Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City

By Gyan Prakash | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Friction, Collision, and the Grotesque:
The Dystopic Fragments of Bombay Cinema

RANJANI MAZUMDAR

The twentieth-century legacy of wars, conflicts, and accelerating violence has given birth to imagined worlds where ethical imperatives and moral stability appear to have collapsed. Philosophers, writers, and artists have typically addressed this legacy by forging an estrangement with the present, creating an archive of dystopian thought. While the philosophical and literary tradition has proven itself as an important site for dystopian commentary, it is the technological impetus of cinema, television, and photography that has fundamentally expanded and altered the dystopian archive. The genres of science fiction and horror with their mindscapes, images of technological rationalization, violence and the crisis of the soul, are perhaps the most obvious in their articulation of dystopian imagery. The other significant site of the dystopian is found in the world of the city films. The city as a site of darkness was seen in the expressionist films of the Weimar period and in the noir form of postwar Hollywood. In recent years, post-colonial urban crisis combined with contemporary technological modernity has provided significantly new resources for the dystopian in cinema. While contemporary films from Asia and Latin America have drawn on a neo-noir style to depict the city, in India, the topography of urban decay has significantly entered the world of Bombay cinema through a conscious subversion of its popular cinematic form. Existing on the margins of Bombay’s mainstream cinema, these films offer inventive journeys into the nature of contemporary urban life, as well as its unpredictable and unstable future.

This essay explores the landscape of dystopia in three films that have selfconsciously asserted their distance from the tropes of Bombay’s popular melodrama. The films are Nishikant Kamat’s Dombivli Fast (2005), Homi Adjania’s Being Cyrus (2006), and Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking (2007). At the core of the three films lies India’s most well-known multilingual city: Bombay. This is a city of two worlds where the rich and poor live cheek by jowl. The dense

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