A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature
Eminent film critic, author and researcher M.K. Raghavendra's latest book "The Oxford India Short Introductions: Bollywood" promises to be a must for all film enthusiasts. As soon as I learnt about the book I got so excited that I just couldn't resist the temptation of directly contacting the National Award-winning author whose earlier book "The Politics of Hindi Cinema in the New Millennium: Bollywood and the Anglophone Indian Nation" is already a personal favorite.
Mr. Raghavendra has been kind enough to arrange for the readers of A Potpourri of Vestiges an extract from the book. Hope you all enjoy it.
From Chapter 4: ‘Global Bollywood’
“The 1990s represent a period of transition for Hindi cinema because ‘Nehruvian socialism’ ended with the economic liberalization of 1991 and Hindi cinema changed track significantly after that.... While it is difficult to determine the trajectory of the Hindi film from the smaller kind of cinema the task becomes easier when one confines oneself to the big films – determined by budgets and the presence of stars. The first aspect of this new cinema to invite attention is the weakening of melodramatic motifs and the reason is that the moral side (implicating the notion of loyalty) is scarcely in evidence. To illustrate, friendship prevails in 3 Idiots but loyalty to it is not brought to crisis as a melodrama might have it; such films are not ‘morally legible’ as mainstream Hindi films inevitably were and this can be contrasted with the friendships in Sangam (1964) and Sholay which demand extreme sacrifices. As if to compensate there is a new ethic creeping in which is personal aspiration as in 3 Idiots, Bunty Aur Babli (2005), Guru (2007) and Kaminey (2009). These films celebrate enterprise but an aspect deserving special notice is illegality being installed as a legitimate component of enterprise in Bunty Aur Babli and Guru. The mood in these films – and much more so in Kaminey – is celebratory when they describe ‘aspirations’ of this kind.
“Alongside this representation of (amoral) private initiative and is a decrying of the state as corrupt. The motif of the corrupt police officer acting for his own benefit has been virtually instituted by films like Kaminey as filmic convention and one traces it to the weakening of the Indian state by two decades or deregulation without a corresponding strengthening of enforcement – to ensure that the laws/regulations that remained were strictly adhered to. The justification for illegality is apparently that it a ‘global ethic’ since the state is shown to later enlist the fraudster protagonists of Bunty Aur Babli to use their expertise outside India. In Dhoom 2 (2006) the story begins with the protagonist stealing the British crown jewels and the implication is that since the British stole the Kohinoor diamond in the first place the act is legitimate. A contradiction often seen in the films is that while upholding illegalities but decrying state corruption films like these are also patriotic. It is as though unprincipled entrepreneurship can strengthen the nation and Guru suggests this when the protagonist declares his intent of creating a ‘world-class enterprise’ and the film equates shareholder wealth in India with that of the nation. Sports films follow the same logic when sportspersons overcome obstacles created by the state and accredit themselves well as in Chak De India (2007) and Paan Singh Tomar (2012). State rewards are deemed worthless but a signing fee from a private sponsor in Iqbal (2005) rescues a cricketer’s family from debt; acknowledgment by the market is considered more valuable than state recognition. Apart from celebrating aspiration new cinema also takes pride in the capacity of the rich Indian to spend, especially abroad and in Europe. Many of the films appearing after 2010 make only a pretense of having a story – those like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) and Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (2013) in which people splurge. In Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) the happenings are on a Mediterranean cruise – during a wedding anniversary on a rich man’s yacht. ‘Having fun’ is a key notion in many of these films and this is compatible with parties, songs, dances and foreign locations. Needless to add these films are poor in the signifiers which might have implied the nation – since little appears to matter except romantic attachments in the midst of abundance.”
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).
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