For those of you who like cinema, and who like reading about cinema (which is probably why you’re reading this), a piece of news I wanted to share: the launch of a new book. The Popcorn Essayists: What Movies Do To Writers is an anthology of film writing—by writers who don’t professionally review or otherwise write about cinema. Compiled and edited by Jai Arjun Singh, the book contains essays by a wide range of authors, most of them very well-respected and well-known. Anjum Hasan, Manjula Padmanabhan, Namita Gokhale and Amitava Kumar are among those who’ve contributed to The Popcorn Essayists.
Now, the main reason why I’m so excited about The Popcorn Essayists: I contributed too. Jai, when giving me a mandate, didn’t mention any guidelines except word limit, so I stuck to something I really, truly enjoy: Hindi suspense thrillers from the 50s and 60s. From CID to Teesri Manzil, from the sizzling Helen (who, incidentally, also features on the book cover) to a bronze-bewigged Biswajeet in Kahin Din Kahin Raat: it’s all there.
I haven’t read the book yet (my copy is on its way and should be arriving someday soon), but Jai’s descriptions of the essays included are tantalising. I’m looking forward to widening my horizons and finding some good recommendations within these pages… plus, getting to read some good writing.
The book will be formally launched in Delhi later this month, but it’s already available on Flipkart. And while you’re waiting for it to arrive, here’s something to whet your appetite: a couple of paragraphs from my article, Villains and Vamps and All Things Camp:
“Vamps are the lifeblood of any Hindi suspense film. They give it oomph, add glamour to sordid crime, and shimmy to sexy little tunes that no Hindi film heroine—at least in the staid 50’s—would have featured in.
The original vamp (not in Hindi cinema, I hasten to add) was Theda Bara, and the appellation ‘vamp’ was derived from ‘vampire’: a woman, beautiful but predatory. Hindi cinema, even when it came to vamps, didn’t dare cross its self-imposed limit of what was good for viewers and what wasn’t. The west was welcome to Theda Bara, her daringly bared breasts and her infamous “Kiss me, my fool!” line. Our girls, even when bad, were not that bad.
The vamp, in essence, was the one who wore revealing dresses (even when not on the dance floor), smoke, drank, hung out with the villain and his henchmen, and was often used by the villain as a decoy or other pretty diversion that would keep the police occupied while the gang grabbed the loot, killed somebody, and/or made a getaway. More often than not, the vamp was at heart a not-too-bad girl, who, in the course of the film, fell in love with the hero and helped him—the latter often by simply coming in between him and a bullet meant for him. At any rate, the cardinal rule for any Hindi suspense film worth its salt seemed to be that the vamp had to die.”
Interested? Buy the book!