With their epic stories and infectious song-and-dance routines, Bollywood movies can seem like the ultimate form of escapism. But behind their multicolor gloss is a potent subtext about modern India’s thorniest subjects, writes Temple’s Priya Joshi.
In Bollywood’s India: A Public Fantasy (Columbia University Press, 2015), Joshi, an associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts, says Bollywood―the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai―has provided an ongoing conversation about India since the country gained independence from the British in 1947.
Bollywood films have given voice and shape to the average Indian’s dreams, fears and anxieties from the turbulence that followed India’s partition from Pakistan through the explosive economic growth of recent years, says Joshi.
“The blockbusters of Hindi cinema have played a prominent role in managing the euphoria and crises that confront the modern nation” of India, Joshi writes. In the book, Joshi “analyzes the social work that popular cinema has done for the nation even as the cinema has challenged fundamental practices of the nation and the state during critical moments.”
According to Joshi, almost all Bollywood movies follow a familiar formula: There are usually half a dozen songs, a love story, stylized action sequences and big dance numbers. The wide-ranging appeal of this formula helps to fill India’s massive theaters, which can seat a thousand moviegoers or more.
Despite Bollywood’s populist elements, Joshi says the films have given Indians a chance to talk about subjects they couldn’t otherwise discuss, either because of cultural taboos or political repression.
She points to the 1973 film Bobby, which was a megahit at the box office and featured stars Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. The film extolled the pleasures of teenage love but below the surface, it dealt with “dowry deaths,” the murder of brides in an attempt to extort their parents.
Another example is the 1951 movie Awara, which paid homage to the comedy of Charlie Chaplin but also shined a light on India’s bloody partition from Pakistan.
“Bollywood films deal directly with some of the most challenging aspects of Indian life,” said Joshi. “Whether it’s terrorism, class tensions or political corruption, Bollywood has been there to help Indians understand who they are and what they want to become.”
Expertise on India
Bollywood’s India by Temple’s Priya Joshi is just the latest product of Temple’s robust scholarship on the burgeoning economy and rich culture of one of the world’s growing powers. According to Joshi, Temple is unique among colleges and universities for its expertise on modern India.
- Joshi previously wrote a book titled In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India.
- Anthropology Professor Jayasinhji Jhala partnered with Temple students and private artists to develop a new type of contemporary painting marrying digital techniques with traditional Indian styles.
- Temple is a member institution of the American Institute of Indian Studies. Howard Spodek, a Temple professor who wrote the 2011 book Ahmedabad: Shock City of Twentieth-Century India, is a trustee of the institute.
- The New India Forum in the Center for the Humanities at Temple presents research on India from a broadly humanistic perspective using an interdisciplinary approach. The forum returns in fall 2015.
- The Temple University in India summer program empowers students to investigate Indian civilization through its religious and artistic traditions, both ancient and contemporary.
- Mitrabarun “MB” Sarkar, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Strategic Management Department of the Fox School of Business, is an expert on innovation and business in India.
- Temple’s Center for International Business Education and Research―one of only 17 such centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education―focuses on promoting U.S. competitiveness in emerging markets, including India.
Taken from Temple News, by Ashwin P. Verghese