Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani…: Decolonisation and the Study of Commercial Indian Cinema(s)

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Over the past decades, commercial Hindi cinema, often known as Bollywood, has not only gained international visibility but also garnered increasing academic interest. At the same time, much of the scholarship attempting to understand its distinctive narrative, performance and aesthetic conventions applies theoretical constructs that are not only Euro-centric but also tend to ignore its particular cultural moorings. As a result, the only film industry with the ability to compete with Hollywood in terms of production and market reach still lacks a coherent theoretical construct that takes into account its cultural roots, its structural particularities and its stylistic practices. This also means that too often we focus on how this cinema differs from Western ones rather than considering it on its cinematic, thematic and cultural terms.

What would mean to examine this cinema – along with other Indian and indeed all Global South cinemas – on their own terms? How would our understanding change if we chose to examine and analyse Bollywood not merely as an Other of Hollywood and other Western cinemas? What would it mean to confront the ‘West as Theory, East as Object’ formulation that seems to inform much of the contemporary scholarship not only on cinema but other forms of cultural production? Decolonisation means not only excavating and examining histories, experiences and legacies but challenging, disrupting or refusing colonial theory and theoretical frameworks. It also means developing theory that is grounded in the same culture that produces the artefacts that we analyse.

This talk will focus on identifying narrative, formal, technical and aesthetic choices made by a range of filmmakers over multiple decades, explore how these decisions represent a form of cinema that is deeply rooted in longstanding narrative and performance traditions, and propose the outlines of an anti-colonial, decolonising model for examining this cinema.

This seminar will be followed by a drinks reception.