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Indian Cinema and the Bourgeois Nation State

This critique of Indian cinema concentrates on the bourgeoisie, the presumed harbinger of modernity and executor of modernisation in India. Historically this class was produced by the interaction of colonial rule with the traditional elite of India. The national project of this heterogeneous class, spanning the colonial, post-colonial and neocolonial periods of Indian history, has always been problematic. Indian cinema showcases the nation in varying contexts. Though the nation state ideal continuously changed in India from the early 20th century bourgeois social engineering in the country has upheld patriarchy and caste against the grain of historical change.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly december 15, 200795Anirudh Deshpande ( is with the department of history, Motilal Nehru College, New Delhi.Indian Cinema and the Bourgeois Nation StateAnirudh DeshpandeIf you see a Hindi film, you don’t think about poverty or India’s third world status – Mammootty1Film is a disturbing symbol of an increasingly postliterate world (in which people can read but won’t) – Rosenstone (2001, p 50)Literature on cinema began to proliferate in India quite early although the academic research on films began after 1947. By then the contours of cinema analysis had been drawn by the western scholars like Franklin Fearing. Films, he wrote sagaciously, “afford an opportunity for the expression of the basic meanings inherent in the relationship of human beings to each other, to their environment and to the society of which they are a part. This is not limited to a passive reflection of those meanings but may be a dynamic and creative interpretation. The picture-goer, whatever his level of sophistication, finds affirmations for his doubts, alternative solutions for his problems and the oppor-tunity to experience, vicariously, ways of behaving beyond the horizons of his personal world.”2 The credit for pioneering cinema studies in India goes to the so-ciology department of the Bombay University, where the far-sight-ed professor G S Ghurye encouraged students to study cinema soon after independence. Panna Shah’s work, perhaps, the first doctor-ate on Indian cinema, is mentioned in my other essays3. Shah’s submissions may appear dated today but his well-researched con-tention that cinema shapes viewer psychology remains relevant. For good or bad, he observed, “cinema is an immense force which by the subtlety of it nature moulds the opinion of millions in the course of its apparently superficial business of merely providing entertainment” [Shah 1950: p 1]. Since 1950, film analyses have travelled a great distance to the contemporary post-modernist critiques. Cinema and cultural studies have become inseparable. Taught in many universities, experts like Pierre Sorlin consider cin-ema a necessary format of social history [Rosenstone op cit, p 26]. Rachel Dwyer’s work, for example, proves that Indian cinema is an established subject in the west. Among the Indian cinema studies, works by Rangoonwalla (1982) Ramachandran (1985) Pfleiderer and Lutze (1985), Chaudhary (2000), Vasudevan (2000), Chakra-varty (1998) and Thoraval (2000) must be mentioned. Vasudevan and Chakravarty analyse the forging of national identity in popu-lar Indian cinema. Both link Hindu nationalism with the culture promoted by Hindi cinema, especially since independence. On the other hand Hindi cinema, which diminishes women, appears male-narcissistic to Parasher [Parasher 2002]. Literature on Indian CinemaMost books untiringly claim that despite its size, linguistic variety and social influence, the Indian cinema remains academically underexamined. The contemporary influence of media makes This critique of Indian cinema concentrates on the bourgeoisie, the presumed harbinger of modernity and executor of modernisation in India. Historically this class was produced by the interaction of colonial rule with the traditional elite of India. The national project of this heterogeneous class, spanning the colonial, post-colonial and neocolonial periods of Indian history, has always been problematic. Indian cinema showcases the nation in varying contexts. Though the nation state ideal continuously changed in India from the early 20th century bourgeois social engineering in the country has upheld patriarchy and caste against the grain of historical change.
SPECIAL ARTICLEdecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly96this justification redundant. They also claim that the Hindi film industry is a melting pot of cultures and an example of Indian secularism.4 True, but Hindi cinema is neither politically inno-cent nor conveys an unequivocal secularism; its “social” film is predicated upon the politics of inequality and escapism. In mat-ters of gender, reason, science and modernisation, Hindi cinema is reactionary. It usually panders to the vulgar to maximise re-turns. Some volumes, like The Cinemas of India, are encyclopedic and remind us that Hindi is not the only a language in which numerous Indian films are made. They are important to readers unfamiliar with Indian cinema. TheEncyclopedia of Indian Cin-ema, though selective in parts, is a handy reference guide.5 Sometimes it appears strange that the academic literature on Indian cinema and television is scarce compared with other as-pects of Indian history or media studies conducted abroad.6 The paucity of academic literature on Indian cinema including critical biographies is explained by the fact that Indian scholars became serious about identity, culture and ideology since the 1980s.7 Con-temporary Indian history, beginning with the assassination of In-dira Gandhi in 1984, is characterised by the rise of Hindu nation-alism and the knocking down of the Nehruvian mixed economy. In this context, the proliferation of cultural studies reinvigorates our understanding of India. However, all this does not replace the older concerns of economy and politics. In fact, most of the literature and history written in India since the 1980s from radi-cal perspectives of caste, gender and class embellish and dyna-mise the written political economy of India. Indian scholars of all disciplines are now more focused on fleshing out the connections between culture, social order, economy, politics and violence in India. Since the media is an epicentre of modern Indian culture, contemporary Indian cinema has not remained unaffected by this critical trend. Media studies have grown in a period when the “new social sciences” are coming into their own.8Nature of Film LiteratureThe nature of literature on Indian cinema is influenced by pecu-liar factors. Most of the literature on Indian cinema accumulated since the 1920s, presents a chronological account of the Indian film industry. Writers paint an industry constrained by colonial rule in its infancy. Under colonialism financing films remained a problem – state funding, except for