Lahore Cinema

Between Realism and Fable

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Iftikhar Dadi

Commercial cinema has been among the most powerful vectors of social and aesthetic modernization in South Asia. So argues Iftikhar Dadi in his provocative examination of cinema produced between 1956 and 1969—the long sixties—in Lahore, Pakistan, following the 1947 Partition of South Asia. These films drew freely from Bengali performance traditions, Hindu mythology, Parsi theater, Sufi conceptions of the self, Urdu lyric poetry, and Hollywood musicals, bringing these traditions into dialogue with melodrama and neorealism. Examining this layered context offers insights into a period of rapid modernization and into cultural affiliation in the South Asian present, when frameworks of multiplicity and plurality are in jeopardy.


Lahore Cinema probes the role of language, rhetoric, lyric, and form in the making of cinematic meaning as well as the relevance of the Urdu cultural universe to midcentury Bombay filmmaking. Challenging the assumption of popular cinema as apolitical, Dadi explores how films allowed their audiences to navigate an accelerating modernity and tense politics by anchoring social change across the terrain of deeper cultural imaginaries. By constituting publics beyond social divides of regional, ethnic, and sectarian affiliations, commercial cinema played an influential progressive role during the mid- and later twentieth century in South Asia.

Cover illustration is from a publicity poster for Clerk (1960), featuring Rattan Kumar (top left), Musarrat Nazir (right), and Khalil Qaiser (bottom). Poster artist: Mustafa.

Publication of this open monograph was the result of Cornell University’s participation in TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem), a collaboration of the Association of American Universities, the Association of University Presses, and the Association of Research Libraries. TOME aims to expand the reach of long-form humanities and social science scholarship including digital scholarship. Additionally, the program looks to ensure the sustainability of university press monograph publishing by supporting the highest quality scholarship and promoting a new ecology of scholarly publishing in which authors’ institutions bear the publication costs.


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  • Cornell Institute for Comparative Modernities event: Iftikhar Dadi on his new book Lahore Cinema: Between Realism…

  • In #LahoreCinema, @iftikhardadi challenges the assumption of popular cinema as apolitical through a provocative exa…

  • Lahore Cinema: Between Realism and Fable is now available in print, and also in free open-access formats via this l…

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    Lahore Cinema

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  • Lahore Cinema: Between Realism and Fable Forthcoming November 8 in print as well as in open-access format.…