ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Bodies in Waiting

Remapping Gender, Labour, and Histories of the Indian Film Industry (1930s–1950s)

Reflecting on the burgeoning field of feminist media histories and contemporary debates around Shanta Apte’s films, protests, and writing, along with sources that bring narratives from different women in the film industry, this paper argues that such discussions enable us to rethink questions of gender, creative labour, characteristics of film work, and the industrial milieu. This permits a shift in the focus of study to subjects of waiting, legal battles, and writing and considers evolving labour geographies produced by the migration of cine-workers to examine the problems of creative labour.

The author would like to thank Aishika Chakraborty, Anagha Tambe, and Shree Bharat Lakshmi Pictures.

Reflecting on the burgeoning field of feminist media historiography,1 and in conjunction with the shifting approaches of writing histories for Indian cinemas,2 the paper grows from the contemporary discussions around Shanta Apte’s (1916–64, actor–singer) films, the performative aspects and significance of her hunger strike (staged at the Prabhat Film Studios, Pune, in 1939), and her landmark writing titled Jaau Mi Cinemaat? (“Should I Join Films?” published in Marathi in 1940). I argue that this enables us to rethink questions of gender, creative labour, characteristics of film work, the industrial milieu during the pre- (and post-) independence era and provokes us to revisit the evolving methods of doing film history. The paper extends the seminal work done by Neepa Majumdar (2015, 2020), Debashree Mukherjee (2020a), and others, by shifting the focus of studies in gender, labour, and Indian film industries to the subject of work and “waiting”—waiting for work, waiting during work, waiting for payments, waiting during transits, waiting to recover from ailments, waiting in-between—in an attempt to comprehend historical temporalities related to a precarious field or the film industry (which, one contends, may be described as an “unorganised sector”). Following my research on the writings by women actors/cine-workers (M Mukherjee 2017b), and by exploring newer material originally scripted in Urdu (Abbasi 2018), I reconsider questions of material and methods in relation to feminist history and enquire—how do we extract a history of women’s labour in film production from the sporadic writings by women cine-workers in disparate bhasa?3 Also, how do we understand film work, workers, and networks of cinema? (M Mukherjee 2020b)

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Updated On : 31st May, 2022
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