film may give us another line of thought, relating to the links between regal history and regalia on and off-screen, framing the films through a profilmic reinvestment of royal capital in the idea of India.7 As Kaushik Bhaumik has pointed out, the princely state had more than one articulation in the colonial period, and it could also manifest as a territory of more diverse ecologies, social forms and rebellious instincts.8

The princely form is one reference in an antiquarian discourse of the historical film; another lies in the contributions of the army, not only to films specifically related to India’s modern wars, but also in the acknowledgment of the Ministry of Defence in the shooting of battle scenes in Mughal e Azam (K. Asif 1960) as well.9 So antiquarianism becomes another interesting feature of the genre, seeking to authenticate representations of the past with an attention to the look of things, places and people.

In coming to the contemporary, let me return to the framework of the meta-historiographic where historiography opens itself up to a series of imaginative practices drawing upon different resources. One of the charges levelled by professional historians against historical film fictions is that they lack authenticity on a number of counts, from the accuracy in the detailing of the conflicts and outcomes, to the evocation of courts, architectural forms, clothing and etiquette, and so on. However, rather than dismiss the films and their worlding operations, we could take their production and exhibition – and, indeed, the brute aggression their production is met with on the charge of demeaning community – as occasion and opportunity for historical discussion.

In the case of Padmaavat, the retitling shifted the focus from the Queen Padmavati to the epic story on which is was based, the Padmavat by the 16th century Sufi poet, Jayasi. Here, to step back from the film and frame it as part of a longer tradition is instructive, and lifts it out of the limited, Hindu majoritarian politics within which critical discourses have contained it.

The film’s story is a simple one, depicting Allaudin Khilji as a brutal king intent on dominating, conquering and possessing the world, with the main focus on Chittoor, and the kingdom’s beautiful queen, Rani Padmavati. After deceiving and killing the brave King Ratansen, Allaudin is frustrated in his bid for Padmavati as she and other women take their life in a ritual fire, the jauhar to preserve their and their husband’s honour. Taking the occasion to turn back to Jayasai’s Padmaavat, the film’s avowed source text, let me briefly summarize key formulations in Ramya Srinivasan’s wonderful book on the subject.10

The Padmaavat was a Sufi creation, of the genre of love poetry and, in Srinivasan’s account, it emerges from a dialogue amongst narrative traditions, and from the patronage of the Mewar court. Jayasi’s expansive idiom was based in Avadhi, and thus occupied a position at a vernacular distance from the classical languages of Sanskrit and Persian, and yet it drew upon their conventions, for example, Sanskrit erotic discourse. Over time there were translations in Persian, Urdu and other languages, as well as circulation through oral performance, in the process drawing in larger audiences that traversed courts, urban elites and Sufi networks.

Certain general features of the text are particularly notable. Padmavat focuses on Ratansen, whom it associates with the drive to seek transcendental and spiritual fulfilment, and likens his condition to the lover in viraha, when he compares himself to Shakuntala, Damayanti and Kamakandala. The focus is on his quest, rather than on Allauddin’s triumph, though the text may also reflect growing anxieties
of regional kingdoms in the face of the centralizing impulses of the Sultanate.

Apart from the complex nature of the epic’s poetic form, storytelling features, linguistic range and its traversal of different publics, it is suggestive for its focus on the complex subjectivity of the Rajput, and reducing to a secondary status the figure of the triumphant antagonist. It brings a different frame with which to view or compare the Bhansali film. Second, Srinivasan’s account of the epic also gives particular weight to the role of court patronage on the work of the composers of these texts, who have to be alert to shifts in political alliances.

Both these dimensions offer us an approach about how to think the contemporary both as a regime of resources to fashion an adequate mise en scene for the large-scale historical film; but also to be aware of how political regimes set up institutions of patronage, regulation and control, exercising influence on the shaping of cinematic production and exhibition. Following Mazzarella, we have to think of these contemporary regimes of political control as involving spaces beyond the government, as in the recurrent use of street-based violence to intimidate and intervene in filmmaking and exhibition.

There is one element in which the film comes across as distinctive. The film critic Bharadwaj Rangan has looked carefully at Padmini’s role in the unfolding of the narrative, and argues that it is she who actually takes all the decisive actions in fending off Allauddin’s offensive.11 Apparently fulfilling his demand that only her presence in his court will free her captive husband, she agrees, but in a duplicitous way, so she manages to escape with her king. Thus the subjectivity and the initiative of the queen exercises presence in the film, right to the moment of the climax when, again, Allauddin is frustrated in his bid to see her and grasp her. Nevertheless, the climactic act of jauhar is of course terrifically disturbing. And the scope of Padmini’s action is limited to containing and frustrating the opponent, rather than reversing the situation.

