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“Behind the Curtain” by Gregory D. Booth Essay

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Updated: Jan 8th, 2022

Introduction

In Gregory D. Booth’s book, Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai Film Studios the author approached Bollywood – the film industry in India from the perspective of music and the people involved in making such music for films. Covering what is called the golden are of Bollywood, which takes place from the late 1940s to the early 1980s, Booth relied on ethnography as the main tool for collecting and presenting information in the book. In that regard, the present paper will attempt to analyze ethnography in the context of Booth’s book, addressing the way such method of research provided a better understanding of the society and the way music impacted such society.

Ethnography

Ethnography can be defined as a description and interpretation of culture (Bresler 3). The researcher in ethnography research aims to recreate “the shared beliefs, practices, artifacts, knowledge, and behaviors of some groups of people” (3). Such method of research is qualitative, rather than quantitative, and thus, the researcher does not search for causality between the different elements of the investigated culture, and such causality does not exist in culture. Instead, the researcher aims to describe the context in which the processes of culture take place. Such description is acquired from collecting the personal accounts of people who directly belong to the investigated group or personal observations of the participants. The relevance of such a method of research to the field of music can be seen by putting the music and/or its elements as the context. Such elements might include the musicians, their status their role in the society, the nature of the interactions occurring, etc. Additionally, musical communities are rich and diverse, and “the multifaceted layers of teachers’ professional knowledge landscapes, as well as their innumerable intersections and overlaps, provide territory ripe for ethnographic and narrative explorations and thick descriptions” (Stauffer and Robbins 85).

Ethnography in Behind the Curtain

The ethnography in Behind the Curtain is about Hindi film music. Taking the specific golden era in question as the main focus of the book, Booth attempts to recreate the knowledge, beliefs, and practices of the music community involved in such industry. The narratives are taken from the oral history of the direct participants of the industry, through interviews. The author acts as the narrator, who provides the scholarly significance to the study, and relates the findings to the previous knowledge of other scholars of Indian music and various

ethnomusicologists. The participants in that regard include musicians, composers, arrangers, engineers, and other people, who are largely “behind the curtain”, and combined with star singers form the culture of Hindi music cinema (Booth 17).

The author is neutral in his narration and presentation of materials. Nevertheless, it can be stated that the bias that can be present in the book, if existent, is essentially driven by the desire of the author to underline the injustice of the Hindi film music industry in which the direct contributors remained unknown to the public. As quoted in the book,

[S]ingers and composers of Indian popular music [i.e., film songs] are not stars themselves. There is no aura of fantasy and glamour woven around the leading singers, who remain invisible voices singing for the actors. (Booth 45-46)

Music and Society

Although the main aim of the book is describing the particular group, ethnography provides an account of a culture. Thus, it can be stated that the book can be used to examine the impact of music in the society in India. In that regard, music can be seen to shape the society in India in two aspects. On the one hand, there is the rich heritage of colonialism, in which music =was one of the aspects that influenced the society. On the other hand, film music in itself was shaped by various factors, and in turn, also influenced in creation of the popular Indian film culture. An example of the latter can be seen through the creation of playback, or what would later be called “film songs” (Booth 28). Music provided the necessary continuity in the transition from live stage dramas, and the film industry emerging at the time. The musical narration started, even prior to the occurrence of sounds in films, where the music was used to accompany the scenes of the film through live performance in theaters. The demand for simultaneous recording on film strips at the time, and the previously mentioned live drama. So, the inability of the musician to pre-record the music, recording while shooting and remaining out of the view of the camera, contributed to the emergence of the style of the film music that remained even after the technical limitations were removed.

It is the account of the people who participated in the recording of the music and the songs for films that explained the interactions that appeared between film and music companies, which eventually led to the emergence of the film songs and playback technology, which is the distinct characteristic of Hindi cinema. “[I]t was playback technology that led to the long-term dominance of film song in both the Mumbai film industry and in Indian culture” (Booth 37).

Reflection

It can be stated that the provided ethnography account about the music film industry gives a better representation of the society. The oral narration describes a serious industry that shaped the society, unlike the stereotypical image that can be obtained from the films themselves. The fact that the narrator is not a native interviewer provide an easy way to elicit information, where “the interviewer is obliged to let interviewees define their concepts, deferring to their position as a language authority and recognizing one aspect of the power relationship” (Chen 119). In that regard, even the interaction between the different participants of the so apparently joyful industry did not appear from a vacuum, but rather represented a reflection of various political and economical events through which India went during various periods of the development of the industry. An example of the latter can be seen through the bureaucratic and economic barriers in matters, the “license Raj,” which “created a range of impediments in the acquisition of raw film stock” (Booth 59). People describing the experience of living within such context provided a better explanation of the society and what it was going through.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that the use of ethnography in the book Behind the Curtain provided an opportunity to learn about the culture of the Indian music film industry. The oral accounts of the participants, recorded by Gregory Booth, provided an opportunity for the reader to better acknowledge the impact of music on the society as well as to have a better understanding about the society.

Works Cited

Booth, Gregory D. Behind the Curtain : Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Bresler, Liora. The Quarterly Journal of Music Teaching and Learning 6.3 (1995).

Chen, Shu-Hsin. “Power Relations between the Researcher and the Researched: An Analysis of Native and Nonnative Ethnographic Interviews.” Field Methods 23.2 (2011): 119-35. Print.

Stauffer, Sandra, and Janet Robbins. “Description, Interpretation, Meaning: Notes on Geertz and Ethnography in Music Education Research.” Research Studies in Music Education 31.1 (2009): 82-89. Print.

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