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Apathy Girl and Other Tales

Musings of the Overly Naive Cynic

Category Archives: Research

The amber waves of grain. The purple mountains majesty. The spacious skies filled with the LA morning smog. Ah, America the beautiful. The fruited plain is worked by immigrants because most Americans are too proud to accept the wage, or maybe it is because landowners are too cheap to pay a fair amount. After the glitter of the Olympics everyone wants to go to Disneyworld. Cars are big, houses are bigger, egos are the biggest. Children are taught their manners by television puppets. Going to a restaurant means a greasy burger wrapped in even greasier paper. ‘Culture’ is something that one has to seek out. There is no false sense of propriety; no one has a legitimate reason to look down their nose at someone else. You can literally be anything you want to be, especially if that happens to be a soldier. This is America as Jean Baudrillard sees it, and how can we deny his view? When looking at Baudrillard’s theory about America as Utopia, both a paradise and a cultural no-place, we must transcend his tone to be able to stomach his text, which is the truth about America.

To see this truth we must first own up to something we, as a society, have been trying to downplay for years: our own ethnocentrism. We are the greatest nation, we know it, and Baudrillard noticed it as well, and so does the rest of the world.

Americans are not wrong in their idyllic conviction that they are at the centre of the world, the supreme power, the absolute model for everyone. And this conviction is not so much founded on natural resources, technology and arms, as on the miraculous premise of a utopia made reality (Baudrillard 111).

Other nations want to be us, for the simple fact that we are the cool kids, we dress the right way, we talk the right way, and we go to all the right UN summits. The citizens of American have the freedom to pierce themselves, smoke up (if they are cunning enough) and generally do as they please. We live within a world that other nations simply aspire to, “We shall never catch them up, and we shall never have their candor. We merely imitate them… and we are not even successful at that” (Baudrillard 111)

However, while countries are secretly coveting our Bill of Rights, or liberal dress and colorful word choice, they are also condemning our lack of “culture.” We exist in McWorld, nothing is sacred, nothing is historical, nothing has a base set firmly in what came before. “…[T]he audacity for what might be called the zero degree of culture, the power of unculture” (Baudrillard 112). There is no cohesiveness to our nation. We believe in freedom, but that is increasingly blocked out by our fear and our everlasting belief in consumerism. The Great American Melting Pot hasn’t quite gotten to the correct temperature yet. Baudrillard’s main downfall is that he uses California to explain his theory, forgetting that middle America is true America. Places like California, New York, and Atlanta, are anomalies. In Middle America, as much talking is done about freedom and equality there are still faint lines drawn in the dirt, between ourselves and The Other. We love God, our Trucks, and the Home Team. However, Baudrillard’s theory (however shaky it may be) still holds up here. Where are the concert halls, where is the education, where are the hallowed halls where greats have walked before us? There is nothing except the Disneyland reality of television and consumerism, and the ever-lacking sense of propriety.

A nation of migrants, of good-for-nothing ill educated media whores. A nation filled with people who have no sense of class, of judgment, ‘good’ social skills. We should all just move to France! This is a wasteland, right? A desert? Wrong. All of the things that Baudrillard finds appalling about the United States are all of the things that should be embraced and held dear. The lack of culture, of a united societal front, is exactly what is necessary in a country with majority population of immigrants. Our lack of culture is our culture, the ability to maintain unique attributes. We are not bogged down by black robes and powdered wigs, by ivy covered stone and stone faced monarchs. America is unlike Europe, and for that we should praise God (whom we do know as a nation, but in tin roofed modular homes instead of Cathedrals) that we are a satellite unto ourselves.

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Power surrounds us always. It is coursing through the walls, the floor, the furniture. Power is in the air, and in every person we see. Power keeps the world going. Cars have to run, lights have to be lit, food kept cold or hot, missiles launched. From one source or another, humanity requires power. In much the same way, the power exerted upon a person by another person, or more appropriately, by the vague Other whom is usually unidentifiable, is equally, if not more necessary. This power is an opaque veil over the lives of humankind. It is such a part of the norm, that it isn’t really seen. Quietly, ever so quietly, the power is accepted, and the people take a submissive stance. Every person, of course, has the ability to deny that power, and to rule over themselves. French philosopher Michel Foucault best (and probably with the most tangible end) described what this power play actually looks like, and how it interacts with society. In a chapter of Discipline and Punish, Foucault describes the Panopticon, a prison without bars or wire, a prison with no physical control, but a prison from which no one would ever dream escaping, and no one would ever dare misbehave. The prisoner has, at one point, a chance to not accept this power that the guard so silently exerts over him, but, worn down, he does accept the game that is power play. It is so in society as well. However, although Foucault’s Panopticon is a still an extremely relevant model for social constructs; it is a moot point when void of personal acceptance.

