Author Interviews

Once Upon a Time in Bollywood


Once Upon a Time in Bollywood presents an extravaganza of essays on globalization and contemporary Hindi cinema. The wide ranging analytic strategies in the collection—including ethnographic self-reflection, literary comparison, economic contextualization, and biographic study – bear witness to Hindi cinema’s aesthetically elaborate and politically entangled treatment of postcolonial concerns. Together, these essays invite fresh, critically informed engagements with many of the key issues and creative tensions that continue to shape the world’s most prolific film industry. For connoisseurs and critics of Hindi cinema alike, Once Upon a Time in Bollywood presents stirring insights into popular culture.

Read an extract below:

Bollywood’s well-crafted, lyrically lush responses to globalization are capable of staggering flair, in part because Bollywood has long been a site where Indians have negotiated their “global” affiliations. Based in Bombay (now Mumbai), a coastal city with colonial-era roots, Bollywood emerged out of a remarkable, albeit often uneasy, fusion of cultural movements, traditions, and innovations. Critically-minded connoisseurs of Bollywood have recognized, in Bollywood’s hybrid origins, the resonance of epic Indian modes of storytelling, right alongside the influence of Parsi theater (which itself drew generously from European sources), as well as the prominence of Muslim and Anglo-Indian actors. Engaging this kaleidoscopic range of steadily intensifying influences always risks pushing the envelope of sensory and imaginary overload, which is why watching Bollywood films, with their grand, spiraling, rollercoaster-like narratives, so often make you feel like you are spinning in some hypervivid dream. This robust, almost oversaturated hybridity allows Bollywood to demystify and remystify issues of political economy relying on dialogue, music, choreography, and characterization capable of being, at once, stirringly subtle and jarringly garish.

Once Upon a Time in Bollywood explores Bollywood’s stories of globalization, as well as stories of Bollywood’s globalization. Bollywood films of this era have often glamourized India’s global swing, but Bollywood has hardly been a predictable propaganda machine pimping economic liberalization. The deep ironies that punctuate globalized Bollywood need to be reckoned with because they speak to fundamental questions surrounding globalization. Does globalization constitute an invitation to be one of the big boys in the Anglosphere, or has “globalizing” India become a troubling euphemism for “civilizing” India? Supporters of globalization, often citing the steady and impressive expansion of India’s Gross National Product, argue that these reforms help generate wealth, which holds the promise of India’s graduation into the First World. Critics wonder if this comes at the too-high human cost of grossly exacerbating existing economic, political, and social inequalities—in effect, riding India to the First World on the backs of the most vulnerable. What invigorates globalized Bollywood, as Once Upon a Time in Bollywood showcases, are its volatile mixtures of conflicting predilections. The promise of market-driven prosperity confronts the presence of gross economic disparity. The desire for culture so expansive it blends and borrows easily confronts the fear of a culture so essential it cannot be eroded. And all this happens within borders imagined to be so porous they cannot contain Indianness, yet so policed they demand dangerously narrow definitions of authentic “insiders.”

The collection is edited by Gubir Jolly, Zenia Wadhwani and Deborah Barretto.
Gurbir Jolly is currently pursuing a PhD in Humanities at York University.
Zenia Wadhwani works in the non-profit sector during the day and spends her evenings and weekends loving and promoting South Asian arts and culture.
Deborah Barretto works for a women’s organization in Toronto. She re-discovered the fun in Bollywood films with her ten-year-old son. To find out more please visit

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