Bollywood’s Regional Turn: Investigating Hindi Cinema’s Shift to Non-urbanity

Title: 1283 | Bollywood’s Regional Turn: Investigating Hindi Cinema’s Shift to Non-urbanity
Area: South Asia
Stream: Cinema Studies/Film
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Rudrani Gangopadhyay, Rutgers University, United States (organizer, presenter, chair)
Souraj Dutta, University of St. Andrews, United Kingdom (presenter)
Niyati, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India (presenter)


Since India’s economic liberalization in 1991, Bollywood films have predominantly been set in metropolitan centers around the country or in foreign locations in Europe or North America. However, a study of Hindi cinema in the last decade would reveal filmmakers have been looking to move away from these settings. Of particular interest in the current sociopolitical conditions of India is the trend of setting films in the proverbial ‘small towns’ in the Hindi heartland of North India. Much of recent scholarship identifies the release of Dabangg (Dir. Abhinav Kashyap, 2010) as a crucial moment for this shift away from urban modernity. The trend of setting films in ‘the region’ has only grown more popular since then. A quick look at the films released from 2016 until now would reveal that Bollywood has clearly found a formula that works in the ‘region’ film, and are seemingly not going to give the forma up any time soon. This panel attempts to investigate this crossroads moment for Hindi cinema from different approaches in order to understand the impulse behind as well as the impact of such a paradigmatic shift. Papers in the panel investigate the socioeconomic causes for this regional turn, as well the ways in which these new negotiations with cinematic space it has altered the subjectivities represented within the cinematic frame, ultimate drawing connections with the changing politics of the nation.

Panel Abstracts:
"Some Things Get Lost": The Immiscible Temporalities of Benares
Neeraj Gheywan’s 2015 film Masaan is set in present-day Benares. The pre-modern tradition of the urban in India as well as its status as a tier-2 postcolonial city come together within Benares such that there is a lingering presence of both palimpsestic development and of continuous transitioning under-construction-ness. Apparently immiscible temporalities exist simultaneously within the city: rather than timeless, the film portrays the city as out-of-time. However, it is also solidly grounded in the geopolitical landscape of the present, which is, in an ancient religious center like Benares, always caught within tense networks of the tradition as well as the modern. The film’s depiction of romantic love and its use of technology make the audience question what it means to say “present day” within this strange coming together of heterogenous temporalities in postmodern times in a premodern city that has developed unevenly.Coupledom and romance, the mainstay of Bollywood cinema, plays out in Masaan’s Benares through two storylines.Both couples, undesirable in their respective ways, meet with tragic ends, in effect evacuating romance completely from Gheywan’s Benares. Similarly, the film’s use of technology also effectively creates a media ecology that reflects Benares’s complex negotiations with time and development. This paper aims to explore the multiple vectors of time in the socio-political context of a postcolonial space like Benares that still holds on to its premodern past, and how love can play out in an urban landscape such as this.

Bollywood Goes Local: Shifting Matrices of Postmillennial Stardom
After the economic liberalization in 1991, the next two decades witnessed a steady transformation of the Hindi film industry into the globally recognized film industry while also accruing social and cultural currency. The typical Hindi film from these decades focused on the urban Indian elite or the NRI (Non-Resident Indian) protagonist and were often set in sprawling metropolitan cities in India or the West. The male protagonists of these films (of whom Shah Rukh Khan is the representative star) were appropriately suave, urbane, cool, and practiced a sort of soft masculinity that can be loosely labeled metrosexual. However, with the emergence of “multiplex films,” this focus on the glitz and glam of the urban elite slowly started moving away; instead, multiplex films trained its lens on the “other” India- the suburban towns and the Hindi heartland of North India. With this shift in focus, a new kind of hero was also introduced: gruff, non-urban, and sometimes hypermasculine. Thus, apart from all the defining industrial shifts, Bollywood in the 2010s is also characterized by a movement away from the metropolitan elite hero to the suburban "launda" (a North Indian colloquialism used to refer to young men). In this paper I examine how this shift in setting in contemporary Bollywood films had resulted in a shift in the representations of masculinity—from cosmopolitan metrosexuality to suburban machismo—in a group of mainstream films. Since many of these films feature actors who debuted after 2000 (like Arjun Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana etc.), with the

Searching for Kasturi – The Essence of India Through Bollywood Films Set in Varanasi
The existence of the city of Varanasi—an ancient, holy site of pilgrimage for a large part of the Hindu population—has been linked to the Ganges for centuries. Known as a city of temples and ghats (river banks), Varanasi has also serves as a means to an end as in case of Hindus, a literal end as the ashes of the dead are flown into the Ganga from Varanasi’s ghats. In the past decade, this city has been thrust into the mainstream cinematic imagination. This paper examines the shift in looking at Varanasi as a ‘city’ to a magnified outlook of the city as a ‘collective of its residents’ through the aural and visual dimensions. I hope to explore the performance of the various Varanasi identities in films such as Mukti Bhawan, Mukkabaaz, Masaan, Mohalla Assi and Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain …. To some, the city is salvation as for an older, dying generation in Mukti Bhawan and the sportsman from an even-smaller town in Mukkabaaz; to others—the younger generation—the city becomes suffocating with its small-town social rules, caste conventions and restrictions as in Masaan. The aural dimension that is rarely explored in the spatial construction of a city, speaks volumes in these films. I’d like to outline the construction of a pan-Indian identity through this north-Indian town as portrayed in Mohalla Assi and Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain … and the unravelling of this pan-Indian identity with films such as Mukkabaaz and Masaan

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