propaganda films, was non-existent and the substantial black money became available only after the second world war. Colonial censorship was strict because the British understood the influence of cinema. Films which criticised British rule in India were banned. The same state, for different reasons, encouraged imperialist films which glorified the Anglo-Saxon mission in India and stereotyped Indi-an communities. Since filming direct critiques of colonialism was impossible, Indian directors resorted to allegory in their films with mixed results. Allegories based on medieval conflicts had communal implications and reinforced history taught in colonial schools and universities. A potential source of financing films was the Indian capitalist class whose support most pioneers could never take for granted. The Indian capitalists defined their interests quite narrowly be-fore independence and vacillated in opposing the colonial state as well as supporting nationalism. These capitalists, as the pe-riod of proletarian unrest in the 1930s showed, opposed films critical of their class. On these classissues, the government, the Indian capitalists and the major political parties conveniently united against the workers. The experience of Mazdoor(work-er), scripted by Munshi Premchand during his brief sojourn in Bombay, illustrates how radical cinema was suppressed by vested interests. Ultimately Mazdoor vanished from the film archives, butitshowed the life and struggle of the Indian working class.Released amidst rising revolutionary sentiment, it was promptly banned by the government on the advice of the Bombay capitalists.9 Post-independence FilmsCompared with the colonial period the passage became easier after independence but not altogether smooth. Finance, technol-ogy, outdoor shooting and a Victorian censor board comprised formidable problems. The Indian state remained shackled to its colonial posts. On top of this were political, social and religious considerations of making films in a fractured volatile society. Given these problems, it is nor surprising that the bulk of writ-ings on Indian cinema has not tackled the problem of identity posed by Indian media. Hence, while films quietly travelled on the terrain of social identities in their inimitable way, observers in the first three decades of independence paid greater attention to the problems of film-making. Seriousness was also rare in the magazines spawned by an influential film industry. Gossip, the love life of film stars, marriages, divorces and other trivia filled the columns of cinema glossies every week. Only occasionally, some would remember the pioneers and other greats. Similarly, good biographies are rare because stars obviously do not pro-mote bad publicity for themselves. The nexus of media, market and glamour favours hagiography. The demographic reach of media and their influence on Indian society is widely acknowledged. However, a serious reminder of this surfaced when cable became a household feature. The political impact of this was felt almost immediately. The rise of Hindu nationalism has been related to the transition which oc-curred in television programmes in the same period by percep-tive scholars like Uma Chakravarty.10 Hindutva was also nour-ished by popular Indian cinema which began expressing a broad “Hindu nationalist viewpoint after 1945”.11 Although the most significant identity promoted by the media in the 1990s was the Hindu nationalist, other identities also became important. Post-Mandal, and especially, with reference to reservations, caste was reinforced by slanted reporting. To list all media manufactured and fortified identities is impossible; between them “Indianness” remains problematic. A Fiat driving Sachin Tendulkar, the com-mercial shades of Amir Khan, king “Santro” Khan, Amartya Sen, Laxmi Mittal and Vijay Mallya. The meaning of being an Indian changed in favour of globalisation during the 1990s. A shimmer-ing lifestyle was highlighted with the onset of globalisation. As the great Indian middle class renegotiated its relationship with global capital, “be Indian and buy Indian” was finally jettisoned. Glamour and high consumerism descended on a third world country; foreign degrees and Singapore weekends, shoots in
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly december 15, 200797Mauritius, designer commodities, “power” jobs and page three parties. Indian identities jostled with westernisation. Nonethe-less, modernity and tradition remain unreconciled. The display of lifestyle is backed by the language of power. Among the rich dressing and lunches are prefixed with power. In a society where money and power matter the poor are disquali-fied them from joining the club of self-conscious globalising In-dians. Cheap labour, an advantage to the bourgeoisie in every conceivable way, is a different matter. Cheap labour, cheapened further by the wretched conditions in which the majority live, is a bargaining tool, quite like the English language, in the Indian elite’s new relationship with global capital. MostTV serials occ-lude workers or use them as props – this jells with the notion of being an Indian promoted by consumerism. Across teleserials Indianness hinges on the patriarchal definition of gender; crises created by the liberation of women inherent in modernisation are usually resolved by subordinating women to the joint family. Inter-caste and inter-religious encounters are judiciously avoided. This prevents other kinds of consciousness from intruding into guarded claustrophobic bourgeois homes. Women keep wearing skimpy clothes before marriage but the covered, caring, moth-ering, supporting and adjusting woman is ultimately preferred in teleserials.12 Culture, values, morality, ‘parampara’ (tradition) and Indianness endlessly promote patriarchy. Early Indian MoviesTo assume that these developments are totally new would be wrong. Globalisation rests upon the pillars of modernisation erected during the early decades of Indian independence. The confidence of the middle class draws upon Nehruvian eduational and industrial institutions. Globalisation’s domination of Indian media marks another stage of bourgeois hegemony in India. There were class and caste statements in Indian cinema to begin with. In the 1950s and 1960s the lifestyle valorised, with excep-tions, was the businessman’s. The well-appointed mansions were beyond the reach of the majority of the audiences. Even a police inspector’s house appeared fantastic. Debonair heroes drove expensive imported cars maintained by their “westoxicated” fa-thers.13 The women remained traditional and respectful of pa-triarchy. Marriage was their destiny. The fashion was western in these male appropriations of westernisation. An access to the west was glorified; many films had scenes of airports. The Indian bourgeois male practised westernisation (read modernity) in the Indian context. Liberated women, both white and Indian, threat-ened Indian family solidarity in these films. The