Bollywood Nation: Chak De! India

On Thursday, January 26, 2012, we will be screening the fifth and final film in our Bollywood Nation series: Chak De! India [Come on! India] (and not, as previously announced, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…). As usual, the screening will begin at 6:00 PM (room 615 in the Conti-Hochhaus). More information about the film can be found on

Bollywood Nation: Mr. and Mrs. Iyer

On Thursday, January 5, 2012, we will be screening the fourth film in our Bollywood Nation series: Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. As usual, the screening will begin at 6:00 PM (room 615 in the Conti-Hochhaus). As indicated on our poster above, the 2002 film serves in several respects as a contrast to the other films in our series. More information about the film can be found on

Bollywood Gaga

Apart from superheroes, politics, Photoshop, and video games (see yesterday’s post), two other obsessions interests of this blog over the past several months have been Bollywood and Lady Gaga. There are, of course, reasons for all of these things: my interest in superheroes is related to my work on comics, and they’ve been brought together with American politics (and especially #OWS) in ways that highlight the importance of visual and social media at the current moment, while, at the same time, I’ve been teaching a seminar on game studies this semester. Then there’s our still ongoing Bollywood Nation film series (in which three films have been screened so far, all starring Shah Rukh Khan), and I gave a presentation on Gaga last week at our conference on “Cultural Distinctions Remediated.” Strangely, all of these things are starting to come together: here, Shah Rukh Khan interviews Gaga on Indian television, going so far as to raise the prospect of Gaga acting in a Bollywood movie!

Bollywood Nation: Pardes

On Thursday, December 8, 2011, we will be screening the third film in our Bollywood Nation series: Pardes [Foreign Land]. The screening will begin at 6:00 PM (room 615 in the Conti-Hochhaus). The 1997 film, directed by Subhash Ghai, was a commercial success, both in India and abroad. More information about the film can be found on

Bollywood Nation: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

On Thursday, November 24, 2011, we will be screening the second film in our Bollywood Nation series: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge [The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride]. Please note that this and subsequent screenings in the series are now scheduled to begin at 6:00 PM (room 615 in the Conti-Hochhaus).

The film, directed by Aditya Chopra and released in 1995, was the first successful new global NRI film, considered a classic of its kind. The short description at indicates the global scope of the conflicts, concerns, and identities that inform the film:

“A young man and woman – both of Indian-descent, but born and raised in England – fall in love during a trip to Switzerland. However, the girl’s traditional father takes her back to India to fulfill a betrothal promise.”

Bollywood Nation: Background / Context

On the occasion of the first screening in our Bollywood Nation film series, which is set to begin in just under an hour from now (with Swades – more info below, and here), Jatin Wagle has put together the following very useful background information on Bollywood and tonight’s film.

Bollywood Nation

27.10.2011 – Swades: We, the People [Homeland] (Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2004, 187 mins.)

Bollywood: A widely accepted but not unproblematic term for Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani language commercial cinema in India. The expression is problematic because it suggests a close relationship with or dependence on Hollywood. Even as American popular cinema remains an important frame of reference and influence for Hindi cinema, straightforward comparisons are not necessarily useful. Although the films are actually shot all over the world, the undisputed site of production of commercial Hindi cinema is the megacity of Mumbai (or Bombay as it was called before 1995). In this sense, Bollywood is both about India and Mumbai, or to be more precise, about the Indian nation as it is constantly imagined and staged in the crowded, multilingual diversity of the metropolis.

There are no clearly defined genres in Hindi commercial cinema. Instead, a typical Hindi film contains varying elements of romance, melodrama, action and comedy interspersed with song-and-dance sequences. The principal reason for this has been the complex mode of production – called “disaggregated” by M. Madhava Prasad – and the precarious mode of distribution of films in India. Although Hindi cinema has been perhaps the most significant site for the social/cultural negotiation of the Indian nation, until 2001 it was not accorded the status of an industry by the Indian Government. This has meant that over the years Hindi films have been financed through more-or- less informal networks, and this financial precariousness lies at the root of Hindi cinema’s reluctance to fragment its potential audiences. This used to be evident until a few years ago, i.e. before the advent of the multiplexes, in the typical experience of watching a Hindi film in an Indian city, when one invariably watched it with the family in a “cinema theatre” with a seating capacity of around a thousand. Thus, instead of genres, Hindi commercial cinema has historically developed a range of masala [Gewürzmischung] or formula films, i.e. mixes of or compromises between plot compositions, narrative structures and genre elements. For instance, the popular masala films of the 1970s were slight variations on either the lost-and-found/family reunion plot (e.g. Yaadon Ki Baaraat 1973) or the angry young man action hero format (e.g. Deewaar 1975, Amar Akbar Anthony 1977). From the mid-nineties, a new sort of masala film has become popular, with a diaspora setting (or at least a strong diaspora component) and an NRI (non-resident Indian) protagonist who portrays a guiltless blend of so-called Indian tradition with Western modernity.

Swades: We are beginning our film series titled, needless to say with obvious irony, “Bollywood Nation” with a film aptly called Homeland. Even with its NRI protagonist, played by Shahrukh Khan, and its partial diaspora setting, this film is untypical for a variety of reasons. Its expatriate protagonist is different from the typical hero of the recent NRI masala film. Although successful in the West, he is plagued by the guilt of having left behind the land of his past, a developing, third-world country with its complicated challenges, for a relatively uncomplicated life in the U.S. In terms of its aesthetic, the film is not obviously “camp” [filmy] and has been described as more “realistic” than a typical Bollywood film. Although it was not really a box office success within India, Swades sold well in what have been called the diaspora markets, and its music composed by A. R. Rahman became popular even within India. Ashutosh Gowariker, who wrote the script, and produced and directed the film, is known for at least one more film, Lagaan [Land Tax] (2001), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Bollywood Nation: Swades (2004)

This is a reminder that our Bollywood Nation film series will begin on Thursday, October 27, 2011, at 5:00 pm in room 615 (in the “Conti-Hochhaus” at Königsworther Platz 1).

The first film will be Swades: We, the People [Homeland] (Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2004, 187 mins.), a late renegotiation of the “brain drain” paradigm that could serve as a contrast to the new global NRI films.

The film, which stars Shah Rukh Khan, is summarized at thus:

Set in modern day India, Swades is a film that tackles the issues that development throws up on a grass root level. It is to this India, which is colorful, heterogeneous and complex that Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan), a bright young scientist working as a project manager in NASA, returns to on a quest to find his childhood nanny. The film uses the contrast between the highly developed world of NASA, which has been at the forefront of advances in space research, and this world back home in India, which is at the crossroads of development. Mohan’s simple quest becomes the journey that every one of us goes through in search of that metaphysical and elusive place called “home”.