In this episode of High Theory, Debashree Mukherjee talks about the pioneering film studio Bombay Talkies, founded in 1934 in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) by Himansu Rai and Devika Rani. Its cast and crew of diverse global origins and training, offer new ways of writing the history of labor in Indian Cinema. In the accompanying B-Side, she focuses on her new book Bombay Talkies: An Unseen History of Indian Cinema, which features rare behind-the-scenes photographs from the personal archive of cinematographer Josef Wirsching. Wirsching brought the influence of German Expressionism to Indian cinema, and was responsible for the cinematic stylings of groundbreaking films like Achhyut Kanya (1936), Mahal (1949), and Pakeezah (1972).
Debashree Mukherjee is Associate Professor of film and media in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University. Her first book, Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City (2020), approaches film history as an ecology of material practices and practitioners. Her second book project, Camera Obscura: Media at the Dawn of Planetary Extraction, develops a media history of oceanic migrations and plantation capitalism. Debashree edits the peer-reviewed journal BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies and in a previous life she worked in Mumbai’s film and TV industries as an assistant director, writer, and cameraperson.
Image: Sourced from Bombay Talkies: An Unseen History of Indian Cinema with permission.