Episode 4 is now live

This is the longest episode yet (just over one hour) but its an important one. It tells the story of the Parsi community and the amazing role is has played in the development of Bombay as the commercial and entertainment capital of India and introduces you to a number of influential Parsi business people who were instrumental in getting what we now call Bollywood and Lollywood off the ground.

The episode starts with the figure of Zardosht, or Zarathusthra, the ancient Persian religious leader and thinker who is said to have been the most influential religious teacher ever.

We look at how the Zoroastrians were nearly wiped off the pages of history by the invading Arabs who brought a new religion, Islam to the world, but how a tiny refugee community of Persians found asylum on the West Coast of India. From this vulnerable position the small Parsi community grew into India’s premier business and philanthropic group.

Dorman, J.; Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia (1756-1821); National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/jamsetjee-bomanjee-wadia-17561821-173447

We meet the gentleman pictured above, one of Bombay’s original powerbrokers, the shipbuilder and Master Builder, Bomanjee Wadia and talk about the centrality of his family in the history of South Asian cinema.

You’ll learn about Parsi Theatre, the direct link to the movies in India. The Parsis used the fortunes they made from shipbuilding and opium trading to develop the city and civic culture of Bombay and Karachi and in the process became famous for their public charity, their civic-mindedness as well as adventurous, entrepreneurial approach to business.

From 1902 onwards Jamshetji Framji Madan, the guy with the SAMPLE ONLY stamped across this chin, above, was the dominant, domineering force in the Indian movie business. Using money made from a liquor supply business he established India’s first film empire and came to control 50% of all revenue generated by the industry in the 1920s not to mention hundreds of cinema halls across South Asia.

Two great great grandsons of the Wadia clan, turned their backs on the family textile business, and in 1933 set up their own film studio, Wadia Movietone which captured the hearts of millions of Indians with their fast paced action and stunt films. One of their biggest stars was the Australian glamour-puss, Mary Evans, popularly known as Fearless Nadia.

And this is just the top of the iceberg. Download or listen at the Episode page or wherever you get your podcast fix. (Don’t forget to tell your friends and leave a good review! This is a unique podcast and the word deserves to get out!)

Select resources used for this episode include:

Palsetia, J. S. (n.d.). The Parsis of India: Preservation of Identity in Bombay. an excellent book that traces the history of the Parsi community and its association with the city of Bombay (Mumbai).

Kriwaczek, Paul. (2003) In Search of Zarathustra: Across Iran and Central Asia to Find the World’s First Prophet. Absolutely essential (and fun) reading on the importance of Zoroastrian thought on western (and to some extent, Islamic) thought.

Kermani, R. (n.d.). Parsis : The Builders of Karachi. A brief article on the historic Parsi community in Karachi

Balme, C. (2015). Managing Theatre and Cinema in Colonial India: Maurice E. Bandmann, J.F. Madan and the War Films’ Controversy. Popular Entertainment Studies, 6, 6–21. Important and illuminating article on the relationship between Maurice Bandmann and JF Madan, two of India’s great entertainment entrepreneurs

Episode Three is now Live

This episode continues to set the scene and provide important historical context to the story of Lollywood.

In particular this episode examines how Bombay rose to its dominant position as the commercial (and eventually, entertainment) capital of British India.

Map of the Island of Bombay

Between the 16th and 19th centuries the global economy and ‘world order’ went through some deep and profound changes. Qing (pronounced, Ching) Dynasty China was the number 1 economy and (not dissimilar to our times) was attracting the interest of businessmen and companies from Europe and America. These changes were driven by a bunch of plant based and mineral products: tea, silver and opium.

By the mid 19th century, a small island kingdom from northern Europe was the undisputed global superpower. And China, the giant of Asia, was reduced to a country of drug addicts, political insignificance and civil war. Of course, to achieve this the British had to inflict a lot of violence and political manipulation on the people of India and China. Ultimately, it got what it wanted–global domination–by launching a war to protect its drug smuggling racket.

British troops attack Qing Dynasty forces during the Opium War

As a direct consequence of these wars and illegal narcotics pedaling, the city of Bombay also rose to be the commercial heart of British India. By the early 20th century, the city was one of the main gems in a global garland of cities across Asia, Africa and South America, which international musicians, artists and performers visited regularly to entertain their European residents. The most popular sort of music during this period was American jazz. And throughout the 1930s a large number of African American jazz musicians worked regularly in the many clubs and dancehalls and hotels of Bombay (and other Indian cities, including Lahore and Karachi).

Teddy Weatherford and his jazz band, Bombay

One American jazz musician in particular, Teddy Weatherford, the pianist, was a superstar in Bombay and Calcutta. He settled down in India, married a local girl and died in Calcutta in 1945. His time in Bombay exemplifies the ‘glamour’ and international relevance of Bombay (Mumbai) around the time movies were just starting to take off.

Go to the Episodes Page of this website (or Apple, Spotify, Stitcher etc) to hear the full episode. And don’t forget to subscribe, leave a positive review and spread the news. Thanks.

Select resources consulted for or referenced in this episode are mentioned below.

Greenberg, M. (n.d.). British Trade and the Opening of China 1800-42. An excellent, highly informative book on how the combination of England’s thirst for tea and the “country trade” in Indian opium gave rise to Britain as the global commercial and political power.

Farooqi, A. (2006). BOMBAY: A COLONIAL PORT IN SEARCH OF BUSINESS. In Opium City Anything by Farooqi is essential to understand how the Malwa opium trade shaped and drove the rise of Bombay as India’s premier commercial center.

Farooqui, A. (2016). The Global Career of Indian Opium and Local Destinies.

Farooqui, A. (1995). Opium enterprise and colonial intervention in Malwa and western India, 1800-1824. Indian Economic & Social History Review, 32(4), 447–473.

Zhuang, G. (1993). Tea, Silver, Opium and War: The International Tea Trade and Western Commercial Expansion Into China in 1740-1840 A Chinese perspective on this topic. Full of excellent quantitative statistics.

Deming, S. (2011). THE ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE OF INDIAN OPIUM AND TRADE WITH CHINA ON BRITAIN’. the title of this fascinating article says it all.

Fernandes, Naresh. City Adrift : A Short Biography of Bombay One of India’s most respected journalist’s tells the story of his beloved city.

Budetti, D. V. (2016). From Silver to Opium : A Study of the Evolution and Impact of the British-Chinese Trade System from 1780 to 1842

Bassett, N. (1970). Teas Empire Opium and the Price of Tea (Vol. 23, Issue 1863).

Haq, E. ul. (2001). Drugs in South Asia: from the opium trade to the present day South Asia.

Fernandes, Naresh. (2012). Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age Indispensable resource–full of rare photographs–on the time when Bombay was a key part of the global jazz circuit.

Koerner, Brendan I. (2011). Piano Demon: The globetrotting, gin-soaked, too-short life of Teddy Weatherford, the Chicago jazzman who conquered Asia. Excellent article on Teddy Weatherford’s jazz career in Asia. Link