ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Changing Ideas of Nation and Nationalism in Hindi Cinema

Construing the Indian Middle Class Ideology

In this age of globalisation, many Hindi films are centred around the diaspora, non-resident Indians, and North Indians from the upper class and upper castes.The adoption of a market economy and the rise of majoritarian religious politics in India have had an impact on film scripts. Most Hindi film stories revolve around affluent Indians and endorse the social, religious, and cultural values of the Hindu middle class. By doing so, such films are also trying to construct a new form of nation and nationalism that is not fully inclusive.

 

In countries with a strong film industry, cinema is often more than just a means of entertainment. It is a powerful and effective medium for disseminating ideas of nation and nationalism among the masses. This is true of Bollywood1 as well, which has from its inception in 1913, with the release of Raja Harishchandra (King Harishchandra), been engaged in fulfilling this role. During the anti-colonial movement in India, Hindi cinema extended its support to the national struggle by releasing cinematic adaptations of its events; after independence, Bollywood took up the cause of Nehruvian socialism and promoted its ideals; and decades later, when India’s economic policy took a turn towards liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG), Bollywood promoted the Indian market.

Despite changes in the storylines, in its journey of more than 100 years, one thing has remained immutable: the target audience. It is the dominant middle class whose values Bollywood seeks to represent on screen, and who it targets in the hope of minting money at the box office. This includes this class’s definition of a nation and nationalism, imagined mainly by the upper-caste Hindus from North India.2 While imagining the nation, differences based on region, religion, caste, and class, and the differential treatment meted out to members of such categories, are subsumed. This domination by the upper class and upper castes, and by extension their definition of nation and nationalism, is being challenged. This is more so in recent times, as there is growing resistance against the imposition of a single identity by the dominant group, due to the rise of strong subaltern voices. Clashes between the different narratives have become more frequent, mainly after the rise to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government under Narendra Modi in 2014. As a representative of Hindutva politics, the party has been trying to impose a single identity on the nation, which has led to friction and tensions in society. Interestingly, in this clash of narratives, both dominant and non-dominant groups have garnered the support of the middle class.

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