Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Hinduism and Its Others in Bollywood Film of the 2000s

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Hinduism and Its Others in Bollywood Film of the 2000s

Article excerpt


This paper will explore the representation of Hinduism and its others in Bollywood Film of the late 1990s and early 2000s. It will deal with constructed notions of "otherness" as revealed in the representation of the "West" and of "India" in popular Hindi film. I will focus on the discourse of difference as well as on issues of nationalism, diaspora and globalization. I analyze the films in the light of ideological criticism and post-colonial theory as represented in the work of Edward Said (1979), Homi Bhabha (1994) and Partha Chatterjee (1993), my own work on the discourse of otherism, and theories of nationalism expounded by Benedict Anderson (1983) and Eric Hobsbawm (2003). The films that I will discuss are: Lagan (Rent on Land) and Ham dil de cuke sanam (I Have Already Given My Heart Away). It is characteristic of these films that they deal with aspects of modernity, westernization and globalization in order to assert a modern Hindu-Indian identity that is different, "other," and often traditional and conservative.

In the following I will discuss briefly the beginnings, development and the different periods of Bollywood film as well as its politics, aesthetic and genres. I will then focus on the theoretical discourse of the 'self and the other,' the discourse of otherism and the differences that it produces in the era of globalization, diaspora and hybridity.

Bollywood film: history, periodization and aesthetic

I use the term "Bollywood Film" to denote the Hindi-Urdu popular cinema of India, which has its center in Mumbai (Bombay). It has been argued that the term "Bollywood" is not a perfect one, "as it implies that Hindi cinema is a derivation of Hollywood and thus an insulting term," (Dwyer, 2005: 4). However, it is the dominant global term to refer to the prolific Hindi language film industry in Bombay and has also become part of the academic jargon appearing on the titles of many recent books on Hindi-Urdu popular cinema. Therefore I have adopted it in this essay.

The beginnings of cinema in India go back to 1896, when the first cinematographe show was presented at the Watson's hotel in Bombay. Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (Dadasaheb Phalke, 1870-1944) is venerated nowadays as the "Father of Indian cinema." His first film Raja Harischandra made its debut in Bombay's Coronation Cinematographe Theatre in 1913 and is considered the first Hindi film. Sound and music arrived in Indian cinema in 1931. In the following two decades several studios, organized along lines similar to Hollywood, made an important contribution to the further development of the Hindi film industry. Four important studios of this era were Imperial Films Company in Bombay, Prabhat Film Company in Pune, New Theatres in Calcutta, and Bombay Talkies. During World War II there were shortages of raw film stock and a thriving black market. The priority that was given to films supporting the war resulted in the production of numerous war movies. During and after Partition the importance of the Bombay film industry grew, as the film industries located in Calcutta and Lahore lost personnel and audiences. The post-independence film industry was shaped by the histories of migration and displacement. Bombay became one of the few centers in India where the Urdu language was kept alive, as Hindi films continued to be made in Hindustani, building on a common Hindi-Urdu vocabulary, and not in the highly Sanskritized Hindi, promoted by the government. Moreover, Urdu poets and many Muslim stars, directors, lyricists and screenwriters have enjoyed prominence and success in the film industry located in Bombay (Ganti, 2004: 8- 23).

Scholars have categorized Hindi film-making in post-Independence India in three main eras: Hindi cinema in the "nation-building" Nehruvian era in the 1950s, Hindi cinema during the crisis of the state in the 1970s, and Hindi cinema in the period of liberalization and satellite television after 1991 and up to present day. …

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