Bollywood in the Age of New Media: The Geo-Televisual Aesthetic

Bollywood in the Age of New Media: The Geo-Televisual Aesthetic

Bollywood in the Age of New Media: The Geo-Televisual Aesthetic

Bollywood in the Age of New Media: The Geo-Televisual Aesthetic

Synopsis

Focusing on popular Indian cinema's phenomenal output between 1991 and 2004, Anustup Basu considers the influence of globalization, new media, and metropolitan Hindu fundamentalism on the rise of Bollywood. Beginning in the early nineties, popular Hindi cinema evolved a spectacular style inspired by liberalizing trends and the inauguration of a planetary media ecology. Films increasingly featured transformed bodies, fashions, lifestyles, commodities, gadgets, and spaces, often in nonlinear, "window-shopping" ways-in other words, without any obligation to narrative. The unbounded flow of deisre, affect, and aspiration transcended the limits of story and milieu. Haqeeqat (1995) features poor, working-class characters, but through the magic of a music and dance sequence, these downtrodden souls become transported to the streets of Switzerland, redressed and remade in new designer suits. Basu calls this cinematic-cultural ecology the "geo-televisual aesthetic" and connects it to the uneven processes of globalization transforming India in this period.

Excerpt

Rakesh Roshan’s 1995 film Karan Arjun (Karan and Arjun) offers a typical cinematic example of a Dharmic intervention into human affairs. What is ushered in, in a moment of acute crisis, is a cosmic power that is able to close the gap between the fallible word of human law and a divine ontology of justice. Law, it must be remembered, is for judgment, not justice. The former is an earthly discursive phenomenon, prone to error and adjustment; the latter is a divine ideal toward which historical procedures of judgment aspire but never quite reach. Yet, in the present case, as we shall see, judgment and justice coincide. This is what makes Dharma (which is at once divinely ordained duty, ethics, and religion) a cinematic picture of theodicy. The incident takes place immediately after the diabolical thakur Durjan Singh and his men kill Karan and Arjun, the two young sons of a widow called Durga. The distraught mother runs to the temple; the surroundings grow elemental and it seems that nature itself is outraged. The sequence inside the temple begins with a Dutch-angle close-up of the goddess Kali, signifying a world that is out of kilter. Durga looks accusingly at the deity and says that her sons cannot die, since one mother—that is, Kali herself—cannot empty the bosom of another one. She then demands the impossible: that Karan and Arjun be restored to her by Kali’s grace. This momentous utterance is accompanied by thunder on the soundtrack. Next, there is a close-up of Durga who begins to bang her head on the sacrificial platform in front of Kali, the divinity of power. Alternating shots of the crazed but unwaveringly faith-driven woman are interspersed with more skewed close-ups of the idol, bridging the two figures with an imaginary affiliating power that is of another time and another world. A slow use of the zoom, intimating every shot/reverse-shot exchange of looks between the acolyte and the divine and a rising crescendo of music bring the prayer and the inevitable moment of deliverance to a critical proximity. The two meet in a dimension that is alien to the editorial intelligence of a cause–effect realist cinema.

A groundless cut-away to a distant hospital follows, where a doctor . . .

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