Foucault’s Panopticon is a duplicate of that of J. Bentham (Foucault 225). Bentham designed his Panopticon to further facilitate one person’s ability to reign over another. It is circular, at the edge of the building are cells; open with two windows, and in the center is a large tower. At the top of the tower resides the warden, a light behind him. This effect of this backlit authority is that the inhabitants of the cells can never tell for sure exactly where the warden is (Foucault 225). Is he looking at me? Can he see what I am doing? At first this simply causes paranoia. The word ‘simply’ is used because the ultimate end result of the panopticon is far worse than just being paranoid. After days, months, years, of worrying about being watched, the prisoner begins to accept his fate, and he alters his natural behavior to fit what he feels that backlit source of power and authority would desire.

The society that exists within the Panopticon is extremely and devastatingly different from the society of a free person. Everything that a person does, from the moment that person wakes up to the moment they go to sleep, and maybe even in their dreams, is the result of the power of that All-Seeing Eye looming in the light above the cells.

It lays down for each individual his place, his body, his disease, and his death, his well being, by means of an omnipresent and omniscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted way even to the ultimate determination of the individual, of what characterizes him, of what belongs to him, of what happens to him (Foucault 223).

All of this from just watching? It does seem a bit extreme, but one must realize that it is not just the watchful Eye that causes the end result. Yes, the Eye initiates the paranoia and begins the behavior change, but in the end, it is the resulting actions of society that change the prisoner. Because of the inhabitation of the cell the prisoner has become something other than a human being. Its tormentor has labeled the human, the power behind that backlit authority tells ultimately decides what this human is. The human is ultimately disassociated from what it is to not only see and understand, but to be seen and understood (Foucault 228). Crazy or sane, intelligent or ignorant, criminal or innocent. This individualizes the control function and the coercive assignment causes the constant surveillance to be exercised by the prisoner personally, lest they fall out of the patterns of behavior that meet the labels, and fall victim to whatever vague nameless punishment the warden threatens them with.

The form of this model was destined to spread and become practice, but not in the most literal sense. Obviously, the physical panoptic prison did not catch on. However, the figurative Panopticon became very real. Foucault applies his analysis to the French bourgeoisie, and their suggestive power over the lowly proletariat (Foucault 221-225). This can be applied across the board to any hierarchical society. Europe made this extreme through colonization, by stripping down what a culture once was and rebuilding it from the top down into what was considered acceptable behavior.

One such colony was the nation of India. In 1818 there was an actual Panopticon prison built in Poona (Kaplan 85). This prison was only established after thorough investigation into local customs and behavior. Mountstuart Elphinstone’s report to the East India Company in 1819 outlined the general rejection of British ideology and rule by the deshis. He went on to note that upon attempting to establish European order he was met with more resistance, even though he was simply trying to make the people “less revolting to humanity” (Kaplan 86). The entire colonial project became an offshoot of that single Panopticon prison. Everywhere in India the British tried to tear down the once proud Indian society through use of first observation. When the British were watching, the deshis felt as though what they were doing was somehow wrong, amiss, inhuman. Next the countrymen began to actually question their own history and lifestyles. They joined the ranks of the British army, became educated in the west. The final straw of the Panopticon of colonial rule was when the deshis independently rejected their own culture and saw Europe as being more reasonable, logical, humane and refined.

In modern times a very unique form of Panoptic existence takes place. While in other examples were somewhat noisy and obvious forms of observation. Historically, the Panopticon had the ability to lead to revolution and rebellion. Now the All-Seeing Eye is truly all around us, not just in theory. Increasing observation plays a role in regulating the lives of all peoples (Amey). Not only do we accept this regulation, we gain entertainment from it, with the advent of reality television. Shows like The Real World and Big Brother allow the general populous to watch the private moments in the lives of complete strangers. This power of vision tells society what a human being is supposed to be, and what label goes with it (Amey).

However, in all the discussion of the evils of the authoritarian figure, how the warden oppresses and how the Eye is always watching, there is one constant that is rarely mentioned. Between the paranoid prisoner and the reconstructed and thoroughly labeled being there is a moment of choice. At some point the prisoner decides to succumb to the power that is reigning over him. There has to be some conscious moment where the human psyche cannot within stand anymore pressure, and the sweet relief of just giving in washes over that being. The power of the Eye becomes more real than oxygen, and more necessary to existence, and the institution begins to transform human boundaries (der Derian 295). One would hope for some synthesis between the reality of the world and the internal reality of the prisoner, but that is usually not the case. It is so (or not so, as it were) because the structure of the Panopticon within society exists as a critical activity. The authority behind the warden who resides behind the light is fixing the meaning of existence (der Derian 296). In that aforementioned moment of choice, the prisoner chooses to accept that definition of being.

