HT Picks; New Reads - Hindustan Times
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HT Picks; New Reads

ByHT Team
Mar 31, 2023 05:42 PM IST

On the reading list this week is a book on Hindi cinema in the 1980s, another on the life of the master of the nagasvaram and the genre of periya melam in south Indian classical music, and a history of censorship, hate speech, and majoritarianism in post-Partition South Asia

The many lives of 1980s Bombay cinema

The story of a disruptive decade in Hindi cinema, the life of the master of the nagasvaram, and a history of censorship, hate speech, and majoritarianism in post-Partition South Asia feature on this week’s pick of interesting reads. (HT Team)
The story of a disruptive decade in Hindi cinema, the life of the master of the nagasvaram, and a history of censorship, hate speech, and majoritarianism in post-Partition South Asia feature on this week’s pick of interesting reads. (HT Team)

392pp, ₹599; Speaking Tiger (The fascinating story of perhaps the most disruptive decade of Hindi cinema)
392pp, ₹599; Speaking Tiger (The fascinating story of perhaps the most disruptive decade of Hindi cinema)

The 1980s. In Hindi cinema, it was the decade of the dark and powerful police drama Ardh Satya. It was the decade of the kitschy excess of the action comedy Himmatwala. It was a decade of opposites.

It was a time when the best of New Wave 2.0 won acclaim and awards across the globe, and B-grade “sex films” drew crowds into rundown small-town theatres; when ridiculous lyrics set to “disco music” created massive chartbusters, and the poetry of Kabir, Tulsidas and Faiz also found space in film songs.

It was a time when Amitabh Bachchan’s injury had all of India praying for a miracle; when Peter Pan Jeetendra was spending more time shooting in Madras than in Bombay; when Rekha still ruled but Sridevi was rising to superstardom; when Naseer, Shabana, Om and Smita were the Fab Four of art house cinema; when the flamboyant dancing stars Mithun and Govinda brought a whole new aesthetic to Bollywood; when north and south met and mated like never before.

It was a time of furious change beyond the silver screen, too: video cassettes brought cinema to drawing rooms and bedrooms; television and one-day cricket emerged as fierce competition to films; piracy put movie theatres in crisis; film stars were elected to the Indian Parliament in surprising numbers.

In this thoroughly researched and entertaining book, Avijit Ghosh, author of the acclaimed best sellers Cinema Bhojpuri and 40 Retakes, narrates the fascinating story of perhaps the most eventful, disruptive and transformative decade of Hindi cinema.*

On the master of the nagasvaram

464pp, ₹599; Speaking Tiger (On the life of the master of nagasvaram, TN Rajarattinam Pillai and an ethnographic account of Periya Melam)
464pp, ₹599; Speaking Tiger (On the life of the master of nagasvaram, TN Rajarattinam Pillai and an ethnographic account of Periya Melam)

Terada Yoshitaka, professor emeritus at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan, began his journey with South Indian music with a rather simple query. Why had Periya Melam (the traditional musical genre featuring the nagasvaram and the tavil), which is considered to be extremely important in the religious and social life of South Indian Hindus, been neglected by both Indian and non-Indian scholars? As he began his field research, Terada realised that the history of Periya Melam is inextricably linked with the life of the master of nagasvaram, TN Rajarattinam Pillai (1989-1956).TN Rajarattinam Pillai: Charisma, Caste Rivalry and the Contested Past in South Indian Music focuses on the influential artist’s life and work, illuminating important aspects of caste-based relations in South Indian music. Backed by extensive field research and scholarship, this book is also a pioneering ethnographic account of Periya Melam, its practitioners and the significant changes in the genre that took place in the twentieth century.*

Secularism and belonging in South Asia

352pp, ₹699; Harvard University Press (An insightful history of censorship, hate speech, and majoritarianism in post-Partition South Asia)
352pp, ₹699; Harvard University Press (An insightful history of censorship, hate speech, and majoritarianism in post-Partition South Asia)

At the time of the India-Pakistan Partition in 1947, it was widely expected that India would be secular, home to members of different religious traditions and communities, whereas Pakistan would be a homeland for Muslims and an Islamic state. 75 years later, India could be on the precipice of declaring itself a Hindu state, and Pakistan has drawn ever narrower interpretations of what it means to be an Islamic republic. Bangladesh, the former eastern wing of Pakistan, has swung between professing secularism and Islam.Neeti Nair assesses landmark debates since Partition — debates over the constitutional status of religious minorities and the meanings of secularism and Islam that have evolved to meet the demands of populist electoral majorities. She crosses political and territorial boundaries to bring together cases of censorship in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, each involving claims of “hurt sentiments” on the part of individuals and religious communities. Such cases, while debated in the subcontinent’s courts and parliaments, are increasingly decided on its streets in acts of vigilantism.Hurt Sentiments offers historical context to illuminate how claims of hurt religious sentiments have been weaponized by majorities. Disputes over hate speech and censorship, Nair argues, have materially influenced questions of minority representation and belonging that Partition was supposed to have resolved. Meanwhile, growing legal recognition and political solicitation of religious sentiments have fuelled a secular resistance.*

*All copy from book flap.

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