Cinema at the End of Empire

A Politics of Transition in Britain and India

Cinema at the End of Empire

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 34 b&w photos Published: May 2006

Author: Priya Jaikumar

Asian Studies > South Asia, Media Studies > Film, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

How did the imperial logic underlying British and Indian film policy change with the British Empire’s loss of moral authority and political cohesion? Were British and Indian films of the 1930s and 1940s responsive to and responsible for such shifts? Cinema at the End of Empire illuminates this intertwined history of British and Indian cinema in the late colonial period. Challenging the rubric of national cinemas that dominates film studies, Priya Jaikumar contends that film aesthetics and film regulations were linked expressions of radical political transformations in a declining British empire and a nascent Indian nation. As she demonstrates, efforts to entice colonial film markets shaped Britain’s national film policies, and Indian responses to these initiatives altered the limits of colonial power in India. Imperially themed British films and Indian films envisioning a new civil society emerged during political negotiations that redefined the role of the state in relation to both film industries.

In addition to close readings of British and Indian films of the late colonial era, Jaikumar draws on a wealth of historical and archival material, including parliamentary proceedings, state-sponsored investigations into colonial filmmaking, trade journals, and intra- and intergovernmental memos regarding cinema. Her wide-ranging interpretations of British film policies, British initiatives in colonial film markets, and genres such as the Indian mythological film and the British empire melodrama reveal how popular film styles and controversial film regulations in these politically linked territories reconfigured imperial relations. With its innovative examination of the colonial film archive, this richly illustrated book presents a new way to track historical change through cinema.


Cinema at the End of Empire involves multiple modes of analysis, including comparisons between film and literature, such as counter-narratives of empire. Packed with details, it is supported by a strong and fluid thesis. While much has been written about post-independence Indian cinema, Jaikumar’s analysis assesses how cinema reshaped imperial relations during the late colonial period.” — Chandani Patel, Interventions

Cinema at the End of Empire, an interdisciplinary work straddling the fields of cultural, colonial and film studies, is an engaging and significant contribution to the aforementioned areas of scholarship.” — Nayantara Pothen, Asian Studies Review

“[A] welcome addition to the fields of film, postcolonial and global studies . . . . [T]his [is] a very important work for scholars and students interested in film, colonialism and globalization.” — Monika Mehta, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Extremely insightful and thought provoking . . . . The montage of tantalizing glimpses that Jaikumar offers into a complex and fascinating but underexplored domain of Indian cinema and the creative and significant connections that she makes (between, as well as within, national film cultures) will no doubt catalyze other important and much-needed work on the film cultures of colonial India and, more generally, in comparative film studies.” — Manashita Dass, Screen

“At a historical moment when the British empire was being questioned in public opinion on the home front, and was subject to nationalist agitation in India, Jaikumar shows how British film policy—beleaguered by Hollywood’s dominance—sought to recast empire as a space of proto-global trade rather than as territories conceived as fixed points of production. This should be of enormous interest to those who are interested in debates on globalization and its history, as well as film historians seeking a comparative history that is productively dispersed across multiple locations.” — Sudhir Mahadevan, New York Review of Ideas

“In Cinema at the End of Empire: A Politics of Transition in Britain and India Priya Jaikumar goes where no film scholar has gone before. . . . [Her] research is both fascinating and convincing.” — Gemma England, M/C Reviews

“Intelligently employing several pertinent approaches from cultural studies scholarship, this book extends the discussion of national cinema and makes a substantial contribution to understanding of both colonialism and cinema.” — M Baskett, Choice

“Jaikumar skillfully navigates treacherous theoretical waters to produce a book that is both historically rigorous and thoughtfully engaged in the study of form. . . . As the first book of a young scholar, Cinema at the End of Empire is impressive and promising. Jaikumar’s self-avowed ambition to “link form and history in a manner that actively resists universalization as well as notions of complete temporal rupture” (p.37) is not merely gestured toward but convincingly deployed.” — Bulbul P. Tiwari, Journal of Asian Studies

“Priya Jaikumar’s Cinema at the End of Empire is an ambitious and overdue contribution to the fields of film theory and history. . . . Jaikumar has quite aptly revealed the anxieties of an interwar British empire in crisis and an Indian colony stumbling towards post-independence modernity.” — Robert A. McLain, The Communication Review

“Priya Jaikumar’s book is a thoughtful and thorough analysis of the ways in which early twentieth-century cinema in Britain and India was marked and shaped by decolonization and imperialism.” — Rochona Majumdar, Visual Resources

“This is very useful reading for anyone interested in the history of British cinema or late colonial India.” — Adrian M. Athique, Media International Australia

"Deftly extrapolating from theories of film types . . . and genres . . . this interdisciplinary volume is a sophisticated addition to the growing Indian cinema studies corpus." — Jyotika Virdi, Indian Economic & Social History Review

Cinema at the End of Empire adds immeasurably to the fields of film, cultural, and colonial studies. Priya Jaikumar produces a whole new set of fascinating insights into the cultural expression of the demise of colonialism.” — Sarah Street, author of British National Cinema

Cinema at the End of Empire offers a sparkling account of the intertwined histories of British imperial and Indian colonial films. Challenging the frame of national cinema, it situates the cinematic representations of both empire and the nation in the conjuncture of late colonialism, and shows how films dealt with the pressures, anxieties, and challenges of decolonization. At once attentive to films and history, this is a truly remarkable book.” — Gyan Prakash, author of Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Priya Jaikumar is Assistant Professor in the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xii

Introduction 1

1. Film Policy and Film Aesthetics as Cultural Archives 13

Part One. Imperial Governmentality

2. Acts of Transition: The British Cinematographic Films Acts of 1927 and 1938 41

3. Empire and Embarassment: Colonial Forms of Knowledge about Cinema 65

Part Two. Imperial Redemption

4. Realism and Empire 107

5. Romance and Empire 135

6. Modernism and Empire 165

Part Three. Colonial Autonomy

7. Historical Romances and Modernist Myths in Indian Cinema 195

Notes 239

Bibliography 289

Index of Films 309

General Index 313
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3793-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3780-5
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