Public Lecture: Bollywood Film

Public Lecture: Vijay Mishra



'Spectres of Sentimentality: The Bollywood Film'

13. November 2008, 14 Uhr c.t., Geb. C5.3 Raum 120


Prof. Vijay Mishra, Murdoch University, Perth


Bollywood, the Indian film industry based in Mumbai, is the cultural dominant of modern India. Both in India and in the Indian diaspora it exists as a cinematic form and as ever-changing cultural effects. The pre-eminent Indian film critic Ashish Rajadhyaksha has in fact distinguished between its reality and the hype around d it. This essay acknowledges Rajadhyaksha’s influential reading of Bollywood as cinema as well as a fad, a taste, an Indian exotica, and a global phenomenon growing out of, as it so happens, the cultural and political economy of a film industry based primarily in Mumbai. However, it is argued that no amount of reading of it as a simulacral, ‘techno-realist’ image readily packaged and re-packaged for consumption by almost anyone gets to the heart of the system, to the crux internal to its design, to spectatorial response around the shedding of a tear. This knowledge and this response is pivotal to a Bollywood where sentimental dialogues dominate.


The essay takes up a reading of Bollywood a little different from the manner in which Rajadhyaksha gave it its definitive modern meaning. Bollywood is more than its surface effects, more than just costume and romance, more than a series of selected images constructed primarily for upwardly mobile Indian and Indian diaspora consumption. Bollywood so understood is marked by a narrative of slippage, a narrative which leads to the shedding of a tear as the outpouring of sentiment as a performative act on the part of the form’s ‘Model’ spectators distinguishes Bollywood from itself. To make the case two recent Bollywood films Eklavya (2007) and Saawariya (2007) are read to show the continuing strength of sentimental melodrama and after, Laura Mulvey, to show also how the form constructs a collective subjectivity which transcends gender difference