Episode 5: Punjabi Mud

This is the first of two episodes aimed at answering the question: why Lahore? Why did Lahore become a major movie making city? Not just in South Asia but in the world?   On the surface there was no obvious reason for this to happen. In fact, there were a lot of circumstances working against Lahore.   This episode and the next, which are both focused on discussing the cultural context and history of Lahore and the wider region known as Punjab, will help answer that important and fundamental question. 

To truly appreciate the deep roots of Pakistani films it is essential to have an understanding of the shared culture of language, song, theatre, poetry, storytelling and visual art that has distinguished this part of South Asia for millennia. It is from this deep tradition that Pakistani films initially took inspiration and upon which they continue to draw.  And why, despite the many attempts to legislate against and neglect the industry or even blow cinema halls up, Pakistanis keep making and watching movies. 

This Episode provides a very concise survey of 5000 years of cultural history in the area that we know refer to Punjab. Starting with the Indus Valley civilisations through Vedic/Aryan India through the arrival of Alexander/Sikandar and the Muslim period.

The beautifully crafted soapstone seals with the as yet undeciphered Indus Valley language constitute the very first Indian story which was added to when around 1900 BCE Punjab was occupied by nomads from Central Asia who called themselves Aryans.

The Rg Veda told stories of Gods and demons as well as moral instruction in the form of pithy tales like the young gambler who loses everything to the dice.

In later centuries the Hindu epic, Mahabharata told in great detail and a cast of thousands the battled of various Punjabi clans for supremacy. Many of these early Indian stories, like one about Alexander and Poisoned Maiden, travelled across the world but were forgotten in their homeland of India. But in the 20th century filmmakers in Lahore were able to draw on the deep folk traditions which had kept many similar stories alive as inspiration for their films.

During the times of the Mughals, Persian tales such as Dastan-i-Amir Hamza which told stories of the Prophet’s (PBUH) uncle Hamza, were very popular.

The Episode provides details of more similar literary, music and dramatic traditions which all formed a rich shared culture that the film makers of Lahore drew on for inspiration to create what eventually came to referred to as Lollywood.

Some of the key references I used in preparing this episode are listed below.

Music Issue. (n.d.). Journal of Punjab Studies, 18. Immensely informative number on many aspects of Punjab’s musical culture.

Richardson, Edmund (2021), Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City, Bloomsbury. Recent biography of Charles Masson the Company deserter who is credited as being the pioneer of Afghan archaelogy.

Schrefller, S. G. (n.d.). Vernacular Music and Dance of Punjab. Journal of Punjab Studies, 11(2).

Doniger, Wendy (2010) The Hindus: An Alternative History, Penguin. Sweeping (and controversial to some) history of India’s greatest and most popular religion.

Whiterridge, Gordon (2002) Charles Masson Of Afghanistan: Explorer, Archaeologist, Numismatist and Intelligence Agent, Orchid Press

Joseph, Tony (2018). Early Indians : The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From, Juggernaut Publications. Excellent survey of the human settlement of the Indian subcontinent.

Mir, Farina (2010). The social space of language: Vernacular culture in British colonial Punjab. University of California Press. Farina Mir asks how qisse, a vibrant genre of epics and romances, flourished in colonial Punjab despite British efforts to marginalize the Punjabi language. 

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

Episode Two is now live

In this episode I explain how and when movies first came to British India. I also introduce a number of characters who feature prominently in the development of South Asia’s film culture and industry.

Marius Sestier was a Frenchman, working for the Lumiere brothers who exhibited the first motion pictures in India.

Needless to say, as you can see, his visit to India created quite a sensation.

Smitten by the possibility of film, men such as Dadasaheb Phalke (above) dedicated their lives to making movies and changed India forever.

Check out the episode on this website or on Apple, Spotify, Sticher and other places you get your podcast fix.

First Episode Live

Hi there,

I’m really excited (not to mention a bit anxious) to announce that the first introductory episode of Lollywood Tales is now up and available from Apple, Stitcher, Spotify and other places you may get your podcasts.

As I understand the best way to be sure you get new episodes as soon as they are available on line is to hit the Subscribe button. If for some reason you cannot find the episode on any of the podcast providers you can go to the episode page on this website and listen or download as well.

My intention is to post new episodes every two to three weeks for first several episodes. So please stay tuned. Share the news about this podcast and thank you for your patronage and support.

Lollywood Tales: The First Episodes Are Now Live

Hi

The day has finally arrived. The first episode (Introduction) of Lollywood Tales has now been uploaded and is available for download or listening on the Episodes page. And of course, it is live on Apple/iTunes, Spotify and most other places where you like to get your podcast fix.

I ask for your patience (hopefully not, interminable) with me as I finesse the technology of podcasting. For example, you’ll notice in the Trailer and Introduction, the intro and outro music is repeated (😒😂) and some of the transitions may be a bit a rough. But I promise, these will improve in coming episodes.

At this stage I aim to have a full episode up every two to three weeks. So the best thing to do is ‘Subscribe’ and get notified directly when a fresh or bonus episode is available.

Thank you for spreading the word about Lollywood Tales (even it is may not be something you’re interested in, some of your friends may enjoy it).

Thank you.

Coming Soon

Hi there,

Lollywood Tales, a podcast about the incredible, untold story of the Pakistani movie industry is getting ready to launch. It will be available on all major podcast sites such as Apple, Spotify and Google.

You can subscribe and support the podcast and get access to premium / extra content and soon there will be branded merchandise available as well.

So stay tuned for Episode one in the very near future!

Zindabad!

زندہ باد