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Journal of Gender Studies


points to the need for additional research. Perhaps readers should be on the lookout for a
volume 2!
Lindsay Bond, Kari Szakal, Kimberly Tejchma-Sanford, and Esther Rothblum
San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA,
q 2013, Laura M. Carpenter and John Delamater

Censorship and sexuality in Bombay cinema
MONIKA MEHTA, ed., 2011
Austin: University of Texas Press
304 pp., ISBN 978 0 292 72692 5 £30.00 (hardback)
At the heart of Censorship and sexuality in Bombay cinema is a series of questions about
censorship’s role in the representation and interpretation of the female body. While much
attention has been focused on cutting, banning and other such high-profile censorship
activities, Monika Mehta reveals that answers can also be found in its most ordinary
practices. Her book draws together themes of power, gender and national identity to
provide a compelling account of the far-reaching significance of the seemingly
inconsequential and mundane ‘micropractices’ (p. 6) of film censorship in India. In her
first chapter, Mehta makes explicit her desire to explore a range of activities, including
‘cutting, classifying and certifying’, and to consider them in relation to both the state and
‘the arenas of film production and reception’ (p. 7). In the light of this unusually broad
approach to censorship, it is to Mehta’s great credit that she successfully demonstrates the
connections between these different practices and sites, constructing a persuasive and
thoughtful account of the ways in which institutions, officials, industry personnel and
audiences all participate in the production and constriction of the content and meaning of
Bombay cinema. Indeed, the underpinning argument that censorship can be a productive
and occasionally even creative endeavour demonstrates the author’s fresh and exciting
approach to the subject. Mehta reveals that ‘censorship not only excludes but also
includes’ (p. 6).
Although this alone is a notable accomplishment, it is not the book’s only
achievement. Through five case studies, Mehta also illustrates how various national
concerns were negotiated by Indian cinema between 1973 and 1996. The topics discussed
are often familiar, largely focusing on tensions between modesty, sexuality, tradition and
modernity, but they frequently take Mehta’s argument to surprising places, particularly in
terms of the representation of and meanings associated with the female body. For example,
the book often returns to questions of ‘women’s sexual agency’ (p. 184) and ‘the
construction of the “Indian state” and the “Indian woman”’ (p. 131). By exploring the
various ways in which censorship operated on different levels to shape these discourses,
Mehta provides a multifaceted history of the female body in Bombay cinema. Locating her
films within their socio-political contexts, she is able to show that the Central Board of
Film Certification’s (CBFC) approach to the depiction of women in cinema responded not
only to popular and official perceptions of obscenity and decency, but also to current
events and shifting notions of taste and class. In this way, Censorship and sexuality in
Bombay cinema also serves to highlight the crucial role that the female body on screen has

she is also careful to demonstrate the limitations of this type of work and has undertaken extensive fieldwork within organisations such as the CBFC to support her arguments. It is also in Mehta’s accounts of her fieldwork that her focus on micropractices is most evident.766508 .1080/09589236. For example. However. Matthew Jones UCL. As such. especially when explored alongside the archival research she has conducted. which she records with refreshing honesty. London. will certainly be useful for researchers in this area. UK q 2013. Mehta is able to discuss significant debates and practices that might otherwise not have been accounted Monika Mehta http://dx. The routine mundanity of the day-to-day activity of the CBFC is palpable in Mehta’s recollections and casts new light on the process of Indian film censorship.112 Book Reviews played in articulating and moderating the contradictions and strains of modern Indian nationhood and national identity. Its use of case studies ensures that its chapters can be understood in isolation from the remainder of the book. Despite her initial anxieties about the perceived inconsequentiality of her observations at the organisations that she visited. Having been present during several of these meetings. biscuits and bathroom breaks. Mehta rightly concludes that they reveal much about the nature and practice of censorship. By placing what at first appear to be disparate sources in dialogue with one another. interrupted by but not paused for tea. with its innovative focus on the micropractices of censorship. The result is an ambitious and insightful book. it could also be of particular value in the classroom. for example when noting that many films were viewed by examining committees in a casual and incomplete manner.doi. Although Mehta’s book. Mehta highlights the fact that many of the discussions held by examining committee members during the process of awarding a certificate to a film are not recorded and so do not appear in the archives. each chapter could be used as the basis for a fruitful seminar discussion. which speaks to concerns beyond censorship itself. Mehta’s work is meticulously researched and her analyses draw on a wealth of material gathered during her visits to a number of Indian archives. Censorship and sexuality in Bombay Cinema allows a complex and sophisticated analysis to emerge.

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