Bollywood dissected in London
Leading academics of Hindi cinema gathered in London on Friday to speak at the cinema studies conference Bollywood and Beyond, at University of Westminster’s recently launched India Media Centre.
The nine experts from leading institutions in the UK and India presented on a range of Bollywood topics, to an audience of cinema fans and film students attending from as far afield as New York.
Delivering a paper on Gandhi in Hindi cinema, Rachel Dwyer from the School of Oriental and African Studies states, “The success of Lage Raho Munna Bhai led to a revival in Gandhigiri, especially amongst the young”.
As an icon of the screen however, Dwyer feels one of his contemporaries in the freedom struggle is a more popular subject with filmmakers, “Bhagat Singh can be seen dancing on stage in the same way that can’t be seen with Gandhi”. The SOAS Professor also conveyed how Indian audiences were initially perplexed by the casting of Ben Kingsley, seemingly a female actress, as the father of the nation in Richard Attenborough’s biographical epic.
Ranjani Mazumdar from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, explored themes of global travel in 60s Bollywood cinema, highlighted with clips from Love in Tokyo and the Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore starrer An Evening in Paris. The controversy at that time surrounding publicity stills of the actress posing in a bikini was discussed. Tagore, incidentally, will be in London over the weekend for a screening of her new British Asian release Life Goes On.
A recent recipient of a Global Achievement award for his work in academia, Rajindra Dudrah, explores the Manchester Bollywood scene through spaces such as the Curry Mile in Rusholme, and music nights at Club Zindagi. Dudrah also explains the screening of Bollywood films at the mainstream Trafford Centre, “Bollywood cinema has arrived. It’s always been a global and international cinema, but since the mid to late nineties it has arrived. With its films often making the UK Top 10 at the box office, Bollywood is now part of a global ethnic chic”.
Anna Morcom from Royal Holloway and Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Ira Bhaskar presented papers on Hindi film music. Bhaskar considered the impact of Sufi music in Bombay film, considering Dil Se, Fanaa and Rab Ne Bane Di Jodi in their use of Sufi beats and lyrics.
Screening a song sequence from Yash Raj hit Veer Zara, Bhaskar explained how a Sufi qawwali was used in a Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta song as a means of communicating love. In recent releases, the scholar notes how music producers are often using the poetry of Sufi writers but not its visuals, “With dance music from a disco, and clothes representing haute couture, the visualisation of these songs are at odds with their lyrics”.
The changing face of Hindi film dance was presented by Ann David from Roehampton University, who focused on the rising popularity of Bollywood dance in the UK, and a shift in the popularity of dance style from classical to film.
David outlines the growth in the number of dance schools now teaching such film inspired moves, “The learning of filmi dance is now seen as a means of entering the glamorous world of Bollywood”. David also analyses the marketing of Bollywood dance with work out DVDs titled as Bollylicious or Bollyrobics, new age packaging, and a promise on the box, ‘you bounce the stress away’.
Other topics covered in the one day session were a paper on the Arabian Nights in early Indian cinema by the University of Westminster’s Rosie Thomas, Shakuntala Banaji’s analysis of children in Hindi film from her work at the Institute of Education, and an investigation into Indian horror by Valentina Vitali, University of East London.
From the one day event exploring Bollywood through an academic eye, Ranjani Mazumdar proclaims, “London has become the centre for Indian cinema conferences”.
(Steven Baker is a Hindi film journalist and post graduate in Indian cinema )