The Cinematic Imagination: Indian Popular Films as Social History

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Item Code: IDI967
Author: Jyotika Virdi
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 9788178240985
Pages: 258
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.7" X 5.6"
Weight 470 gm
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Book Description

From the Jacket:

India produces more films than any other country in the world, and these works are avidly consumed by non-Western cultures in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and by the Indian communities in Australia, Britain, the Caribbean Islands, and North America. Jyotika Virdi focuses on how this dominant medium configures the 'nation' in post-Independence Hindi cinema. She Scrutinizes approximately thirty films that have appeared since 1950 and demonstrates how concepts of the nation form the center of this cinema's moral universe.

As a kind of storytelling, Indian cinema provides a fascinating account of social history and cultural politics, with the family deployed as a symbol of the nation. Virdi demonstrates how the portrayal of the nation as a mythical community in Hindi films collapses under the weight of its own contradictions-irreconcilable differences that encompass gender, sexuality, family, class, and religious communities. Through these film narratives, the author traces transactions among the various constituencies that struggle, accommodate, coexist uneasily, or reconstitute each other over time, and in the process, reveal the topography of postcolonial culture.

About the Author:

JYOTIKA VIRDI teaches communication, film, and media studies at the University of Windsor, Canada. She has published essays on popular Hindi cinema in a variety of scholarly journals, including Screen and Visual Anthropology.

'This book makes an important contribution to the field of Asian film criticism, Indian film history, cultural studies, and gender studies. The Cinematic ImagiNation provides readers with valuable insights into the relationships between nation-building, gender, sexuality, the family, and popular cinema, using post-Independence India as a case study.' - Gina Marchetti


A SCANDAL IN Cinema studies of the last few decades has been the lack of attention paid to Indian popular cinema, the world's largest film industry. At a recent Society for Cinema Studies' plenary a panelist's speculations about the vanishing 1970s' style energy in film studies initiated an animated debate. The discussion failed to acknowledge that underlying this stagnation is the field's saturation with Hollywood and western cinema - that film studies stands at the brink of a sea change if we "unthink" Eurocentricism, decenter Hollywood/western cinema, and explore nonwestern films cultures, and that multicultural comparative film studies curricula will provide the sorely needed disciplinary reinvigoration. Though attention to national cinema is an index of growing interest in "other" cinema literatures, it is still light years from dislodging Hollywood's centrality in film studies.

It is therefore appropriate to caution against the current rush to declare the internationalization of cultural studies still under Euro-Anglian hegemony. Such premature proclamations at best signal a desire to include diverse cultural economies in media studies. However, demanding and international approach to cultural studies and a place for Indian national cinema is not meant to invoke a simple-minded national imperial opposition, indict the west's homogenizing influence, or valorize a national claim to cultural sovereignty.

Rather, I contend that Hindi cinema's particular hybrid form reveals nationalism itself as a contradictory force: the handmaiden of a dominant elite discourse, reinventing imperial metropolitan culture on the one hand bringing regional/oppositional strains to heel on the other. It enjoys popular mass investment in the hegemonic ideal while claming to resist acculturation. Understanding nationalism bound within religio-ethnic identity-not new to the Indian experience or other parts of the world-has gained new urgency in global geopolitics after the events of September 11, 2001. Feting the cultural "other" that gained currency in cultural studies requires careful reconsideration. The thin line between nationalism and fascism, insurgent freedom fighters and "terrorists," calls for a case by case judgement of the genealogy, cause, class, and bloc such movements represent.

Postcolonial studies, the officially authorized enclave for studying the Third/First World dynamics in the academy, privileges the literary text. Produced by a narrow class of intellectuals, consumed by an elite reading public in the ex-colonies, and satisfying the growing taste for such texts in the First World, the literary text falls squarely within the high culture zones of a transnational bourgeoisie. Its stranglehold-marked, for instance, by the growing popularity of Indians writings in English, and celebrated by such publications as Granta and the New Yorker-must also allow room for "plebeian" culture forms, such as popular Hindi cinema.

In India, fifty years after independence, the literary text barely constitutes the fringe of cultural consumption; the attention it receives far exceeds its reach or impact. Hindi cinema's popularity and importance rivals-or more likely outstrips-the literary text., The imperialism of literature that has been canonized as "writing back" to the empire even eludes Edward Said, who calls for careful attention to the media yet nevertheless falls back on the salutary effects of the literary text. Said's book Orientalism launched postcolonial criticism, a corpus that has expanded over the last two decades. Yet its preoccupation with literary work lacks the cultural immediacy that bell hooks or Cornel West bring to bear on African American studies when they engage, for instance, with rap music's place in the mosaic of that culture.

As slogans of multiculturalism and diversity take hold in campus politics and terms like "postcolonial" and "postcoloniality" forge their way from English departments to the more diffusely housed body of work called cultural studies, they get reconstituted as a hazy mix of theoretical claims-or, more controversially, as "area studies" tied to a generalized history, politics, and culture of colonialism. Global reconfiguration (due to increasing Euro-American cultural domination and ethnic transmigration) demands a new understanding of cultural politics, diverse epistemologies, and a shift in postcolonial studies' exclusive devotion to the written word-particularly given nonwestern cultures' predominantly oral traditions.




  Preface ix
  Acknowledgements xv
  Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Nation and Its Discontents
The Nation, in Theory. The Creative ImagiNation. Theorizing National Cinema. Nation and Its Embodiments. Pleasure and Terror of the Feminine.
Chapter 2 The Idealized Woman
Fixing the Figure of the Woman. Woman, Community, Nation. The "Social Butterfly."
Chapter 3 Heroes and Villains: Narrating the Nation
Masculinity. Heroes and Villains. Sons and Mothers.
Chapter 4 Heroines, Romance, and Social History
Reading Resistance. Contesting the Laxman Rekha. Film/Star Text: Reading Social Change.
Chapter 5 The Sexed Body
Filmic Love. Victims to Vigilantes. Rape and the Rape Threat. The Sexed Body and Specular Pleasure. Double-Speak about the Body. Unsettled Scores.
Chapter 6 Re-reading Romance
Transgressions of "True Love." Reinstating "Family Values." Romantic Love and the Culture of Consumption. The End of the Nehruvian Era.
  Conclusion 205
  Notes 215
  Index 245

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