Movies, Masculinity, and Modernity: An Ethnography of Men's Filmgoing in India

Movies, Masculinity, and Modernity: An Ethnography of Men's Filmgoing in India

Movies, Masculinity, and Modernity: An Ethnography of Men's Filmgoing in India

Movies, Masculinity, and Modernity: An Ethnography of Men's Filmgoing in India

Synopsis

Men in India are attracted to Hindi films partly because of their attraction to depictions of "modern" lifestyles. Derne argues that films help men handle their ambivalence about modernity by rooting their sense of "Indianness" in women's acceptance of traditional food habits, clothing, and gender subordination. The book is one of the first ethnographic studies of filmgoing and one of the first to focus on mainstream male audiences.

Excerpt

While many Indians criticize popular films as intoxicating, time- wasting, and prompting bad behavior, movies are nevertheless ubiquitous in modern urban India. Crowds of young men hang around the tea stalls and hair-styling salons that surround urban cinemas. Throughout most cities, huge printed or hand-painted hoardings advertise films that are currently playing, and crude posters advertising films are attached to every available wall space. Hindi film music blares from radios and cassette players in homes, shops, restaurants, and tea stalls. In Banaras in 1987 Hindi-film music was such a common part of Indian wedding celebrations that an American photographer whom I met assumed that one film song was a traditional wedding song. Film dialogues are so well known that they are often repeated in everyday talk. Clothing, rickshaws, and autorickshaws are decorated with the names of favorite films and film stars. In Banaras in 1987 and Dehra Dun in 1991, television viewers' favorite shows were the weekly Hindi film and weekly selection of popular film songs. In most bazaars, merchants hawk posters of film stars, sell fan magazines, and rent videos of popular films to well-off Indians who watch them on video cassette recorders (VCRs) in the privacy of their homes. Mainstream magazines and newspapers regularly carry articles about films and film stars, while a dozen magazines cater exclusively to the Hindi-film audience.

Like many students of Hindi, I found Hindi film a useful way of improving my language skills. While living in the United States, I found commercial Hindi films boring and predictable. But I began to love Hindi films during the 15 months I spent interviewing men in Banaras about their family lives in 1986 and 1987. I loved to escape from the heat, dirt, and crowds of everyday life by seeing a fantasy of distant hills from an air-conditioned balcony seat. I was thrilled by the suggestive dances of the beautiful heroines of Indian cinema. I enjoyed the companionship of attending films with my male friends.

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