Popular cinema is a particularly potent political and cultural document in highly diverse societies, where the audiovisual can cut across barriers of language and region, culture and class. This book explores the extent to which Indian popular cinema offers a fresh view of South Asian public life while being a distinctive response to the new political presence of the changing culture of the urban middle classes in the region. The book works with the stretched meaning of the political that such cinema has produced and distinctive style of social criticism it has introduced.
Cinema in India has always been a play of middle-class sensibilities and fantasy life. And, this middle class now seems to have come into its own. From the time of Indira Gandhi, the political agendas of political parties and leaders have been increasingly shaped by middle-class consciousness and popular cinema has become for this class both an ideological phalanx and a major vehicle of self-expression. The media-exposed public in turn has become more accessible through the mythic structures and larger-than-life figures of popular cinema. The medium has become a new, more powerful language of public discourse.
This book, like its companion volume The Secret Politics of our Desires (OUP, 1998), is a product of this awareness. It uses Indian popular cinema to reexamine the relationships among society, politics, and culture. This six essays in it, mostly by contributors from outside the world of the film studies and film criticism, span topics such as showmanship and stylization of images; the human characterization of abstract concepts such as good and evil; the open-ended, episodic and fragmented nature of the narrative, cemented together through devices such as family 'history' and 'filial love'; and the reemergence of 'Hindustani' as a secular language of film. The essays also cover popular cinema's fear of using comedy when dealing with the legitimacy and authority of the state; the 'ideal' femininity conjured by Lata Mangeshkar's voice; and the debts to Hollywood and the carnivalesque that shape Guru Dutt's comedies.
This is a book addressed to students and scholars of South Asian politics, society and cultures, and to journalists and general readers interested in Indian cinema.
About the Author:
Vinay Lal is Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His most recent books include Empire of Knowledge: Culture and Plurality in the Global Economy (2002; new ed., 2005), and The History of History: Politics and Scholarship in Modern India (OUP, 2003).
Ashis Nandy has been a fellow of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, for over three decades. Two of his recent books are An Ambiguous Journey to the City: The Village and Other Odd Ruins of the Self in the Indian imagination (OUP, 2001), and The Romance of the State and the Fate of Dissent in the Tropics (OUP, 2003).
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