One small observation for those with a cinephile memory, especially for colour in climactic moments. In Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, (1987) village women come out to confront an oppressive subedar played by Naseeruddin Shah, and throw a huge volume of red chili powder into the eyes of the villain. In Padmaavat, there is citation and inversion, with the women descending into the enveloping red vista of flames. Here, instead of subjecting the opponent to a collective attack, there is a dark counterpoint. The only triumph available to the collective of women is in denying Allauddin through the spectacle of their own death.

Bhansali himself is a known cinephile, and the incandescent image of a red death here suggests a knowing rhyming of the most debilitating sort; especially debilitating because it comes across as a triumph, made more disturbing because Padmavati goes into that fire with a beatific look. It was not uncommon for most stories of this sort to arrive at this conclusion. And it was commonplace for women to be given up by defeated rajas. While it thus echoes the dark ecology of the medieval period, that the film should relay this through the affirmative subjectivity of the lead female character appears especially problematic.

If this film ends on the quite terrifying scene of fire and death, I want to end this essay with the imagery of water and the defiant, almost hallucinogenic death of Bajirao, the hero of Bajirao Mastani. We must note that in both films there is a particular narrative dynamic, in which a villainous Brahman emerges as a key figure undermining the love of the hero and heroine. In the context of the Maratha Peshwas, of course, the figure is no minor conspiratorial entity. The Peshwa is governed by Brahmanic authority, with Bajirao’s mother, the Rajmata, the central figure of this power. And heroes are ranged against these figures, not only against the Muslim rulers of the Sultanate or the Mughal Empire. And Bajirao Mastani clearly follows a trajectory of secular affirmation.

Even though Bajirao goes into his battles with Har Har Mahadev on his lips, he insists that he is not fighting a Muslim opponent. He’s fighting only to aggrandize power against his opponents, Hindu or Muslim. But here, in counterpoint to the fiery end of Padmaavat, we have the image of water and a Bajirao separated from his beloved. Through the water rides a phantom army that Bajirao flails at; after, priests in the palace light ritual fires as Mastani is bound in manacles, and the fires seem to flare up in the waters that surround Bajirao; the skies open and lightning comes down on him, drenching the fires. If Padmaavat does not accept the genealogy of male viraha caught within the search for an ever elusive beloved, and elusive self, the utterances of Bajirao constitute a voice-over that bridges his scene and that of his captive beloved, asserting a desire and a belief in the possibility of a union no longer marred by the difference enforced on them in this life.

As Ramya Srinivasan cautions us, the scenario of Hindu fear of Muslim rulers must be considered alongside the fact Rajputs feared other Rajputs as much as they feared an engorging Sultanate. Further, the textual adaptations and circulations and oral performance facilitated a transmission of knowledge and cultural engagement, a complex repertoire of what authors and readers and listeners could draw upon, and, whether it was a Sanskrit erotic code or Sufi love poem, these forms could be combined. And that was the case with Jayasi. Even as our contemporary insists that we look at these matters in terms of fixed identities and fears, we may take some repose from the fact that cinema can still put impossible lovers together. And that, I suppose, is a historical tale which never palls in the telling.

Footnotes: 

1. William Mazzarella, Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity. Duke University Press, Durham, 2013.

2. Vivian Sobchack,  “Surge and Splendor”: A Phenomenology of the Hollywood Historical Epic’, Representations 29, Winter 1990, pp. 24-49.

3. Robert Burgoyne, The Hollywood Historical Film. Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

4. Urvi Mukhopadhyay, The ‘Medieval’ in Film: Representing a Contested Time on Indian Screen (1920s-1940s). Orient Blackswan, Delhi, 2013.

5. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: the Movement Image. University of Minnesota Press. 1983, p. 149.

6. Claire Wilkson Weber, Fashioning Bollywood: The Making and Meaning of Hindi Film Costumes. Bloomsbury, London, 2015.

7. Ravi Vasudevan, ‘Geographies of the Cinematic Public: Notes on Regional, Global and National Histories of Indian Cinema’, Journal of the Moving Image, 2010, pp. 94-117.

8. Kaushik Bhaumik, The Emergence of the Bombay Film Industry, c. 1896-1936. Oxford, Unpublished DPhil, 2001.

9. Ramana Wallia, ‘Techno-Nostalgia: Colourization of K. Asif’s Mughal E Azam, Bioscope 4(2), 2013, p. 142.

10. Ramya Srinivasan, The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen: Heroic Pasts in India, c. 1500-1900. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2007.

11. Bharadwaj Rangan, ‘Padmaavat’, https://baradwajrangan.wordpress.com/2018/01/25/padmaavat-lots-to-like-for-bhansali-fans-but-predictable-and-the-passions-are-disappointingly-muted/