- Introduction:South by South/West Asia: Transregional Histories of Middle East–South Asia Cinemas
In the summer of 1981, the film Suraj Bhi Tamashai (The Sun Is Also a Spectator) was released in Muscat, Oman. An enthusiastic headline proclaimed it "The First Hindi Film from the Gulf,"1 and a handful of press sources touted the film as singularly significant in other respects as well: as an official Pakistan-Jordan-Iran coproduction; as an effort that drew together a team of "[p]eople from five countries";2 as a film whose primary shooting locations included Dubai and Sri Lanka; and as an "inaugural [post-1947] Indo-Pak film,"3 owing to the participation of Indian and Pakistani cast and crew. Despite achieving not just one, but several purported firsts, the film remains obscure and elusive: if extant, no physical or digital copy is readily accessible, and few scholarly accounts have mentioned the film even in passing.
This special issue addresses the histories, challenges, and emergent avenues of scholarship that the instance of Suraj Bhi Tamashai bespeaks, in terms of transregional cross-border and cross-industry histories as well as lost legacies. While helmed by a Pakistani filmmaker, Suraj Bhi Tamashai was officially prohibited from import and exhibition in Pakistan due to its enlisting of Indian collaborators.4 An entry with some basic information about the film has since been catalogued in a nonstate, online database of Pakistani films,5 which highlights the default tendency of deriving a film's nationality from that of its director—despite, in this case, the official ban on Suraj Bhi Tamashai's import into its designated country of origin as such. Given the disjunctions between the national contexts of the film's director, the cast and crew, the shooting locations, the coproducers, and the coproducers' locations as expatriates in the Gulf, an excavation of Suraj Bhi Tamashai's histories would demand a cross-border frame of analysis and commensurate exploration of archival traces spread across a range of transregional repositories: from newspapers and print ephemera in different languages, for example, to private (and likely pirate) collections [End Page 1] of VHS tapes, to oral histories recorded through interviews with cast, crew, and even audience members who might have witnessed its release.
One would have to be wary of Suraj Bhi Tamashai's many proffered firsts in light of a much longer, albeit underresearched, history of transregional film production, distribution, and exhibition. As a descriptor of a cross-border region that stretches across South/West Asia, the area studies–derived term Middle East–South Asia remains awkward in its cleaving of a geography that is both much more fluid and much more heterogenous than its clunkily conjoined, binary terms might suggest.6 This awkwardness points to the challenges of even describing an area whose monikers are so limited in Anglophone contexts of scholarship. An account of the structures of film commerce, labor, and regulation that have made a curious film like Suraj Bhi Tamashai possible, indeed an account that would make such a film significant for world cinema history, remains to be fully established in the field. We hope that this issue's collective focus on cinema's movement across the borders of South/West Asia will generate momentum, and present some of the broader methodological insights and stakes, for proceeding further in this endeavor.
Unlike many studies of media circulation that take Europe or North America as a starting point or destination, this project is committed to those South-by-South networks that have had a far greater impact on cinema histories than the field has acknowledged. Each of the contributors has conducted comparative archival research, in two or more languages, to draw attention to the robust exchanges among film industries located in Bombay, Cairo, Dubai, Kochi, Lahore, Manama, Tehran, and points in between. Collectively, the issue tracks the movements of films, film technologies, genres, and labor across popular cinemas and their audiences across the Middle East and South Asia. It demonstrates that the infrastructures of these popular cinemas often depended less on Hollywood and festival networks than on interregional affiliations. For researchers active in the fields of...