story of the pam-pered son visiting Kashmir, Paris or even Tokyo in pursuit of ro-mance, adventure and business was underscored by class, caste, religious and regional affiliations of the protagonists. Thus the pre-globalisation Hindi film defined the mainstream and colo-nised the marginal.In male-centred Hindi cinema, the hero remained young, fair, handsome, eligible, romantic, mother fixated, upper caste, north Indian and preferably rich.14 In many films heroes start as poor upper caste men but end up rich. Films had happy endings – the plots never went wrong. In most films the protagonist could be poor but generally not dalit, Christian, Sikh or Muslim. Surnames and the hierarchy of characters clearly established this. The gen-teel poverty was portrayed as a result of unfavourable circum-stances often engineered by evil personified in estate managers or relatives. The real poor, like dalits or adivasis, were never the starting points of stories. Films differing from this plot, like Do Bigha Zamin or Sahib Biwi Ghulam, were rare. The mainstream Bombay cinema of the 1950s and 1960s defended patriarchy as essentially Indian. Women could be shown being slapped for as little as lighting up! In non-Hindu plots manicured minorities prevailed. Muslim characters dominated the historicals and the Muslim social. In these socials Barsaat ki Raat, MereMehboob, Ghazal, Mere Huzoor (My Master in Urdu the beloved is often called one’s superior),Mehboob ki Mehendi (The Beloved’s Henna), etc, a stereotyped Muslim ambience was presented. Thesefilms, with excellent music, songs and ‘mushairaa’, essentialised Muslims as feudal and, by implication,anti-modern. Muslims in them were invariably cultivated Hindustanis; former ‘na-wabs’, ‘zamindars’ and ‘jagirdars’. Everyone spoke chaste Urdu, wore‘sherwanis’and loved ‘shaayari’. These films are tempo-rally difficult to locate though their scenes refer to anurban Hindustani culture which declined rapidly after independ-ence. Muslim portrayal in commercial Hindi cinema has been com-munal. Films likeGarm Hawaa (Hot Breeze) highlighting the di-lemma of Indian Muslims are rare. So are the films like Nikaah (marriage) which militate against Islamic patriarchy. In gen-eral, and like the average Hindi film portraying family drama, the Muslim socials were non-political and thus conveniently avoided the identitarian crises of the Muslims. This was a safe choice given the Hindutva charges against religious minorities. But compared with other minorities, the Muslims were luckier. Films on other religious or ethnic minorities were never made by Bollywood. This task was left to regional cinema which mostly ended up cloning Bollywood. Bollywood, in turn, took hits from various parts of India, but many from south India, and profita-bly re-made them in Hindi. New wave cinema which converted the marginality of mainstream cinema into its central concern has never matched the popularity of commercial Hindi cinema. Women, peasants, workers, migrant labourers, criminals, pros-titutes, homosexuals and systemic exploitation have featured in the alternative cinema. But this realistic cinema, with exceptions, has a limited appeal among the audiences. Cinematic RealismWhy has cinematic realism featuring the poor not been popular? This is difficult to answer because we have scanty data on subal-tern responses to films made on their lives. Nobody ever went to the poor and asked them why they did not patronise such films. If the success of commercial Hindi cinema is viewed as part of bourgeois hegemony in India, the question is easier to answer. The subaltern classes find the bourgeois setting of Hindi cinema attractive in the same way as Hollywood appears alluring to the Indian middle class. The Bollywood hallucinations express popu-lar aspirations. The lower classes ape the bourgeois to identify with the dominant culture of our period. The weakness of subal-tern resistance to sanskritisation conditions popular responses to
SPECIAL ARTICLEdecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly98movies which eschew glamour and focus on poverty. Cinematic realism highlights the wretchedness of poverty – something, Isuspect, the poor are not particularly fond of viewing. The poor want to escape their conditions and cross over to a more comfortable life. Hence, they do not want to spend their hard-earned money to see their own lives replayed on screen. This maynot apply to films, like the glamorous violent “angry young man” ones featuring Amitabh Bachchan during the 1970s, in which the poor found vicarious empowerment. In these films class contradictions were resolved through the violent, agitated and cathartic personna of the protagonist and not by radical working class politics in the same way as youthful bourgeois frustrations are today vented through terrorist activity inRang De Basanti.The Muslim SocialThe Muslim social declined in the early 1970s. Paakizaah (The Pure) was one of its last hits. Mehboob ki Mehendi, despite su-perstar Rajesh Khanna’s presence and good scores by Laxmikant Pyarelal, flopped. Since the early 1990s – coinciding with the Kashmir rebellion, the destruction of the Babri Masjid and its fallout – a transition has taken place in the portrayal of Muslims. In the cinema and television of the 1990s, the Muslim terrorist has increasingly appeared as a threat to India in keeping with the changing political climate and discourse of the country.15 The demise of the Muslim social comprises a subject of independent research. Probably the increasing marginalisation of the Indian Muslims in the 1970s and 1980s underpinned the phenomenon. Or, it was caused by the degeneration of music and dialogue in Hindi cinema.16 The genre could have suffered the consequences of increasing westoxication and declining Urdu in globalising In-dia. In the contemporary Indian milieu, governed by transnation-al fashions and increasing legitimacy of Hinglish, the sherwani has been reserved for the ramp and marriages. Mushairaa and ‘qawallis’ are no longer popular while the ‘ghazal’ was debased by pretenders a long time ago. Ironically even as some Indian cities acquire a selective cosmo-politan appearance, their dominant culture leaves little room for the public expression of minority or marginal cultures. Being In-dian in a particular Hindustani way is considered old fashioned, irrelevant and useless in a society dominated by the upwardly mobile elite of India’s middle class. The mannerly Musalman pro-duced by the secular Hindi film has no place in such an ambi-ence – he has been replaced by the terrorists who, not surpris-ingly, wear their identities on their sleeves while carrying out terrorist activities. Many of them wear the salwar kameez, sport beards, carry AK-47 rifles and use Arab scarves – Bollywood wants to make sure that the religious identity of the terrorist is not doubted at all by the audience. But recently, the urbane play-boy Muslim terrorist has also made an appearance in films like Fanaa (Destruction), thereby sociologically broadening the defi-nition of Islamic terrorism. This further reduces the discursive space accorded to Muslims making them more vulnerable to so-cial ostracism, state violence and mob fury. Fanaa makes it clear that the boy next door who looks like you, dressed in designer jeans, could be a dangerous terrorist with ambiguous political loyalties. It also drives home the point that individuals, especially if they are Muslims, who refuse to identify with the symbols of the Indian nation state could be suspected of various infidelities. However, what it certainly does not convey is the possibility of misguided Hindus, like the fanatics killed in the Nanded blast of 2006, also planning terrorism.Rural Indian ValuesBollywood production teams swear by secularism albeit their films promote communalism. Hindi films often implicitly suggest that India is normatively Hindu, patriarchal and upper caste.17 Films celebrating a rural nationalism either do not refer to the minorities and dalits or assign them prescribed roles. Two such films of the late 1960s wereDharti kahe pukaar ke andUpkaar. The latter was an ode to Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan ‘Jai Jawaan’, ‘Jai Kisaan’ produced by “Bharat” Manoj Kumar in which the pro-tagonist belongs to a simple “middle” peasant family upholding the rural “Indian” values with clear patriarchal dimensions. The comparison with the more or less corrupting urban civilisation is set up by introducing the stereotyped city-bred (also western-ised) characters into the plot. Ultimately, the hero an the embod-iment of Indian values, triumphs over evil in a moment which coincides with India’s victory over Pakistan in the war of 1965. The conjuncture is noticeable because the threat to family and nation (caused among other things by non-peasant groups like traders and urban black-marketeers) and the attempt by an ex-ternal enemy (Pakistan) to make hay while the sun shines coexist in an intermeshed plot. The conflation and simultaneous crisis of family and national values can hardly be missed. Final correction is provided by the hero. Kumar returned to a binary opposition between Indian and western values inPurab aur Paschim.18 The film glorifies the spiritual achievements of the “Hindu” Indian civilisation and pits it against western materialism. The core of the film comprises the hero’s love for the London-bred Indian heroine and his attempt to convert this woman into a proper Hindu ‘naari’. The triumph of Indian values takes place in the film when she is finally domesti-cated and converted to the Indian way. Both films place the joint family at the centre of national life. They define female sexuality through the conversion of fair women into dutiful daughters-in-law. While Saira Bano plays the westernised woman inPurab aur Paschim, inUpkaar, Asha Parekh is an Indian lady doctor who falls in love with the peasant hero. In both the cases the urban women converted to Indian values. In many Hindi films, which seek to define Indian values, the site chosen for the clash of civili-sations is female sexuality. These films assert that controlling the female, through the institution of the Indian family, translates into better Indianness. The threat posed to Indian patriarchy by the urbanisation and westernisation of women is overcome by fortifying the patriarchal family.Nation-building FervourAnother kind of Hindi cinema showcased the foreign educated hero (rarely the heroine) returning to India usually as an engi-neer,business manager or doctor to direct the nation-building project in some locality or a family project.19 On the whole the
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly december 15, 200799post-colonial Hindi cinema projects abourgeois colonialism with its caste, regional and religious bias. Cinema, as a tool of bour-geois nation building, expressed bourgeois aspirations in many ways. Till the 1980s, a protected national bourgeoisie in alliance with the post-colonial state (some prefer to call it neocolonial) was trying to forge a nation state on the basis of lessons learnt from history. It shouldered the burden of modernising India. Itsmission was to complete the task distorted and abandoned bycolonialism. After 1950, this class could depend on a charis-maticleader whose party and government enjoyed unprec-edented popular support. Individuals hardly remained immune to the nation-building fervour of the 1950s and the long shad-ow these years cast on the following decade. Hence, a gene-ration of engineers, academics and doctors returned to India after studying abroad in the 1950s and 1960s with the hope of modernising India. Apologists of the mixed economy model would argue that there was nothing wrong in cinema pandering to this. In this view In-dian cinema, like the government news documentaries screened routinely before every film show during the 1960s and 1970s and the national anthem played after the shows, was an important element in the superstructure of the Indian nation-building project. Hence, there was no way it could avoid the national ideal. Indeed, its role in a young republic was to promote that ide-al in every conceivable manner. In such circumstances the only way to obscure such an ideal was to discard it altogether. In the 1950s and 1960s, despite an occasional “jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahaan hai” challenge, this was impossible. In addition, the quest for an independence based on Nehruvian industrialisation and economic self-sufficiency was thriving during that “golden period” of Indian independence. Despite indications, the transi-tion from “Be Indian Buy Indian” to the reality of be Indian but buy and flaunt foreign had still not taken place in the so-called nation-building decades of Indian independence. Much of Hindi cinema, till the 1970s, remained anchored to Nehruvian India. It was taken over by the globalised resident non Indians (RNIs) and non-resident Indians (NRIs) later. The Hindi film heroes still return from their stints abroad but the idealism of the 1950s and 1960s is missing from the plots these days. Sometimes there is no question of returning because the story is globalised. However, like Shammi Kapoor in the 1960s, heroes remain fun-loving fellows. What is missing from the rein-vented plots is the role assigned to the welfare state in the films of the 1950s and 1960s. The socially inclusive bourgeois story based on the agrarian or industrial experiments has weakened considerably since the 1960s. Firstly, this could have happened because the welfare state itself has declined. The second reason could lie in the relaxation of controls during the past 20 years. These two developments underline the new relationship between the Indian cinema and state. In the films which connect foreign capital and Indian conditions, the state virtually plays no role. In rare recent films likeSwades, the hero, as an external agent of modernisation and humanism, returns to the village