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Syllabus - University of Virginia - Spring 1998

Introduction to South Asian Cinema:
Nation, Culture, and Gender in Popular Cinema

Instructor: Ruhi Grover. Email was: rgm2k@virginia.edu

Course number: Drama 203
Location/Time: Clemons 201 / Mon. 3:30-6:30

This course uses one medium of visual representation--cinema--to explore the portrayal of South Asia. It historically traces the development of the cinematic industry in South Asia and highlights the changing images of the region since the 1950s. Each decade evokes a list of stereotypes, of ideas, and of historical realities. We will examine the extent to which films in each decade captured the reality of the period. In particular, we will trace the maturation of the idea of a nation through films like Mother India and Bombay and we will explore the positioning of gender in these decades. In general, this course will adopt critical approaches for looking at aesthetics and the representation of South Asia through cinema.

Brief comments on each film screened in class (not more than a page): 20 %
Each student will lead a discussion on one of the films screened in class: 30 %
A 15-page paper on any issue that emerges from the films screened in class: 50 %


  • Aruna Vasudev ed. Frames of Mind: Reflections on Indian Cinema. Delhi, UBS Publishers, 1995
  • Sumita S. Chakravarty. National identity in Indian Popular Cinema 1947-1987. Austin: Texas University Press, 1993.
  • Cine Blitz - a film magazine available at Clemons from 1975- 1995. PN.C45 (1975-1995)
  • Packet at Brillig Bookstore.

    For films that do not have English sub-titles, a brief description of the scenes will be provided inclass.

    Classes --

    January 19: Introduction to South Asia. Why study cinema? Overview of South Asian cinema.
    Film: Awara VHS 8461 / Naya Daur VHS 16525
    Readings: Arjun Appadurai & Carol Breckenridge, "Public Modernity in India." Phoco. In Consuming modernity : public culture in a South Asian World (University of Minnesota Press, 1995. ISBN 0816623066)

  • Roy Armes, "Third World Societies," pp. 9-33, "The Indian Sub-Continent," pp. 105-134. In Third World film making and the West University of California Press, 1987. ISBN: 0520056906) CR

  • [CR = Clemons Library Reserve materials]
  • Unthinking Eurocentricism, pp. 13-31. In Ella Shohat's Unthinking Eurocentrism : Multiculturalism and the Media (Routledge, 1994. ISBN: 0415063256) CR

  • Chakravarty, pp. 119-148.
  • January 26: National identity and realist aesthetic
    Film: Pather Panchali (English sub-titles) VHS 8362
    Readings: Ashis Nandy on Satyajit Ray. Phoco

  • S. Chakravarty, "Indian cinema," pp. 32-52.

  • Satyajit Ray, "What is wrong with Indian cinema?" "A long time on the little road." In Our films, their films (New York : Hyperion Books, c1994. ISBN: 0786861223) CR

  • Gerald Mast, pp. 33-44. CR
  • February 2: Early years of Nationhood
    Film: Mother India (English sub-titles)
    Readings: Superbazaar. John Lent, "Pakistan, Bangladesh, & Sri Lanka," pp. 253-277. Phoco. In Aruna Vasudev, Philippe Lenglet's edited volume Indian cinema superbazaar (New Delhi : Vikas, 1983. ISBN: 0706922263)

  • S. Chakravarty, "The film industry and the state," pp. 55-79; 80-118; 149-156.
  • February 9: The high of the sixties: Indian counterpart to Elvis Presley- Shammi Kapoor
    Film: Shammi Kapoor film: Teesri Manzil /Manoj Kumar film: Purab aur Paschim (ask Kanwal)
    Readings: Sanjeev Prakash, "Music, Dance and the Popular Film," pp. 114-118. CR

  • Partha Chatterjee, "A Bit of Song and Dance," pp. 197-228.
  • February 16: The romance and the revenge in the seventies
    Film: Bobby and There will always be stars in the sky (music library VHS 20057)
    Readings: Sudhir Kakar, "The Cinema as Collective Fantasy," pp. 89-97. CR

    February 23: The disillusionment with the State: Violence in the eighties; issues of labor; notions of good and evil.
    Film: Coolie (English sub-titles)
    Readings: Rashmi Doraiswamy, "Hindi Commercial Cinema: Changing Narrative Strategies," pp.171-189.

