Bollywood: A glimpse into the Indian Cinema from Mexico

Discover a little part of the huge cinematographic universe of India through our Archive.

Mumtaz in "Haré Rama, Haré Krishna" (1971) by A.S. RamanFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Bollywood: a glimpse into the Indian Cinema in Mexico
One of the most relevant archives (due to its variety of content and the period of time it comprises) of the Colección y Archivo de Fundación Televisa is the Guillermo Vázquez Villalobos Archive. The images included in this exhibition come from it. To understand the nature of this visual material, it is important to mention that Guillermo Vázquez Villalobos was the president of Periodistas Cinematográficos de México (Pecime) (a journalist organization), magazine editor and collaborator of El Heraldo de México. This show business specialist collected a countless number of images, from the late 1930s to the early 1990s: still photos, posters, lobby cards, negatives and photographs, which Televisa acquired through his sister, Rosa María Vázquez Villalobos.

Madhavi in "Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Mein" (ca. 1967) by A.S. RamanFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Aruna Irani and Mahesh Desai in "Zer To Pidha Jani Jani" (1972) by A.S. RamanFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Although this archive consists mainly of photographs and advertising material from Mexican films and national artists, Vázquez Villalobos also collected material from foreign films in a series of envelopes. Along with visual material from German, Chinese, French, Italian, Russian cinema films, among others, there is also an envelope of “cine hindú” (Indian cinema).

Jayshree Talpade and Deb Mukherjee in "Aangan" (1973) by A.S. RamanFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Reverse side of some of the stills featured in this exhibition by Camera PressFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

In this one, there are images that come from the British agency Camera Press, based in London (it is worth noting that, in the 1970s, the UK market was flourishing, occupying almost 45% of total exports of Indian films). These images, some credited to the photographer A. S. Raman, are from Indian films produced, mostly, during the first half of the 1970s, among which stand out: Haré Rama, Haré Krishna (1971), Hulchul (1971), Zer To Pidha Jani Jani (1972), Aangan (1973), Anumaan (1974), Har Har Mahadev (1974), and Mere Sartaj (1974).

Bindu in "Anumaan" (1974) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Gopi Krishna in "Har Har Mahadev" (1974) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

It is not confirmed whether these images were published in Mexican magazines or newspapers. What is true is that the British agency distributed this material around the world. For example, two of those images, one from the movie Anumaan and one from Har Har Mahadev, were published on December 17th, 1974 in Ilustrovana Politika [Illustrated Politic], magazine from the former Yugoslavia.

Sadhana in "Arzoo" (1964) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Pressbook for “Gunga Jumna” (ca. 1966) by Unidentified authorFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Booklet of the 7th Annual Report and Accounts (1971) by Unidentified authorFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

In the same envelope, in addition to the photographs distributed by Camera Press, there is advertising material for the film Gunga Jumna (1961), which was released in Mexico in 1966 with the title Dos hermanos [Two Brothers]; two booklets (printed in 1971) with annual reports from The Indian Motion Pictures Export Corporation (IMPEC).

Ali Mohamed Tariq, Chairman of The Indian Motion Pictures Export Corporation (ca. 1971) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

One of the booklets is a speech by Ali Mohamed Tariq (then President of IMPEC), delivered at the seventh annual IMPEC general meeting, held in Bombay on August 21st, 1971. In his speech, this political figure, exhorts the creators of the cinematographic medium and all those who handle it, to improve the quality of the films to obtain a wider international acceptance.

Soumitra Chatterjee in "Ashani Sanket" (1973) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Farida Akhter in "Ashani Sanket" (1973) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Chanda Sharma in "Salaam Bombay!" (1988) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Likewise, there is a promotional photograph of the film Salaam Bombay (Mira Nair, 1988) accompanied by a note from the Mexican magazine Cine del mundo and a document that this magazine sent to El Heraldo de México newspaper in February 1990. In this document, it is said that, in collaboration with the Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía (Imcine), the commercial distribution rights for the Mexican Republic of this film were acquired.

Page from “Image” magazine (1992)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Also, among the material that Vázquez Villalobos collected when he was a contributor to El Heraldo de México, there is the article “Bollywood Babylon. Amid the misery and sensuality that is Bombay, the rajahs of film have built the biggest dream factory in the world”, written by Mark Shapiro and with photographs by Tim Trompeter, published in Image magazine in June 1992. Based on this article, El Heraldo de México published a shorter and translated into Spanish version with the title “En la India el cine es el opio del pueblo: cinco billones de espectadores al año” [In India, cinema is the opium of the people: five billion viewers a year].

