ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

City of Struggles: The Bombay Progressives in mid-20th century Bollywood.


Ghosal Srimati - O.P. Jindal Global University, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat, India


26 – Radical Poetics in the Literary Cultures of South Asia


 In mid 20th century, Bollywood drew talents from across the subcontinent to tell stories of social change. Among them were poets affiliated with the Progressive Writers Association. This paper looks at five of these Urdu poets who found work in the industry as lyricists – Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Sahir Ludhianvi, Sadar Jafri and Majrooh Sultanpoori- to explore the interaction between Bollywood and these “Bombay Progressives”.

Urdu poetry belonged to a genealogy of performative traditions only to be put in print circulation as late as mid-19th century. How did this influence their works in a mass medium like films and vice-versa? Further, the Progressives drew their themes from the Marxist-Leninist movements as they did from the political discourse of Nehruvian socialism. Anti-imperialist, and nationalist, it sought to address the social fractures and economic inequalities. This paper seeks to explore the role of the progressives working in the popular culture industry. Despite radical themes, the poetry was aligned with the dominant political discourse. Was it dissident and critical or was it a part of the State project of social reconstruction? Finally, the chronotopos of mid-century Bombay plays an important role. The PWA and Bollywood shared the common space of the poignant city. Not directly falling under the scythe of Partition yet affected by it, home to a strong labor movement, how did the colonial city of Bombay attract radical poets from across the country?