The vernacular architectural style of the haveli in India is defined by social historian Sarah Tillotson as a “distinguishable type of inward looking courtyard house” prevalent in precolonial North India. Havelis lost their ability to function as efficient domiciles with the decline of the Mughal empire, under which a hierarchical, patriarchal system of aristocratic patronage and indirect landownership once flourished, to be replaced by indigenous bureaucratic elites as well as subservient princely states suited to British imperialism. The ability of wealthy families to sustain extended communities overseen by the haveli's amir (overlord) dissipated with the declining financial and social powers of the Mughal emperor, and India's many regents and noblemen. Since the mid-twentieth century, havelis largely populate the nation's landscape as heritage sites or decaying buildings parceled out among multiple owners. Studied by anthropologists and architectural historians as signs and ruins of another era, havelis and the lifestyle associated with them have nevertheless been kept alive for popular audiences by novels, television, and, most prominently, commercially successful Hindi films. Popular postindependence Hindi-Urdu films such as Madhumati (1958), Sahib bibi aur ghulam (1962), Bahu begum (1967), Lal patthar (1971), Kudrat (1981), Bees Saal baad (1988), and Purani haveli (1989), among others, have endowed havelis with an affective life that creatively processes and reflects on the structure's material decline, by using architectural form as a trigger point for emotions about the changing role of class, religion, and gender in the biography of a modern nation. The films scramble history and erase India's colonial period, which was historically central to the haveli's decline as an architectural hub of cities. Faced with such a hermeneutic, a historian's attention is drawn away from the logic of causality to the logic of signification, to understand what misalignments of time have meant in the popular imagination of an architectural form. This article recuperates the omitted middle of British colonialism to reveal how ruptures from a sense of continuous time produced this cinematic imagination of a place to write a critical historiography of affective space in cinema.
Priya Jaikumar; Haveli: A Cinematic Topos. positions 1 February 2017; 25 (1): 223–248. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-3710415
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