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Cinema as Contraband: Bombay’s Cine-Crime Nexus, 1977-1991

Mukherjee, Silpa (2023) Cinema as Contraband: Bombay’s Cine-Crime Nexus, 1977-1991. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the cine-crime nexus of Bombay (1977-1991), formed by money invested in cinema and its ancillary high-risk businesses such as hotels and horseracing by a Dubai based mafia network. The border between the visible legal state and the shadowy underworld was composed of cash and human bodies, two components that easily escaped accounting in the early days of computers. This permeable border was breached by pirate-turned-producers who moved freely between the underworld and the bureaucracy. Challenging the epistemological boundaries of what counts as evidence, I draw on a combination of amorphous sources like ethnographic interviews and film magazine gossip, and the presumed veracity of newspaper, police, commerce, legal, and municipal archives. I argue that cinema conceptualized as contraband complicates the relation that the state shares with media industries—shifting from one of indifference or interference to collusion, all the while using the ostensible frivolity of entertainment to control public access to information on the state’s failures. “Cinema as Contraband” frames cinema as a sensational force shaped by a constant policing/violation of borders between what is within and outside of legality and visibility. It examines film financing; spatial contact points between cinema and crime; the films produced; and star scandals.
Existing scholarship theorizes the media networks of cities of the Global South as “ecologies,” where the role of capital and speculative investments is often murky by design. I point out that the ecology of the Bombay-Dubai corridor not only entails a shadow-finance but a whole shadow-ecology underpinning that operation. I offer a fresh reading of the pirate as less an outcast of society and more a global citizen of an unrecognized shadow economy. Bombay cinema’s links with the Middle East, as I show, gesture toward a shadow globalization. The dissertation underscores how South-South networks based on non-legitimate activities challenge, exceed, and traverse the forces of global capital. By doing so, “Cinema as Contraband” makes space for illicit and border-traversing points of contact in cultural and legal historiographies, with media capital functioning as a connective tissue.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Mukherjee, Silpasim44@pitt.edusim44
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMajumdar,
Committee MemberAnderson, Mark Lynnandersml@pitt.eduandersml0000-0001-5263-808X
Committee MemberLowenstein,
Committee MemberHalle,
Committee MemberMazumdar,
Date: 6 September 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 6 July 2023
Approval Date: 6 September 2023
Submission Date: 2 August 2023
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 317
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Film Studies
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bombay cinema, contraband corridor, media capital, sensory, Global South, infrastructure, legal, border, South-South, ecology, archive, crime, piracy, industry, network
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2023 19:01
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2023 19:01


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