Films are social texts, produced within political, socioeconomic, cultural, and techno-logical milieus. Yet, popular films also play an important role in the production, circulation, and validation of cultural forms and norms and, as such, are constitutive of the social, economic, and political.
In India, cinema: “Is the dominant cultural institution and product… the pleasures the commercial film offers [glamour, drama, and fantasy], and desires it creates makes it a vital part of popular culture and a critical site of cultural interpretation”
Cinematic space acts as a vital node in the flow, intersection, reconfiguration, and re-articulation of a range of competing discourses. Discourses work in the production of subjectivity and of the social imagination-öthe organising field of social practices.
Thus, cinematic representations are sites where:
“Economic and political contradictions are contested and resolved… meanings are negotiated and relations of dominance and subordination are defined and contested”
Given the range and speed of technological developments in India within the last decade it is difficult to imagine that when film arrived in India it was regarded as a foreign technology a “tool of Europe and part of its dominating project”.
Yet, technology does not arrive with a pre-given set of cultural possibilities but necessarily articulates with local conditions and cultures which determine the ways in which it functions in a particular society. It is notable that Dadasaheb Phalke, referred to as the father of Indian cinema, “made explicit the links between film-making, politics and Indian statehood”.
As Indians, supported by a movement to promote indigenous enterprise, turned to filmmaking, cinematic representations could not remain the exclusive domain of the colonisers but although a popular definition of NRI is an overseas national of Indian origin (excluding those from Pakistan and Bangladesh) NRI may also include Indian nationals employed overseas. The precise definition of who counts as an NRI for particular investments or tax breaks in India is variable.
Bollywood, the ‘homeland’ nation-state, and the diaspora became part of the terrain for the ideological confrontations between anti-colonialists and colonialists. With independence, Hindi cinema emerged as the de facto, if not de jure, national cinema of India, successfully transcending linguistic and regional divisions within the domestic market.
While the Nehruvian state refused to confer industry status on Hindi cinema in recognition of its role in nation-building, either in economic or cultural ideological terms, the industry became a willing partner in these processes as part of furthering its own commercial interests.
Sankaran Krishna argues that “something called ‘India’ becomes inscribed, in various ways, through representational practices… which endow that entity with content, a history, a meaning and a trajectory.” Hindi cinema performs the national and as a key player in the scripting of the nation shapes its meaning, signifying its internal and external borders. Ashish Rajadhyaksha notes how, after independence, Hindi cinema set about assembling a national market through the construction of unified, national, gendered, racialised, (hetero) sexed subject. In many parts of India the cinema hall was the only space that was not divided along caste lines.
At the site of the neighbourhood cinema hall, Hindi cinema served to suture highly fragmented local public spheres to create a public sphere at the national scale. The production of the ‘national’ draws on the feminine, sexed body to both explore and naturalise the aesthetic and moral markers of ‘Indian-ness’. Thus, women’s bodies become a site for inscribing and standing in for national territory, and so “it is on the notion of womanhood that cultural identity of the community and the nation is staked”.
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