Page from “Image” magazine (1992) by Tim Trompeter and Mark ShapiroFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Note published in "El Heraldo de México" (1992) by Unidentified authorFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Both the translation and the original text describe the situation of the Indian film industry, as well as some of its internationally best-known and most popular features in the 1990s. For example, it is mentioned that the films are rigorously controlled: “the National Board of Censors reviewers every film before it is released, watching for excessive violence and sex and for portraits of religious or political figures that, in India’s volatile atmosphere, could threaten the established order”.

Padna Khanna and Satish Kaul in "Mere Sartaj" (1974) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Sex was a topic that received special interest. Camera Press’ descriptions of three photographs from the films Anumaan, Har Har Mahadev and Mere Sartaj, accompanied by the heading “Sex invades the Indian screen”, are striking. For example, the text accompanying the photograph of the film Mere Sartaj [My Lord] says: “Against an obviously painted backdrop sex-symbol Padna Khanna and young actor Satish Kaul are seen in a fairly erotic scene […] Such scenes were previously forbidden in Indian films by the ever-watchful censors and the two bottles of whisky were also strictly illegal”.

Sonia Sahni in “Hulchul” (1971) by A.S. RamanFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Still from "Hulchul" (1971) by A.S. RamanFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Or see also the texts that accompany the erotic scenes from the film Huchul: “Fully-clothed bed scene, but the latent passion can be just as arousing for an Indian audience as naked sex” and “the Western touch: couples cavort in the shallows with the girls dressed in the briefest and most fetching of bikinis”.

Anjali Kadem and Prem Chopra in "Hulchul" (1971) by A.S. RamanFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Director Ralhan, Chand Usmani and Chandrasekhar preparing a scene from "Hulchul" (1971) by A.S. RamanFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Simi Garewal in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Finally, in the envelope of “cine hindú”, the images of the film Mera Naam Joker are the most salient. This film was directed by Raj Kapoor, who was also the producer and the leading actor. Written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, the film tells, in three parts, the story of Raju, from his adolescence to his last performance as a clown. In the first part, the teenager Raju is in love with his class teacher Mary, played by Simi Garewal.

Achla Sachdev and Rishi Kapoor in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Manoj Kumar and Simi Garewal in “Mera Naam Joker” (1905-05-23) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Manoj Kumar and Simi Garewal in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Fotógrafo no identificadoFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Kseniya Ryabinkina in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

During this part, the young man realizes that the reason for his life is to make people laugh, become a clown and work in a circus like his father. In the second part, Raju meets Marina, played by Kseniya Ryabinkina (dancer of the Ballet Bolsoi), a Russian artist from the Gemini Circus where Raju begins to work as a clown. Raju dreams of marrying Marina, but his heart is broken when she has to return to Russia.

Padmini in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

In the last part of the film, Raju meets Meena, played by Padmini. Meena and Raju start a friendship by working together as street artists. She aspires to become a famous actress. For this reason, she abandons Raju and accepts a job offer by the Indian superstar Rajendra Kumar. This film, built on the leitmotiv of a toy clown (which works as a symbolic representation of Raju’s heart) and his great unrequited loves, did not have the expected success in India. In fact, it took Kapoor several years to recover from the economic loss.

Rajendra Kumar in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Padmini in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Dharmendra and Kseniya Ryabinkina in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Mera Naan Joker was best received on the international market, especially in the USSR. In February 1971, a film buying delegation from the Sovexportfim visited India and selected five films for purchase and exploitation for a total price of Rs. 20.60 lakhs including Rs. 15 lakhs for Mera Naam Joker, which was the highest price ever fetched by any Indian film for a single territory. In Mexico, in the 1970s, Mera Naam Joker may have been exhibited under the name Payaso [Joker], the only reference in the reverse of the photographic stills of this film included in the "cine hindú" envelope.

Raj Kapoor in “Mera Naam Joker” (1970) by Unidentified photographerFundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Despite the fact that Indian cinema is a “kind of universe parallel to Hollywood” (with superstars and a gigantic industry), in Mexico there is no tradition or public that consumes Bollywood products. Only few titles arrive, and a very small sector of the Mexican public has access to them. We hope that this small sample of images of the enormous visual spectrum of Indian cinema can capture the attention of a greater Mexican public to enjoy this cinematographic universe still unknown in Mexico.

Credits: Story

This exhibition is the result of the research carried out in the Guillermo Vázquez Villalobos Archive of the Colección y Archivo de Fundación Televisa. Produced ex profeso for the project "Indian Cinema in Google Arts and Culture".
Curatorship, research and text: Cecilia Absalón Huízar.
Research: Gustavo Fuentes.
Digitization and image editing: Omar Espinoza.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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