to spend his dollars on welfare measures like electricity generation. But even here the incapability of people to do something for themselves forms the background against which the protagonist’s efforts are highlighted. Why cannot the hero, like Anna Hazare, be home grown? The denial of subaltern agency persists in a cinema wedded to the illusion of bourgeois modernisation.Thematic Shifts Changes in the Indian middle class are responsible for thematic shifts in Bollywood films. Rachel Dwyer draws attention to this [Dwyer 2002]. Her understanding can be traced to views preva-lent in the 1970s.20 According to this view, also held by Marxists, the Indian bourgeoisie comprised three main sections, viz, the lower middle class, i e, the petty bourgeoisie (LMC), the new rich (culturallyLMC with quickly earned money, also called the mid-dle-brow bourgeoisie) and the upper middle class (UMC), i e, the old bourgeoisie with its professional, educational and industrial roots in the colonial period. Rising corruption, increased black money and criminalisation of politics underpinned the rise of the “new middle brow, middle class” during the 1960s and 1970s. The nexus of capitalists, operating within the licence-permit-quota raj established by the pseudo socialist state of India, bureaucrats and the politicians was largely responsible for empowering inde-pendent India’s vocal “parvenu” class. The richerNRIs, who also influence policy in India, are an influential and socially connected section of this class. As parvenu influence over state and society grew the older bourgeoisie declined in independent India. Dwyer informs us that the identity crisis of this middle-brow bourgeoisie found a well-defined political expresssion during the 1980s and 1990s – ‘Hindutva’. However, the popularity of Hindutva rests on other causes as well. Hindutva’s history is older than these classes and Hindu nationalism has numerous votaries among the Indian professionals most of whom come from the established middle class families. Moreover, the “middle-brow” bourgeoisie would involve the green revolution-enriched backward classes. Though generally backward class parties oppose Hindutva, sanskritisa-tion promotes it. Some upwardly mobile backward communities and even dalits partake of sanskritisation. The Indian bourgeoi-sie, currently influenced by neo-liberalism, favours the market, family values and religious rituals. In this context, Hindutva har-nesses “the media in the form of television religious soap operas, use of popular visuals and technology as the music cassette to get its message across [Dwyer ibid, p 76].Class, gender and identity are also reinforced by radio. Gata Rahe Mera Dil (AIR FM 106.4) aired till some years ago is an example. This weekly programme featured an interview, interspersed with film songs, with an “arrived” married couple. The programme defined success in middle class terms and de-fined successful bourgeois marriages. Poor couples, domestics, single parents, migrant labourers, divorcees and homosexuals, etc, were never invited to this programme. This discursive silence of radio is located in a carefully structured attempt to uphold con-formism. Such programmes are necessary, in Chomsky’s words, to manufacture consensus. This is important because the correct-ness premised on bourgeois morality is constantly threatened by subversion. Towards this end the long-standing state control over radio in India has spread middle class values among millions. Since creating an alternative radio is almost impossible protest-ing voices are not heard easily. The poor get noticed in media
SPECIAL ARTICLEdecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly100when disasters happen or when they become highly objectified victims of crimes impossible to ignore. Globalisation has brought an expansion of private FM channels on the lines laid down byTV. This radio worships the market, glamour, stars, events, movies, health, recipes, fashion and other fads. India produces the largest number of films. Indian cable prob-ably has the second largest number of subscribers. Analyses and experience establish that these media are disseminate informa-tion and ideology indispensable to bourgeois hegemony and control. The media’s relationship with vested interests, and its projection of social identities and illusions necessary for class power, can hardly be underestimated. The choice of remaining silent on uncomfortable issues gives the media unique impor-tance in civil society. Hence, fashion shows and other episodes of bourgeois life are covered while events which demolish the myths of a “happening” India can remain neglected. Myths safe-guard advertisement revenues and promote foreign investment. For example, attempts by multinational companies (MNCs) to vi-olate foreign direct investment (FDI) regulations with the help of theUS establishment are not highlighted by a media committed to neoliberalism.21 The strategic silence of the media capitalises on illiteracy and market-friendly changes in the education sys-tem. The declining reading habit increases the vulnerability of viewers with consequences profitable to media, advertisers and peddlers of fashion. But consumers pay for their self-accultura-tion and a mass conversion to an unsustainable American dream. While people read less and watch more, their needs, desires and choices are manufactured by a media they do not control.Recently, Mahesh Dattani in a comment on Ingmar Bergman and realistic cinema has reasserted this. “Culture today” he writes:is about dreams and aspirations that take you beyond the real. Whether it is ultra fair complexions, reed thin waistlines or super he-roes … It is not as if film merchants are good liars, it just means that the audiences are good believers. They know what they want to be-lieve in. Any film that helps them believe in it all over again will be the next super duper hit of the year. Like a schizophrenic person, the lie is what keeps him going. So too with the masses who cannot face real-ity. It would be so wrong for a doctor to make a person believe in the imaginary world rather than gently reminding him of the one he is ac-tually living in. That is exactly what the film merchants do. The result is cultural schizophrenia. Cinema is by far the most popular art form today. Unfortunately, it is used as a tool of deception rather than a mir-ror for society. It can deceive very easily and very well and therein lies its poison [Dattani 2007].Fearless writing and creative cinematic history can help coun-ter our loss of power.22 Memory, influenced by the media, was always contested. Unfortunately, the media has the technique of shortening and manipulating it. However, if used for the right cause it can revitalise memory and demolish myths. India has a little tradition of film-making which blends history with lite-rature and legend to create new cinematic history. Directors like Guru Dutt, Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Shyam Benegal, Muzaffar