Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

My Metatextual Romance: Thinking with (and about) Jaane Tu Ya Janne Na

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

My Metatextual Romance: Thinking with (and about) Jaane Tu Ya Janne Na

Article excerpt

Scholars of popular romance fiction have begun to credit the genre with political and aesthetic self-consciousness, a "metatextual turn" that parallels changes in the academic reception of Hindi popular cinema. This essay brings some of these new theoretical models to bear on the Indian rom-com Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na.

Sumita Chakravaty closes her essay "Teaching Indian Cinema" with a challenge: "A Bollywood film is something to think with," she writes, "even more than something to think about" (108, emph. Chakravaty's). In this essay, I take up that challenge, thinking both about and with the Indian romantic comedy Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (Know it or Not). The film, we might say, is both thought-provoking and thoughtful, built around sophisticated insights into the imaginative structures of romantic love, the sexual politics of romantic comedy, and the specifically intellectual appeal of popular romance media: crucial topics in the emerging interdisciplinary field of popular romance studies.

The idea that popular romance culture might appeal to the mind, as well as the heart, is relatively new to scholarship. For example, in the opening pages of The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon, 1909-1990s, British scholar jay Dixon insists that "to enter the world of the romance, the method of analyzing literature which is taught in schools and higher education must be abandoned" (10). To appreciate such books, she writes, "the analytical part of the brain has to be switched off" (5) so that we can "feel every emotion, see every setting, burn at every injustice, fall in love with the hero and become the heroine" (11). By contrast, in her 2008 study Historical Romance Fiction: Heterosexuality and Performativity, Lisa Fletcher argues that middlebrow and popular historical romance novels deserve close reading not only as aesthetic and political artefacts, but also as sites of unexpectedly complex thinking about love, gender, and aesthetics. Romance novels "theorize and thematize" significant issues in their own right (14), she claims, displaying an unexpected degree of "analytical self-reflection" (91). Laura Vivanco's For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance devotes a full chapter to metafictional romance novels, and several contributors to the recent collection New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays (Frantz and Selinger) and to the biannual Journal of Popular Romance Studies likewise take this metatextual turn, attributing sophistication and self-consciousness to these texts, both as individual works of art and as participants in a robust and evolving generic system. (1)

A comparable turn is underway in the study of Hindi popular film. The same year as Fletcher's study, 2008, Ulka Anjaria and Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria contested the "derision" that meets clips of Indian film in academic contexts. "It is still commonplace," they write, "for critics and lay audiences alike to describe Hindi film as excessive, formulaic, escapist and morally totalizing with an intrinsically conservative agenda" (125). Against these charges--the same still filed against romance novels--they propose a "dialectical reading" strategy, which attends to the dialogue between individual films and generic conventions. "Conformity to conventions can be generative, rather than merely restrictive, of meaning," they write, and a properly "expansive" reading of Indian popular films would show that they "do not merely reflect social and political changes, but critically comment on them" (127). The cultural and generic competence needed to spot such dialogic subtleties comes easily to the intended audience of these films, in the Anjarias's account. Not only do "urban Indian filmgoers of all classes, as well as many diasporic filmgoers, see nearly every film that is released, and often multiple times," but filmmakers acknowledge this fact by integrating "metatextual commentary on viewing practises within the films themselves" (129). …

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