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relations in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection (Foucault 230).

Why? Why not go the other way? Why not make the jump from paranoia to the sweet blissful release of insanity? At one point in history this choice would be so simple, but as soon as the ruling body, the authority, became institutionalized and the individual became marginalized against the whole, the choice was not only not simple, it was not our own choice to make. Oh, yes, at some level we are still individuals: “I like this, I don’t like this…” but this individualism still resides within the prison cell. Currently we choose the Panopticon to be a part of a controlled society. Individualism to the extreme that we exist without social constructs is the stuff of pure chaos. We choose to accept definitions placed upon us so that we may define others and exist within what is labeled as real human existence.

We have observed this inner struggle, the denial of the pre-Panoptic being, in some of the literature we have looked at during our studies this year. In Cliffor Geertz’s article Deep Play a village society is analyzed from the outside. It is noted that the majority of the village goes against law when they believe that no person is watching except their consorts (Geertz 276). Furthermore, power is built upon the fear of loosing in the cock ring. Power is within a more natural, animalistic realm, but it is controlled by the rules of a game and play none the less (Geertz 278).

In Bordo’s essay the image of the man and how it is accepted by society is discussed. Bordo hits upon an important point in the body of her essay. She notes that we still feel natural, uninhibited feelings, such as lust. As a human being, no labels, we want sex, we enjoy looking at a man who is so provocative, so natural, a man who exists outside what a man is supposed to be. However, we are also shamed. Back in the Panopticon we blush because, firstly, why would we be aroused by a man who doesn’t fit the definition of man, and secondly, sex is for the bedroom, it should exist elsewhere (Bordo 168-213).

It is obvious that, given the fact that we are our own subjects in the continuation of this power play, that the All-Seeing Eye is our own, that there has to be a way out of the cell. Foucault does not have or advocate for a solution. In our society we have to wonder if this power play is even a real problem. However, eventually individualism could become a moot point. In order to save ourselves we have to disengage the more technological systems that exert power over us, increasing our opportunity to choose our own definition of ourselves (Foucault 246). And by disentangling our social selves from our authoritative selves we can begin to make our world less like a circular prison, and more like a natural state (Foucault 249).

Works Cited

Amey, Michael. “Living Under the Bell Jar.” (2005).

Bordo, Susan. Ways of Reading. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin\’s, 2005. 168-213

Clifford, Geertz. Ways of Reading. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin\’s, 2005. 271-309.

Der Derian, James “The (S)Pace of International Relations.” International Studies Quarterly 34 (1990): 295-310. JStor. 7 May 2007.

Kaplan, Martha. “Panopticon in Poona.” Cultural Anthropology (1995). J Stor.

Foucault, Michel. Ways of Reading. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005. 219-254.

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 The color was almost blinding. The women positioned their arms, legs, smiles, at impossible angles, and still maintained a fluidity in motion that was incomprehensible. Their voices, nasal, warbling, beautiful, told the story of love, heroism, and faith. I was almost unnerved, my senses overloaded, but the beautiful songstress, the handsome countryman, the music, the sweeping story lines, and the blessing of intermission had me. The first Bollywood movie I saw was 2006’s Lagaan, it opened the door for me to experience India, a country that has fascinated me since I was a young girl, in a vibrant, somewhat novel way. Through hundreds, if not thousands, of films of varying cinematic excellence, viewers are allowed access to the spirit of the nation, if not it’s true self. A fellow student and lover of Indian cinema, who wishes to remain anonymous, remarked, “I don’t know how much justice the films do to the actual place, but they are so pretty, the people seem great. It makes me want to be Indian.” She laughed, but that seems to be the pull of Bollywood. The color, the music, your heart swells and you wish to put henna on your palms, kohl around your eyes, to dance, to be a part of it.

Literature Review

“Cinema in India is like brushing your teeth in the morning. You can’t escape it.” Shahrukh Khan, a famous Hindi film actor said this of the industry that made him a household name in South Asia and the West. During the past two decades the nation of India has increased it’s notoriety. Not only has the government become more legitimate and respected in the international community, the gross domestic product of the nation has consistently remained between six and eight percent. (Press Information Bureau: Government of India 2009) However, while India is experiencing rapid growth, it is also experiencing a type of loss. Since 1990 more than 98 million people have migrated from India, an increase of over forty-five percent, a veritable diaspora. (Azad India Foundation 2010) These people have not only brought their skill-sets to their new countries, but their families, and perhaps most importantly, their culture. A large part of Indian culture is film. The Indian film industry puts out an average of nine hundred movies annually. (Ramakant 2008)

One must ask how that film industry effects the members of the Indian diaspora, does it link them to their homeland, or does its allowance of a continued connection further the disconnection of those people from their new habitats? Conversely, it is also important to examine how the importation of Indian film effects the culture it is deposited in.

