Defined in the Indian context mainly as a ‘musical dramatic’ narrative in accordance with its original generic meaning. From c.1912, when the Indian cinema first attempted cinematic fiction as an indigenous economic enterprise, it relied on the melodramatic mode to narrativise the moving image and to give a sequential logic to the convention of frontal address central to India’s performative and visual art traditions. Melodrama drew from the same sources as e.g. the mythological but functioned as the aesthetic regime accompanying the socio-economic transition from feudal-artisanal practices to industrial ones, both formally and in its content matter (e.g. Painter’s Savkari Pash, 1925 & 1936). It recomposed traditional performative idioms and themes, drawing on Western narrative forms and similarly negotiating modernisation tensions. Often aligned with the reformism of the literary social reform movement, esp. in the inter-war period when it was mobilised to recast modernisation in nationalist terms by e.g. V. Shantaram and B.N. Reddi, continuing into the work of B.R. Panthulu and Puttanna Kanagal. The classic example of this development was the DMK Film which provided Indian cinema with some of its most spectacular melodramas. After Independence, the genre received a new, intense and conflictridden inflection in the work of Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt in the 50s, generating a socialcritical type of melodrama. In their work, the negative sides of capitalist modernisation propel a darkly romantic narrative isolating the tragic hero as an individual. Ravi Vasudevan (1989) noted that this period of Hindi melodrama was overdetermined by the Oedipal triangle of the fearsome father, the nurturing mother and the traumatised son who could deal with these tensions either through renunciation or lawlessness. After WW2, the reformist melodramatic current was deployed to elaborate a pan-Indian narrative regime (see All-India Film) culminating in Mehboob’s influential Mother India (1957), restating the priority of kinship relations and parental/state authority. This later yielded Amitabh Bachchan’s or Uttam Kumar’s hero-asoutlaw, upholding an imaginary past’s ‘traditional’ values in the face of a degenerated modernity. In Maharashtra, melodrama was used to legitimate a growing regional market (Bhalji Pendharkar, scenarist G.D. Madgulkar). In Bengal, where a cinema had developed which was economically strong but culturally subservient to the novel, melodrama acquired an oppositional force, e.g. in Barua’s work which subverted the literary, and in the Kallol film-makers where it later found new alignments with the IPTA’s formal emphasis on the folk theatre. Bengal also saw the only instance in Indian film where melodrama became the site where popular and classical idioms of performance merged with a Brechtian aesthetic, yielding a unique authorial practice: the work of Ritwik Ghatak, massively influential on the films of e.g. Kumar Shahani and the early Mani Kaul. Classic melodramas include: Savkari Pash (1925), Devdas (1935), Kunku/Duniya? Na Mane (1937), Swargaseema (1945), Andaz (1949), Ezhai Padum Padu (1950), Awara (1951), Parasakthi (1952), Mother India and Pyaasa (both 1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960), Nagara Haavu (1972), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Tarang (1984). See also Social.


Last modified 6 years ago Last modified on Jun 26, 2012, 6:32:36 PM