Ali, etc, have resorted to an “instrumental use of his-tory” in their corpus in departing from the assembly line. Shyam Benegal, throughout a brilliant career, has upheld a critical and realistic oeuvre.23 New wave films deconstruct prevalent notions of history, gender, nation, class and caste. Memory in parallel cinema, we are told, “supplies what formal histories cannot – the lived experience of change”.24 Providing cinematic correctives to traditional history is crucial because historical films raise “com-plex issues for the student of cinema: the question of history as a mode of knowledge, of historical accuracy, of memory and desire, of generic hybridity, of modes of address that seek to be both culturally-specific and universalised” [Chakravarty 1988, p 183]. Protesting histories are significant to the struggle against an unjust world order. But while history assists resistance to domination, its media portrayal is both academically significant and politically effective. That cinematic history can be a counter-hegemonic is proved in the context of critical and reality-based documentary films on Palestine and East Timor made by John Pilger. Or, the ones made on Punjabi dalits by Ajay Bhardwaj. Obviously, many historical documentaries are required in India to straighten records. Nation StateA critique of bourgeois modernity draws upon intellectual tradi-tions like anarchism, literary criticism, humanist Marxism and feminism. This paper is focused on the Indian bourgeoisie – a class initially produced by the dynamics of British rule. The national project of this class spans the colonial, post-colonial and con-temporary periods of Indian history. Indian cinema tells us how this project has been variously defined. From anti-colonialism, followed by nation-building and planned development, to a colla-borationist globalisation, the Indian bourgeoisie has experienced an interesting journey. Its media justifies these periodic transi-tions. While the emphasis of the nation state changed in India from the early 20th century to the late 1990s the social engineer-ing pursued by the largely ‘savarna’ Indian bourgeoisie has dis-played a remarkable consistency. According to a growing band of critics, modernisation is a euphemism for the expropriation of popular resources by elites in the name of progress and civili-sation. Current critiques of modernisation reject historical inevit-ability, unearth human volition in history and deconstruct the myths of growth cultivated by industrial capitalism since the 19th century. According to the modernisation discourse, to which the Indian bourgeoisie is committed, progress and development are synonymous with technological transformation. Alternatively, critics contend that modernisation had become unsustainable in the 20th century itself. Since the industrial revolution “modern” and “civilised” powers have waged numerous lethal wars and created an unprecedented environmental crisis. The ideal nation state has always been important to the self-perception of the Indian bourgeoisie which spent its formative years in the cradle of British colonialism – a world system it oppo-sed periodically. The nation state was part of a broader paradigm of modernisation to which this class was committed in the long run under the influence of enlightenment ideas and narrative history. During the colonial period, the Indian bourgeoisie was pulled in different directions due to the peculiar circumstanc-es of its existence. Though it considered itself the pioneer of modernisation in Indian society, the project of modernity it pre-ferred was ideologically problematic and sociologically flawed.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly december 15, 2007101This project, as Tanika Sarkar asserts with respect to Bankim and Vande Mataram, could not break free from the propensity to find, locate and demonise others – usually Muslims.25 Such tendencies diluted the relatively progressive ideals of the Indian bourgeois intellectuals. Medium of Reconciling ConcernsThe positive and negative stereotyping of communities and castes involved in the ideological project, something at which Hindi cin-ema excels, underscored the process of “othering” and reduced the distance between communalism, casteism and nationalism. This was not all. The nation state envisioned was patriarchal; tradition and westernisation went hand in hand in the percep-tions of modernity informing the bourgeois worldview in India. This paper shows why and how Hindi cinema became a medium of reconciling concerns of modernisation with the compulsions of tradition. The pivots upon which this reconciliation moved were provided by middle-class notions of gender, sexuality, caste, region and religion. All these had to be knit into themes acceptable to the bourgeois and the poor in the third world condi-tions or else the nation, as the political form and cultural emblem ofbourgeois hegemony, would disintegrate. Therefore, from thebeginning the ideological discourse and political prac-ticesoftheIndian bourgeoisie came to be predicated upon the following ambiguities: (a) It opposed British rule episodically but cultivated respect for modern, and by and large western, institutions – colonial rule was criticised for being “un-British” in the liberal nationalist dis-course to begin with. Later, the nationalists were not averse to operating within the constitutional frameworkprovidedby the raj. (b) The Indian bourgeoisie wanted to simultaneously preserve and reform the Indian society and traditions with specific refer-ence to class, caste and women. Towards this end the ideals of modernity preferred by its ideologues were compromised to suit the peculiarities of Indian society and the imperatives of popular support. In addition, like the class they came from, many of the elite reformers did not practise what they preached.(c) A secular political agenda was combined with a colonially derived narrative history based on socially divisive themes like medieval conflict. The acceptance of colonial historical assump-tions by middle class Indians, both inside and outside educational institutions, undermined the secular modernity upheld by some of India’s leaders. Thus the distance between prescribed and practised nationalisms grew at the expense of communal and caste reconciliation.Three Phases of Indian BourgeoisieAmbiguities were clearly visible in the cinema produced by Indians during the colonial period. Beginning with the early 20th century, when the swadeshi movement took place, the Indian bourgeoisie has gone through three identifiable phases in its growth. The first stage was marked by its opposition to and incomplete victory over British rule but this opposition was weakened right from the beginning by the various contradictions inIndian society. Ultimately, the project of modernity pursued by the Indian middle class did not deliver a modern nation statebecause of its failure to address the communal and caste questions in India. The wounds