The Cinematic Imagination: Indian Popular Films as Social History by Jyotika Virdi New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003 xiv + 256 pages; $22.00, paper; $60.00, hardcover
The recent spur of interest in Bollywood films or Indian popular cinema is not just an academic phenomenon. Critical texts by Satyajit Ray (Our Films, Their Films, 1983), Sumita S. Chakravarty (National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema: 1947-1987, 1993), Ashis Nandy (ed.) (Secret Politics of Our Desires, 1998), Parama Roy (Indian Traffic, 1998), Rachel Dwyer (All You Want is Money, All You Need is Love, 2000), and Vijay Mishra (Bollywood Cinema, 2002), among others, have been instrumental in legitimizing an investigation and theorizing of Hindi cinema within university departments. At the same time, a glossy chronicling of motion picture in India in the coffee-table art-book format, such as B.D. Garga's So Many Cinemas (1996), has made the low-culture artifact of Bollywood cinema a fashionable item of display in upper middle-class Indian homes. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bollywood Dreams, a British musical based on the film genre, has made it to Broadway, and there has been a Hollywood parody of the over-the-top 'formula' in Hindi films (Guru). For the first time a Bollywood film (Lagaan) has been considered for the Oscar and has even found its way to the Blockbuster video rental shelf. The term Bollywood itself has become as familiar as Hollywood to global audiences, which also points to the significance of the growing discussion about Indian popular cinema as both a distinctly national cultural artifact and as a product of global postmodernism.
Jyotika Virdi's The Cinematic Imagination examines Hindi national cinema as a popular text that reflects the cultural imaginary and as a site that anchors postcolonial definitions of Indian-ness as distinct from (neo) colonial Western influence. The author is aware that, "As third world critics we are native informants, translating culture and texts--and also transposing the wherewithal of critical cultural armor upon them. These two worlds require traversing a slippery terrain" (62). Virdi's approach is therefore to use postcolonial theory as a critical lens to examine, what she argues is the central discursive function of Indian popular cinema, "namely the making of a 'new nation'" (5).
The book is arranged thematically into six chapters. Chapter One is a discussion about the intersections between Hindi film and the postcolonial project of Indian nationalism. Chapters Two and Three examine the construction of gender and gendered nationality through filmic representations and narratives. Chapters Four and Five address the politics and erotics of desire as expressed through...
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