  • John Dayal, "The Role of the Government: Story of an uneasy truce," pp. 53-62.

  • S. Chakravarty, pp. 228-234
  • March 2: The making of a goddess
    Film: Santoshi Ma
    Readings: B.V. Dharap, "The Mythological or Taking Fatalism for Granted," pp. 79-83. CR

  • Steve Derve, "Market Forces at Work: Religious Themes in Commercial Hindi Films." Phoco.

  • Lise McKean, "Bharat Mata." Phoco
  • March 16: Breaking the traditional mould
    Film: Saaz
    Readings: Aruna Vasudev, "The Woman: Vamp or Victim," pp. 98-105. CR

  • Maithili Rao, "To be a woman," pp. 241-256.

  • S. Zutshi, "Women, Nation and the Outside in Contemporary Hindi Cinema." CR

  • S. Chakravarty, pp. 269-304
  • March 23: The public and the private
    Film: Bandit Queen (English sub-titles) VHS 8649
    Readings: S. Chakravarty, pp. 235-248.

  • Molly Haskel, "From reverence to rape," pp. 505-534. CR

  • Madhu Kishwar, "The Bandit Queen," Manushi, no. 84, Sept.-Oct. 1994. CR
  • March 30: Resucitating the Imperial Romance
    Film: Passage to India VHS 4478 (English sub-titles)/ Gandhi (English sub- titles) VHS 0912
    Readings: Salman Rushdie, "Outside the Whale" Imaginary Homelands, pp. 87-101, CR

  • S. Chakravarty, pp. 190-195; 199-216

  • Will also discuss the portrayal of South Asian glory and its decline (Mughleazam, Anarkali, Sahib,bibi aur gulam).

    April 6: Questioning the state
    Film: Bombay
    Readings: Ashgar Ali Engineer, "Bombay Shames India," EPW, vol. 28, nos. 3-4, CR

  • T. Niranjana, "Banning Bombayi," EPW, vol. 30, no. 22, CR
  • April 13: Maturation of national identity?
    Film: Roza
    Readings: K. Hariharan, "Who is the bad guy ? Commercial cinema in the south," pp. 191-196.CR

  • Tripathy, "Wheels within reels." CR

  • T. Niranjan, "Interrogating whose nation? Terrorists and tourists in `Roja.' CR

  • T.G. Vaidyanathan, Kannada Cinema; Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Phoco

  • "Entertaining...in style," Indian Cinema, 1990, pp. 14-19, CR

  • Sara Dickey, "Consuming utopia: film watching in Tamil Nadu," Phoco
  • April 20: Indian Filmmakers abroad
    Film: Salaam Bombay (English sub-titles) VHS 4751
    Readings: Pico Iyer, "India: Hollywood in the Fifties." Phoco

  • Foster, "Mira Nair: To be mixed in the new world order." Phoco

  • Poonam Arora, "Culturally specific texts." Phoco
  • April 27: Summing up
    How rational are censorship rules
    Interviews with some lead actors and actresses
    Discuss HAHK/ DDLJ/ Daud/ Hamesha
    Newstrack (pal system) (English):--

  • June 1989: Mithun Chakravarti: King of desi disco

  • March 1991: jumma chumma

  • Dec. 1991: Pooja Bedi: I want to be India's sex symbol

  • April 1992: Meera Nair: Mississipi Masala

  • Sept. 1992: Kajol with Tanuja and her grandmother

  • August 1993: choli ke peeche kya hai

  • October 1993: Asha Bhonsle: sweet 60

  • Feb. 1994: obsene songs and dances: how far should people go?

  • Readings: Rosie Thomas, "Melodrama and the negotiation of morality in mainstream Hindi film." Phoco
  • Leela Rao, "Woman in Indian films: paradigm of continuity and change." Phoco
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