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Arts/Society Bitten By The B Bug


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Hindi cinema is now taught in Berkeley, Cardiff, Manchester and other universities. Harshikaa Udasi on how Bollywood has stormed academic centres around the world

by Harshikka Udaasi

If you thought Bollywood to foreigners was all song and dance with zero intellectual value, think again. Shah Rukh Khan is not just that fabulous and difficult-to-source Mini Khan doll who finds pride of place in Austrian homes, nor is Kareena merely the dancing scion of the Kapoor clan. Bollywood has reached the academic centres of the western world with a serious study of Indian films now being part of the course curriculum in many reputed universities. What do you say about studying pure commercial Bollywood at the University of Manchester, University of California, Berkeley (UC, Berkeley) and Cardiff University!

Contribution of Hindi films

Just last year, a conference was held at Vienna University to recognise the contribution of popular Hindi cinema. Elaborate would be an understatement with a three-day international conference solely on ‘Shah Rukh Khan and Global Bollywood'. For one of the oldest and biggest European universities that was quite a departure from the norm!

From learning ‘good' Hindi through podcasts of Bollywood scenes to Bollywood dancing, from inviting Bollywood stars as guest lecturers at universities abroad to blogs by non-Indians on Bollywood, the West has been Bollywoodised like never before. And it's not just the desis or the ABCDs who are interested. Queuing up for a dose of Bollywood are people who couldn't have earlier identified a commercial Hindi film. Reason? Not only is the course entertaining, but the Bollywood film shown once a week offers them a sneak peek into the Indian way of living.

But it's not only the rosy romantic world of Karan Johar-Yash Chopra, the course material of the University of Auckland includes Raj Kapoor's 1951 film “Awara”, Satyajit Ray's 1955 film “Pather Panchali”, Deepa Mehta's 1997 film “Fire”, Anusha Rizvi's 2010 film “Peepli Live” besides “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” and “Lage Raho Munnabhai”.

US-based Jennifer Hopfinger, who runs the website The Bollywood Ticket, describes it as the American guide to Indian movies. She writes on her website that she watched her first Hindi film “Baabul” out of sheer boredom but the phenomenon of Hindi films caught on. “Most Americans have never seen an Indian movie… and they have plenty of preconceived notions about Bollywood, mostly negative. But, thanks, in parts to ‘Slumdog Millionaire', Indian movies are now catching on like crazy in the U.S. So I created this site to help the burgeoning number of new fans navigate the thrilling, thriving world of Hindi cinema, as well as dispel the inaccurate stereotypes about it. Bollywood is worthy of the same serious consideration as Hollywood,” she writes.

Student internship

Most PhDs in South Asian cinema are reportedly being done on Hindi films. Jennifer lists professors who specialise in Bollywood cinema and teach related coursework — the names include those from University of California, DePaul University, Florida State University, New York University, University of Southern California, Syracuse University and Yale University.

Course programmes vary from being practical to studying the history and impact of Bollywood. A programme run in partnership with Center for South Asia Studies (CSAS), the University of California, Berkeley, and the India Study Abroad Center (ISAC) on the working style of film and media workers in Mumbai incorporates lectures, readings, film screenings, field trips and internships on live film projects. This UC Berkeley internship allows students the chance to spend a few days on a real film set to get a behind-the-scenes view.

On the other hand, Bollywood and Beyond, the course run by the University of Auckland focusses on significant Indian and South Asian films. The course explores the aesthetics and politics of the Hindi commercial cinema. Film culture is understood through historical and contemporary debates about colonialism, popular culture, modernism, sexuality, gender sensitivity, politics and religion.

A fleeting fascination?

Call it the effect of Karan Johar-style of films popular on the home video circuit abroad or the pushing of Bollywood films in erstwhile art house categories at international award forums, Hindi popular cinema has made its way into a world no one expected it to reach. It remains to be seen though, if it is merely a fleeting fascination.



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