A candid conversation with eminent film critic and author M.K. RaghavendraA Potpourri of Vestiges Feature
Read an extract from M. K. Raghavendra's latest book The Oxford India Short Introductions: Bollywood
For 1.2 billion Indians, cinema is synonymous with Bollywood - the popular moniker for the Hindi cinema. If Cricket is our nation's lifeline then surely Bollywood forms its DNA. No Indian, whether living in India or abroad, is left untouched by the razzmatazz that's become Hindi cinema's signature in the whole world over the last decade or so: Songs, Music, Dance, Crappy Action, and Cheesy Dialogue. But, has Hindi cinema always been the same? As they say, change is the only constant! Now, every change needs a stimulus of some kind or the other. There is no denying that the Hindi cinema experienced a metamorphosis of sorts around the turn of the millennium. But, has anyone ever tried to study or analyze this transmutation? If your curiosity has already started to get the better of you then rest assured that the eminent film critic, author and researcher M.K. Raghavendra's latest book, "The Politics of Hindi Cinema in the New Millennium: Bollywood and the Anglophone Indian Nation," is just for you!
I myself got so excited when I first heard about the book's theme that I just couldn't resist the temptation of directly contacting the eminent author. And, I must confess that I consider myself really fortunate to have got such a positive response from Mr. Raghavendra. He was kind enough to share his valuable thoughts on his latest book as well as the Hindi cinema at large.
Q). How did you think of this book?
A). For several years now I have been interested in the political meaning of mainstream Hindi cinema. My first examination of this aspect was in my book Seduced by the Familiar: Narration and Meaning in Indian Popular Cinema (Oxford, 2008). It is well known now that Hindi cinema played a big part in helping Indians imagine an entity binding them together, i.e. the Indian nation. Hence, in Hindi cinema after 1947 (and even before), you have national issues being indirectly represented – like Nehru’s moves towards a modern India being represented – like the city in the films of the 1950s being both the emblem of good modernity (thro’ the doctor and the dam construction engineer) and bad modernity in the figure of the gambler and the club dancer. The important films will be those like Andaz, Awaara, Baazi, Shree 420, Howrah Bridge, etc. Agrarian issues were dealt with in films like Mother India, Naya Daur and Ganga Jumna. This continued and the important historical moments dealt with by Hindi cinema in different ways are those like independence, the disaster of the Sino-Indian war, the green revolution of the mid-1960s, Mrs Gandhi’s rise in the late 1960s, her populism in the 1970s and her defeat in 1977, the rise of regional conflict in the 1980s through the Khalistan movement, etc, the economic liberalization under PV Narasimha Rao and the advent of globalization. Hindi cinema changed drastically after 1992 because that was when Nehruvian socialism was abandoned and this shows in the poor no longer being the subjects of Hindi film stories. But there was a greater change in the new millennium with Indians in the cities gradually becoming closer to the West than to rural India. This shows in Hindi cinema addressing not all of India as before but English speaking Indians from the cities whose spending power increased with the new economy. It is the increasing power of the English speaking Indian which made Hindi cinema address an asymmetric nation as never before. This is what I wanted to examine. But the political implications of the films have to be dug out, interpreted. Just like when you are listening to someone talking, you will not only listen to what he/she is saying but will also observe body language. If your friend tells you he will give his life for you but leaves you to pay the bill in the restaurant, what will you believe? Body, language will often tell you whether to believe someone or not. Similarly, to get at political meaning, you have to go underneath what is obvious.
Q). What is your approach?
A). I look chronologically at important films – in terms of their earnings – and analyse them either individually or in groups for their hidden political meaning. For instance, there are several films dealing with adultery – from Jism to KANK. They constitute one group and Gadar: Ek Prem Katha and Veer-Zara constitute another. Similarly, sports films after Lagaan like Iqbal, Chak De India, Paan Singh Tomar are a third group and films about male friendship – Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is is one more. Individual articles on individual films like Rang De Basanti, Kaminey, Om Shanti Om are also there. The socially conscious films of Madhur Bhadarkar are examined together. The important thing is that the attitudes exhibited by the films change gradually as they are examined chronologically.
