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Apr 24: Double Trouble: A Poetics of Bombay Cinema

Date: April 24, 2023 (Monday) Time: 5:30PM Venue: (Updated Venue) Room 4.36, 4/F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU

Details and registration: All are welcome. No registration required.


Richard Allen, Chair Professor, School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong

This paper distils arguments from a book length manuscript which approaches the distinctive nature of cinematic storytelling in Bombay Cinema (Hindi-Urdu cinema) through the figure of the double. The figure of the double, in the form of the actor playing two different characters (say identical twins or look-a-likes), or assuming more than one persona, is a ubiquitous feature of post-independence Bombay Cinema that continues into Bollywood. The talk approaches the figure of the double through the poetics of recognition, for the double is a trope in which, at one and the same time, an affiliation can be claimed, say the recognition of family resemblance, and doubt is posed: who is this person that looks like me? The double poses the problem of identity and difference and in that way allows for the negotiation, if not reconciliation, of conflicting impulses or social identities in the manner of myth.

Within maya, or the realm of appearances in the Sanskrit tradition, everything can in principle be something else. For example, any celestial being can, willy-nilly, change their form into human. Sometimes this yields epistemic confusion, for example, in the bedtrick (Doniger) where say a god substitutes himself for a wife’s husband (e.g. Ahalya) or disguises himself as a woman (e.g. Mohini), or in the comic gender play and disguise of Sanskrit drama. However, when the double as look-a-like is introduced in Indian cinema within this congenial cultural seedbed, the inspiration is predominantly drawn from the more down-to -earth Western tradition where identical twin or look-a-like confounds recognition. It is the doubles of Shakespearian comedy and 19th century melodrama, often via Hollywood, which provide Bombay Cinema with its characteristic story telling tropes whose traditions this talk will trace—The Comedy of Errors, The Corsican Brothers, The Prince and the Pauper, The Prisoner of Zenda, Cyrano de Bergerac, and the The Woman and White—in addition to the indigenous, redemptive tradition of the reincarnation romance.


Richard Allen is Acting Dean and Chair Professor in the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong. His research interests as a scholar began in the areas of film theory and the philosophy of film. His first book, Projecting Illusion (Cambridge University Press, 1997), articulated a sophisticated version of the illusion theory of representation as a basis for defending a psychoanalytic conception of spectatorship. In addition, he edited, with Murray Smith, one of the first anthologies of analytic film theory, entitled Film Theory and Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1999), and Wittgenstein, Theory, and the Arts (Routledge, 2001), co-edited with Malcolm Turvey.

Allen’s research has focused mostly upon film poetics and aesthetics. He is internationally renowned as a scholar of Alfred Hitchcock. He organized the Hitchcock Centennial Conference in 1999 that co-incided with the publication of Hitchcock: Centennial Essays (BFI, 1999), and he has edited two other anthologies on Hitchcock. In addition to writing 15 scholarly articles on Hitchcock, he is the author of Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony (Columbia University Press, 2007). Since 2001 he has edited, with Sid Gottlieb, the Hitchcock Annual (Columbia University Press).

More recently, Allen has been working on Hindi cinema, commonly known as Bollywood. He collaborated with Ira Bhaskar (Jawarharlal Nehru University) on curating a film festival in Abu Dhabi and New York and writing an accompanying book Islamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema (Tulika, 2009). Allen is completing a manuscript entitled Bollywood Poetics.

Society of Fellows in the Humanities


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