Refuting the Expanded Cultural Critique: The Construction of Wajid Ali Shah’s Alterity

  • Reena Dube
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)


Like the Bengali landlord in Jalsaghar, Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh, is an overinscribed figure in colonialist and nationalist historiography. He is the referent of all Lakhnavi tall tales. In main-stream postcolonial films, folk tales, and popular memory he is cited for the high achievement in Awadhi culture.1 At the same time the figure of Wajid Ali Shah appears in these cultural texts as a figure of contradiction, teetering between perfection and ludicrousness.2 He is acknowledged as the patron of indigenous arts and crafts, a ruler in whose reign these knowledges and innovations achieved unparalleled excellence. Simultaneously he is held responsible for causing the defeat of the Muslim dynastic nawabs of Awadh in his hedonistic pursuit of pleasure. Thus the Manichean perception of Wajid in the popular imagination contains elements of the colonialist as well as nationalist critique.


Chess Player East India Company Cultural Resistance Dance Sequence Colonial Discourse 
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  1. 3.
    Wajid Ali Shah was trained in classical music and was so talented that he innovated new raginis. See Abdul Halim Sharar, Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, trans. and ed. E. S. Harcourt and Fakhir Hussain (1976) 138. Wajid Ali Shah’s penname was Akhtar under which nom de plume he wrote over forty works, mainly poetic compositions in various genres, and prose of a scholarly nature. He composed over four hundred thumris, or light classical compositions, under the name of Kadar Piya. Finally he is credited with innovating a style of the classical dance of North India, the Kathak dance.Google Scholar
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    Amaresh Misra, “Satyajit Ray’s Films: Precarious Social-Individual Balance”, Economic and Political Weekly (16–23 May 1992) 1053. For a more insightful analysis of the film see Suranjan Ganguly, “Poetry into Prose: The Rewriting of Oudh in Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players”, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. 30, No. 2 (1995) 17–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Third World cinema has also been referred to by some as “third cinema.” The term goes back to a conference held in 1986 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, to debate the concept of Black and Third World films as third cinema. Out of this conference emerged an important collection of essays titled, Questions of Third Cinema, ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (1989). The book made an important contribution to the ongoing theoretical and critical debate about third cinema in terms of the questions regarding oppositional critical practice, theory, and aesthetics posed by independent Black filmmakers and Third World films. Some of the issues raised are: (i) the nature and elitism of theories emerging from “Third World” film cultures; (ii) the validity of theoretical work based on Western critical traditions; (iii) the need to avoid essentialist paradigms in evaluating the processes of struggle against cultural imperialism; and (iv) critical evaluation of concepts such as ethnicity, nationalism, cultural nationalism, and populism versus globalism and cosmopolitanism. See also Gabriel H. Teshome, Third Cinema in the Third World (1982). While I am in broad sympathy with the project of third cinema and the theoretical issues raised by this debate, my own critical interest lies not only in the avowedly oppositional cinema text but equally in the mainstream and the popular cinematic text.Google Scholar
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© Reena Dube 2005

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  • Reena Dube

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