Q). What are the changing tendencies?
A). Most importantly, Hindi cinema which was once very moral changes with self interest gaining ground – shown as aspiration. Secondly, there an increasing endorsement of criminality as a legitimate way to advance oneself. Thirdly, it is as if the state is useless and it is made fun of or shown as not worthy of respect. Fourthly, parents who were one highly respected become seen as obstructions in the way of individual achievement and fifthly, urban India becomes closer to the global world and rural India becomes distant. This is also revealed by the attitudes of 3 Idiots being so different from those of Dabangg. All these things - and many more like the attitude towards farmers, politicians and politics, etc tell us many things about what has happened to India after 2000.
Hindi cinema, because it is so popular, is not the work of the director but it is the work of the audience speaking through the director. It is the voice of the public – or at least that of an important section of the public.
Popular Hindi cinema metamorphosed unrecognizably in the new millennium. An expanding urban middle-class viewer base, ever growing in its Anglophone cultural absorption, fuelled the multiplex boom at home. A slew of popular movies in tune with the sensitivities of the diasporic Indians came to define ‘Bollywood’ as a powerful global brand and a lifestyle banner. Another kind of mainstream cinema emerged in opposition to the dominant ‘elitist’ presence, a cinema meant less for multiplexes but still not ‘traditional’ in the old way. The Hindi film industry itself changed radically post 1990s, and so did the meanings, mores, and ideologies embedded in Hindi cinema.
Going beyond the conventional theory-laden mode of analysing the political moorings of mainstream cinema, M.K. Raghavendra accords primacy to their ‘text’, treating them as rich reflections of the goings on in contemporary society. Taking cinema and cinema-viewing as a conjoined site of enquiry, he brings together a revealing and enlightening analysis of 28 Hindi blockbusters from the 2000s. With a close reading of films such as Rang De Basanti, Veer-Zaara, Bunty Aur Babli, 3 Idiots, Dabangg, Rajneeti, and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Raghavendra untangles the threads of myriad new imaginaries of contemporary India and Indian-ness, embedded in a transformed Bollywood.
- The Global and the Pre-Modern Raaz (2002)
- The Adulterous Woman Jism (2003) to Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006)
- 'Undivided India' Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001) and Veer-Zara (2004)
- The Youth Film as Dissent Rang de Basanti (2006) and the Political Class
- The Agony Aunt and the Small Illegality Munna Bhai MBBS (2003) and Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006)
- Thieves like Us Enterprise in Bunty Aur Babli (2005), Dhoom 2 (2006), and Guru (2007)
- The 'Hyperreal' and the Narrowing Nation Om Shanti Om (2007)
- The Reservations of Middle-Class Concern Page 3 (2005), Corporate (2006), Traffic Signal (2007), and Fashion (2008)
- Dystopia or Entrepreneurial Fantasy Kaminey (2009)
- The Exemplary Citizen Education, Taare Zamin Par (2007) and Three Idiots (2009)
- Politics and Enterprise Raajneeti (2010)
- The Anthropological Gaze Agrarian Issues and Peepli (Live) (2010)
- Resisting the Anglophone Nation Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) and Dabangg (2010)
- Transactions Friendships in Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)
- Sport and the Nation Iqbal (2005), Chak De India (2007) and Paan Singh Tomar (2012)
- Conclusion: Collapsing State, Dissolving Nation
- About the Author
- Offers new direction in scholarship on Hindi cinema and 'Bollywood'
- M.K. Raghavendra, eminent film-critic, researcher, and scholar
- Interpretation of 28 films
- Detailed introduction by the author
All in all, it's a must read book for cinema enthusiasts and aficionados alike. It is available on:
About the Author:
M.K. Raghavendra is an eminent film critic and researcher and has been the recipient of the National Award for the Best Film Critic, the Swarna Kamal, in 1997. His most prominent publications include Seduced by the Familiar: Narration and Meaning in Indian Popular Cinema (OUP 2008) and Bipolar Identity: Region, Nation, and the Kannada Language Film (OUP 2011).
Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!
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