of 1947, which have yet to heal, resulted from a compromised modernity achieved by the found-ers of modern south Asia. The second phase was dominated by the nation-building zeal of the Nehruvian years. But even this phase was neither free ofthe elitism favoured by the Indian bourgeois nor the colo-nial baggage in the shape of an administration and mentality which wassupposed to deliver the fruits of a mixed economy. Undoubtedly, the shortcomings of the Nehruvian project dis-credited the Left and created the economic and ideological space for neo-liberalism. Finally, the contemporary phase became characterised by a combination of globalisation, caste politics and Hindu national-ism. At each stage different problematic ideals of modernity have preoccupied the Indian bourgeoisie. None of these ideals were translated into reality. Economic growth, bourgeois hegemony, unsustainable development and massive environmental deg-radation sit uncomfortably together in contemporary India de-spite the illusions of its cosmopolitan elites and an ideologically embedded media. ConclusionsCinema in colonial India, as a mode of ideology, was affected by censorship, degrees of popular acceptance and elite preferences. Colonial constraints deflected early Indian cinematic ventures towards the relatively safe mythologicals with intended or unin-tended consequences. The genre, with rare exceptions, projected the cultural self-perceptions of the producers and directors. These bourgeois intellectuals chose not to offend a deeply religious so-ciety in their films. Religion became the idiom expressing class perceptions of tradition to the exclusion of cultural alternatives. Thus began the screen codification of myth, history and nation under upper caste middle class supervision. As far as opposing colonial rule was concerned, the Indian cinema took recourse to allegories which defined and reinforced textbook versions of historical conflicts. Vasudevan is probably right in saying that Indian cinema during the colonial period addressed a “fuzzy” community despite limitations. Perhaps, the rhetoric of national-ism was strong enough to check the communalism inherent in it. Nonetheless, the lasting images which Indian cinema conveyed to the masses were always imbued with communal danger and political ambiguity. Independence and partition ended the contest with political colonialism. Consequently, Hindi cinema turned to convention-al heterosexual love, family and nation-building. These three were fused into the national project, a bourgeois obsession in a former colony. Indeed, the end of British colonialism brought the Indian bourgeoisie to power and seriously started the process of nation-making in India. Mass media was integral to this his-toric transformation. Minor genres complementing mainstrean cinema generated their own stereotypes and flourished for a while. However, it would be a grave error to assume that the so-cial project of this cinema was unrelated to the bourgeois imagi-nation of the nation state. The more apolitical a film pretended
SPECIAL ARTICLEdecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly102EPWRF AD
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly december 15, 2007103to be, the greater was its political significance. After colonialism the aim of commercial cinema was to the reorder society in the interest of the elites empowered in independent India – cinema became the opium of the masses after 1947. Since the microcosm of society is the family, the cradle of class values, the ideology of commercial Hindi cinema was anchored in it. The alternative to this is a cinema dedicated to the values of social struggle. Nation-building and globalised Hindi cinema has glorified caste norms and patriarchy. The obsession with the family promotes the myth that the great Indian family is the repository of laudatory values. Chakravarty and Parasher show that the upper caste, upper class, patriarchal and largely Hindu family is the ideological epicentre of bourgeois cinema in post-colonial India. This cinema reveals the effort the savarna Indian bourgeoisie consistently makes to prolong its dominance over a society which is otherwise experi-encing important historical changes. The agent of this attempted domination of India’s social and geographical terrain in Hindi cinema and its poor cousin – the teleserial – is the upper caste Alpha male. Religious minorities and other marginal groups have appeared in this cinema as subordinate stereotypes or been excluded from it. This cinema is silent on a host of issues which savarna and patriarchal domination of Indian society might find disconcerting. In sum, Hindi cinema has apportioned shares of nationality among India’s diverse communities while continu-ing a long-term relationship with Hindu nationalism which has emerged as the dominant ideology of the savarna communities in the previous two decades. The essentials of this relationship, though contested repeatedly, have not changed throughout the three historical stages of bourgeois development mentioned in this paper. Counter-hegemonic correctives to Bollywood in Hindi and other languages have grown steadily over the last 20 years. Cinema on subaltern India is internationally acclaimed. Unfortu-nately, it commands neither enough popularity nor media atten-tion for reasons mentioned though left unexplored in this paper. Notes1 Filmfare, September, 2006.2 Cited in Shah (1950), p 189.3 These essays comprise the research project on cinema and nationalism I pursued at Teen Murti (2001-05).4 For example, see Pradhan (2003). 5 Rajadhyaksha and Willeman (eds),Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, OUP, 2004. The hegemony of Hindi cinema obscures the brilliance of regional cinema in the same way as the Hollywood eclipses English, French, Arab, Iranian or Latin American cinema.6 Rajgopal’s important work on Indian television and its relationship with Hindu nationalism is referred to in my book [Deshpande 2004]. 7 Coffee table biographies are hagiographies. For an example see Lanba (2002). Dwyer, (2002) is largely laudatory. Datta (2003) examines one of India’s fore-most directors and his engagement with history, gen-der and subaltern issues.8 For changes in the social sciences see Bhupendra Yadav 2006.9 Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (2002). Films could also be banned, withdrawn or severely censored if they end-ed up provoking riots due to the prejudices contained in them. This happened toThe Drum, a successful award winning empire film released in Bombay on September 1, 1938, which depicted Muslims in gen-eral, and Pathans in particular, as violent and uncivi-lised. For details see Chowdhry (2000). 