Cinetopia: Leftist Street Theatre and the Musical Production of the City in 1950s Bombay Cinema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

387 Downloads (Pure)


The city of Bombay emerged as an emblematic space of India's postcolonial modernity in Hindi cinema during the 1950s, India's first decade of independence. This article focuses on the mise-en-scène of musical sequences—from popular Hindi films such as C.I.D. (dir. Raj Khosla, 1956), Awara (The Vagabond, dir. Raj Kapoor, 1951), Shree 420 (The Gentleman Cheat, dir. Raj Kapoor, 1955), Aar paar (This Way or That, dir. Guru Dutt, 1954), and Pocket maar (Pickpocket, dir. H. S. Rawail, 1956), as well as less commercially successful films such as Phir subah hogi (Dawn Will Come Again, dir. Ramesh Saigal, 1958)—that featured Bombay in a prominent role and delivered it to the Indian public as an iconic space oscillating between exuberance and disenchantment. The author analyzes how these musical sequences use performance, music, and set design to reimagine the metropolis as a site of social critique and utopian fantasy. The urban landscape created through these musical performances and the often highly stylized studio sets is not meant to be read as an authentic representation of real-life locales. Instead, the set as artifice insistently draws attention to its constructed nature and, in fact, relies, for its legibility and evocative power, on this “unreality effect.” The author's aim is to show how this unreal city emerges, in part, out of popular cinema's encounter with the Indian left cultural movement and leftist street theater of the 1940s, and how it functions as a “cinetopia,” a heterogeneous space of utopian longings and dystopian disenchantment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-124
Number of pages24
Journalpositions: asia critique
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017

Cite this