In 1935, the writer Baburao Patel wrote the following about Bombay’s film industry:
In India, with financing conditions still precarious, the professional film distributor thrives… He comes with a fortune made in share and cotton gambling, advances money to the producer at a killing rate of interest plus a big slice of royalty and recovers his investment by blackmailing the exhibitors into giving heavy and uneconomic minimum guarantees. His only aim in life is to multiply his rupee and in prosecuting this aim he does not worry about the future of the industry or about the existence of the producer or exhibitor.
One of the most recognizable garments in Japanese fashion, kimonos were closet staples for people of all classes, ages, and genders. Literally translated as “a thing worn”, it is a term broadly used to describe a T-shaped costume with sleeves partially detached under the arm that can be wrapped around the body and secured with a belt. Over time, the simple yet iconic design in many ways became a canvas for imagery that communicated information about the wearer’s identity.
At 10:20pm on 15 August 1969, Ravi Shankar—then, and still, the most famous practitioner of the sitar and Indian classical music—takes the stage at Woodstock. It’s arguably the zenith of Indian music’s popularity in the West, with musicians like the Beatles, the Byrds and Led Zeppelin embracing elements of Indian music. But this was merely the middle-point of Shankar’s artistic development, nor was it a personal highlight in a long and storied career. For many musicians in several different genres, both in and outside of India, Shankar is the most important messenger for the ideas and concepts of Indian music.
The “diva” is a common trope when we talk about culture. We normally think of the diva as a Western construction: the opera singer, the Broadway actress, the movie star. A woman of outstanding talent, whose personality and ability are both larger-than-life.
In 1480, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who had conquered Constantinople fewer than three decades earlier, sat for a portrait by the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini. Bellini had been sent to Istanbul to fulfill a request for a “un bon depentor que sapia retrazer”—“a good painter who knows how to paint portraits”. The Sultan apparently wanted his portrait done.
The Hindi film industry also known as Bollywood, or B-grade Hollywood, has an interesting history intertwined with economy, much of which remains unknown. The early years of the talkies as they unfolded in Bombay inform Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City, a recent book by Debashree Mukherjee. The author’s first-hand experience in Mumbai as a freelance assistant director makes her well-placed to write about the past of the film and the city.
Although conceived well before the advent of the pandemic, Priya Basil’s Be My Guest: Reflections on food, community, and the meaning of generosity, ends up particularly appropriate to this time of reflection, winter holidays, and the much hoped-for re-emergence from the current cloud under which we live. For anyone who enjoyed the travelogues of Anthony Bourdain, Be My Guest is a deeper and weightier exposition of the themes he explored—starting with food and extending to the movements of governments, and the meaning of self and other—and Basil similarly shares the joys of both writing and eating.