Teaching India with Popular Feature Films: A Guide for High School and College Teachers

By Parameswaran, Gowri | Multicultural Education, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Teaching India with Popular Feature Films: A Guide for High School and College Teachers


Parameswaran, Gowri, Multicultural Education


Introduction

Popular films tell us a lot about the culture where they are seen and enjoyed even though they may not reflect "reality" in the way that academics may want to portray a country. Popular films get at the deepest longings and fears of their viewership and their biggest hopes for the future. Teaching India through popular films is particularly important because that country is the largest producer of films in the world and claims some of the largest markets for films.

This article lists and describes some popular feature films that teachers can use to talk about India and their general themes. All of the films are quite appropriate for a high school or higher education audience, and all but one of them been made in India by Indian directors.

A Short Introduction to India

India is the second most populous country on earth and is the world's largest democracy. Its written history spans many thousands of years from the Indus Valley Civilization, of which the earliest evidence dates back 9,000 years. All of the world's major religions are represented in India, with Hinduism being the most prominent. The other significant organized religions include Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism.

The various dynasties that have ruled large regions in India include the Mauryas and the Guptas in the north and the Chalukyas, Cholas, and the Vijaynagar empires in the south. Later, the Mughal rulers from central Asia conquered much of India, followed by the British Empire. From the middle of the 1800s, Indians organized to fight for their independence and they finally succeeded in 1947.

Before the British left, they divided the sub-continent into two nations, acceding to some Muslim demands for their own country by creating Pakistan. Since its independence India has burgeoned into the second most populous country and the largest democracy on earth.

Cultural Information

India is an extremely diverse country with a high degree of cultural continuity as well as syncretism. The Indian constitution recognizes 22 Indian languages and there are over 1600 dialects spoken by people in India. Hindi is spoken by a larger proportion of the population than the other languages, while Sanskrit, Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu are all considered classical languages.

Indian food is characterized by its complicated use of many spices that vary regionally. Rice is eaten in the south while wheat is the staple in the north. Pulses and vegetable protein are the predominant source of protein in the diet and dairy products, especially in the form of yogurt (or curds), are an integral part of most meals.

Caste

The Indian caste system has played a dominant role in community life, not just among Hindus but also among members of other religions. Caste is an important consideration when marriages are arranged and during communal celebrations. Historically, the major castes across the subcontinent have included the Brahmins (priests and teachers), the Kshatriyas (warriors and kings), Vaishyas (the merchants), and the Shudras (menial workers). The untouchables were outside of the caste system and performed chores involving 'unclean' objects.

Since independence, the government has made a concerted effort to deliver justice to those on the lower rungs of the caste ladder by instituting the quota system in higher education and government positions. However, life for most Shudras and Dalits (the untouchables) is still oppressive.

The Arts

The Indian subcontinent has a rich tradition of both the fine and performing arts. There have been a number of influences on Indian sculpture, painting, architecture, dance, drama, and writing. Some of the earliest and most profound influences have been Buddhist. The characteristic Buddhist rock-cut sculptures were later imitated by Hindus and Jains. In the south, mural paintings by the Chola and the Chera kings survive. …

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