A Bollywood blockbuster when it was released in 1977, Amar Akbar Anthony has become a classic of Hindi cinema and a touchstone of Indian popular culture. Delighting audiences with its songs and madcap adventures, the film follows the heroics of three Bombay brothers separated in childhood from their parents and one another. Beyond the freewheeling comedy and camp, however, is a potent vision of social harmony, as the three protagonists, each raised in a different religion, discover they are true brothers in the end. William Elison, Christian Lee Novetzke, and Andy Rotman offer a sympathetic and layered interpretation of the film’s deeper symbolism, seeing it as a lens for understanding modern India’s experience with secular democracy.
Amar Akbar Anthony’s celebration of an India built on pluralism and religious tolerance continues to resonate with audiences today. But it also invites a critique of modernity’s mixed blessings. As the authors show, the film’s sunny exterior only partially conceals darker elements: the shadow of Partition, the crisis of Emergency Rule, and the vexed implications of the metaphor of the family for the nation. The lessons viewers draw from the film depend largely on which brother they recognize as its hero. Is it Amar, the straight-edge Hindu policeman? Is it Akbar, the romantic Muslim singer? Or is it Anthony, the Christian outlaw with a heart of gold? In this book’s innovative and multi-perspectival approach, each brother makes his case for himself (although the last word belongs to their mother).
Among the most in-depth books you’ll read about a single Hindi film…Here is a scholarly work about a popular film that also tries to mimic something of the film’s controlled lunacy, winking at itself every now and again.
We have in our hands is a book that is as daring and inventive, as zany and counterintuitive as the film itself that it is about. If one of the prime pleasures of the Desai film was its absolutely no-holds-barred trip through the gullis of Bollywood masala cinema, then the book lives up to that spirit of adventurous derring-do… The book roots its playful speculative swing in robust interpretations of the film through first-rate scholarship in Indic religions. The web of erudition is woven through with a light touch making it a book for one and all, lay and specialist alike.
One of my most stimulating reads of the last year…[It] is scholarly and playful at the same time, which is a very rare thing.
It brilliantly manages to pull off a magical feat in film writing of this kind. It digs deep into and elaborates upon the film text from various sociopolitical angles, critical perspectives and film theoretical, anthropological and ethnographical discourses. Most importantly, it is an eminently readable book that will delight any cineaste for its sheer passion for cinema and for the delightful theoretical dexterity with which it weaves a complex and rich web of information and analysis.
Amar Akbar Anthony: Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation should please both long-time Bollywood enthusiasts and those who are encountering Hindi cinema for the first time…Delightful and adventurous.
In an analysis that is nearly as much fun to read as the film is to watch, Elison, Novetzke and Rotman reveal a film rich in cultural metaphor, sophisticated in its use of parody, and weighty beneath its seemingly featherbrained revelry…Like the film it investigates, the book Amar Akbar Anthony delivers insight and fun in equal measure. It is monumental accomplishment that should be widely read.
Sprinkled with humor, this well-written book is an excellent scholarly account of a film that became a critical part of the Bollywood canon…[A] blockbuster.
Like the blockbuster from which it borrows its vitality, Amar Akbar Anthony: Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation uses a cocktail of humor and irony, magic and just a touch of madness to analyze one of the major blockbusters of Hindi cinema. Elison, Novetzke, and Rotman have produced a version of fan writing that fans will actually want to read. In light, sparkling prose, they bring formidable interdisciplinary gifts to remind us what made Manmohan Desai’s film the legend it is, and why it continues to matter now more than ever.
A brilliant, rollicking read. Grounded in authoritative scholarship on South Asian religion and society, this extended analysis of—and riff on—one of Bombay cinema’s all-time classics is as playful and enjoyable as the madcap capers of the film itself.
Lively and highly readable and, like the film itself, quite a zany offering—this book does something new with the film, in that its close readings spin out into a broad study of Indian culture, and religion in particular.
- 344 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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