10 See Chakravarty (1998). This analysis of the serial Chanakya tells us how Hindutva lionises the celibacy of the hero and pits it against the debauchery of the Nanda king. Obviously, the serial marginalises wom-en to the point of insignificance. According to the editors of the volume, p 18, “This is in keeping with the broader Hindu nationalist ideal of a citizenry that must quite literally gird its loins in order to undertake the task of nation-building”.11 Vasudevan (1995). Vasudevan asserts that cinema forges “a new sense of the self” among the audience. With imagination it forms the “basis of a modern nationalist perception”. 12 InKya Hoga Nimmo Ka andIndia Calling ( Star TV ), 2006, the “Indian” woman complements the westoxi-cated hero following the established Bollywood trends. In these Mills & Boon plots, the heroine comes from lower class family, she is patient, enduring, car-ing, understanding, self-effacing and dedicated to the male. Nimmo contrasts Indian and western femin-ity in the conflict between Namrata and Natasha the westernised girlfriend of the hero. In both serials the salwar-kameez is symbolic of a subdued sexuality compared with revealing western outfits. 13 I have borrowed the term “westoxication” from Dipankar Gupta (2001). Bollywood commercial films exemplify warped bourgeois modernity. Westoxica-tion was coined by Jalal-e-Ahmad to characterise the Iranian elite under the Shah of Iran. According to Gupta (p11), “Unlike westernisation, which im-plies the establishment of universalistic norms and the privileging of achievement over birth, westoxi-cation is about superficial consumerist display of commodities and fads produced in the west”.14 The first Hindi film in which the hero was shown to be Tamil wasEk Duje Ke Liye (Meant for Each Other) starring Kamalhaasan and Rati Agnihotri (playing a north Indian girl) released in the early 1980s. The film criticised regionalism. The innovative Kamal-haasan evolved into a successful producer and direc-tor. The hero of his Chaachi 420 (Clever Aunt, 1997), a satire on casteism and communalism, had the dalit surname Paswan.15 Films like Roja (Rose, 1994) and Sarfarosh (The Braves, 1999) helped demonise Muslims as anti national. 16The combination of music directors Raushan, Naushad, Madan Mohan, Shankar Jaikishan, Jaidev, S D Burman, poets Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir Ludhy-anvi, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and gifted sing-ers like Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, with exceptions, was not forthcoming from the 1980s.17 Dwyer, ‘All You Want Is Money, All You Need is Love”, p 131, observes this with reference toMother India. A number of Muslims contributed to this successful film; Mehboob, Naushad, Nargis and Mohammad Rafi, etc. However, the village inMother India has no Muslims. 18 RepeatedasNamaste London recently.19 If the girl returns from ‘bilayat’ as a westernised and pampered daughter of an industrialist or a business-man, she is quickly introduced to the “Indian” hero. The opposition of values is overcome in the taming of the heroine. As the story unfolds she sheds the western influence and prepares to become a correct Indian daughter-in-law – a process embodied in the last scene of the film depicting a Hindu marriage.20 Her views are based on works by Ashis Nandy and Arvind Rajagopal and her personal observations.21 See A M (2002), for details.22 Noam Chomsky (1996) is an excellent example of such writing. 23 For details of Benegal’s career and filmograhpy see Sangeeta Datta (2003).24 Chakravarty (1987), p 174. Although Chakravarty writes this with reference to Guru Dutt’sSahib Bibi aur Ghulam based on Bimal Mitra’s novel, I find the comment relevant to the work of other directors as well.25 Sarkar, (2006). Referring to the contradictions char-acteristic of Indian nationalism, something which applies to Indian media as well, Sarkar observes the following: “in the Gramscian conception of contradic-tory consciousness, occasional subaltern experiences of struggles and solidarities disrupt, without over-turning the dominant ideology of class hegemony”. This paper has shown that this is exactly what hap-pens in Indian cinema, television and radio.References A M (2002): ‘Calcutta Diary’, Economic and Political Weekly, October 12.Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi (2002): ‘Writing and Money Mak-ing: Munshi Premchand in the Film Industry,1934-35’ inContemporary India, Vol 1, No 1, January-MarchChakravarty, S S (1998):National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema 1947-87, OUP, Delhi.Chakravarty, Uma (1998): ‘Inventing Saffron History – A Celibate Hero Rescues an Emasculated Nation’ in Mary E John and Janaki Nair (eds), A Question of Si-lence: The Sexual Economics of Modern India, Kali for Women, New Delhi. Chowdhry, Prem (2000):Colonial India and the Making of Empire Cinema: Image, Ideology and Identity, Man-chester University Press, Manchester.– (2000): ‘Propaganda and Protest: The Myth of the Muslim Menace in an Empire Film (The Drum, 1938)’, Studies in History, 16, 1, n s. Chomsky, Noam (1996):Powers and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order, Madhyam Books, Delhi. Datta, Sangeeta (2003):Shyam Benegal, Roli Books, New Delhi. Deshpande, Anirudh (2004): ‘Power, Image, Perception and Social Relevance in Modern Visual Narratives – An Introductory Note’,Contemporary India, 3, No 2.Dwyer, Rachel (2002):Yash Chopra: Fifty Years in Indian Cinema, Roli Books, New Delhi. – (2000): All You Want Is Money, All You Need Is Love: Sexu-ality and Romance in Modern India,Cassell,London and New York.Gupta, Dipankar (2001):Mistaken Modernity: India between Worlds, HarperCollins India, New Delhi. Lanba, Urmila (2002): Life and Films of the Thespian Dilip Kumar, Vision Books, New Delhi. Parasher, P P (2002): Retrospective Hallucination Echo in Bollywood Modernities, UBSPD, New Delhi.Pfleiderer, B and L Lutze(1985): (eds) The Hindi Film: Agent and Re-agent of Cultural Change, Monohar, Delhi. Pradhan, Bharathi, S (2003): Colas, Cars and Communal Harmony – A Doff to Bollywood’s Secular Colours, India Book Distributors, Mumbai.Rajadhyaksha and Willeman (2004): (eds):Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, OUP, New Delhi. Ramachandran, T M (1985) (ed): Seventy Years of Indian Cinema, 1913-1983, Cinema India-International, Bombay.Rangoonwalla, Firoz (1982): Indian Cinema: Past and Present, Clarion Books, New Delhi.Rosenstone (2001): ‘The Historical Film: Looking at the Past in a Postliterate Age’ in Marcia Landy (ed),The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media, The Athlone Press, London,Sarkar, Tanika (2006): ‘Birth of a Goddess – Vande Mataram, Anandamath and Hindu Nationhood’, Economic and Political Weekly, September 16Shah, Panna (1950): The Indian Film, The Motion Picture Society of India, Bombay.Thoraval, Yves (2000):The Cinemas of India, MacMillan India, Delhi. Vasudevan, Ravi (1995): ‘Film Studies, New Cultural His-tory and Experience of Modernity’,Economic and Political Weekly, November 4. – (2000):(ed)Making Meaning in Indian Cinema, OUP, New Delhi.Yadav, Bhupendra (2006): ‘Whither the Social Sciences?’, Economic and Political Weekly, September, 9.

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