It will be the stance of this paper that to accompany the movement of Indian nationals, there has been a movement of Indian nationalism, supported most fully through film. This nationalism, when exposed to non-Indian elements, is diluted and commodified, but still linking and strengthening the bonds of the national to the homeland, preventing them from fully adjusting to their new place of residence.

As India grows as a nation, as Indian nationals establish themselves further and more permanently away from their homeland, it is important to understand exactly how their culture is transplanted, if it follows the diaspora at all. Does the dilution of film mean the dilution of culture, and does that eventually lead to cultural death and extinction? This is a case study to cultural homogenization via globalization, one of the most current and relevant topics in academia.

To undertake this topic it will be important to not only examine scholarly printed works, but also undertake discussions with Indian nationals, and to analyze the works that most are the most indicative of the Indian film industry. Initial movies to be examined by this paper will be Lagaan: Once Upon A Time in India (Aamir Khan Productions 2001), which uses the lens of a cricket game to analyze the relationship between natives and the British during colonial rule. Also, Rang De Basanti (UTV Motion Pictures 2006), Rakeysh Omprakash’s controversial work critiquing corruption in Indian government as well as the dilution of Indian culture by Western influences. To observe the industry’s take on the continuously fragile relationship between India and Pakistan, Fanaa (Yash Raj Films 2006) will be included. Other movies examined will include The Namesake (Fox Searchlight and Mirabai Films 2007) Mangal Pandey: The Rising (Kaleidoscope Entertainment and Maya Movies 2005) and The Legend of Bhagat Singh (Tips Films 2002). Printed works to be consulted will include ‘The Namesake’ (Lahiri 2003) a fictional work the adeptly discusses how displaced Indian families attempt to maintain their culture through generations. Also, ‘Indian Nationalism: A History’ (Masselos 2005) as a foundation and framework for the discussion of Indian nationalism. ‘Postcolonial Cultures’ (Featherstone 2005), ‘Culture in India’ (Guile 2005) and ‘Pop Culture in India’ (Kasbekar 2006), among other works. This research will fall within India, moving from that geographical boundary to discuss the nations relationship with Pakistan, Europe, Canada and the United States. The time period will remain within the last two decades, with the exception of necessary contextual sidebars to other time periods. This time period has been chosen because it is during this time that there has been a drastic increase in migration and globalization, as well as the game changing advent of the internet.

The Indian Diaspora

A diaspora is a forcing of people from their homeland by circumstances outside of their control. Readily thought of scenarios are usually limited to slavery, however famine, such as in Ireland during the late nineteenth century, or a change in economic or political climate are also acceptable scenarios. For the nation of India, it has been a sampling of all of the above. Initially colonization by European powers lead to the exportation of Indian nationals as veritable livestock to the Caribbean, Europe, the Americas and Africa. During the period leading up to India’s bid for independence a relatively large number of Indians were sponsored by the East India Company, and thereby the Crown, to become educated in Europe and return to their homeland to work closely with the occupying power. It is here that begins the tale of the westernization of India. More rewards were returned to those that anglicized and assimilated, making the western path a very appealing one, native culture being of no consequence in the face of life changing income and the promise of a future outside of agriculture and poverty. As a ubiquitous phenomenon, displacement, resettlement, and a resulting lifestyle change is a common denominator in most cultures and religions. The difference between those histories and the ones forming now are the landscapes. With the advent of the telephone, the internet, television, film, and radio as well as the increase in the number of people who are bi- or multi-lingual, the effect of displaced or immigrated peoples into a new environment has an impact of exponentially greater proportions. (Baumann 2000)

Although Britain officially left India as an occupying force in 1947, it is important to note that there are native scholars who argue that the ideological occupation has yet to cease. One such scholar, Jyotirmaya Tripathy, believes that India has a unique position as a previously occupied nation, because their occupation began in the 10th century with the Islamic invasion, and conceptually has yet to end because so quickly after Indian was ‘liberated’ from Britain they began to attempt to compete, as a cultural center, as well as an economic one. Paul Brian similarly writes the the very term, postcolonial, anglicizes the Indian experience, and marginalizes the continued ideological occupation by the West through literature, film, and changing social structure.

From colonial Indian fast forward to the nineteen-eighties and nineties. The nation has progressed past third world status, and become a fledgling democracy boasting a workforce of over a billion people. Inversely, as the population has grown, so has the number of people migrating from India. Since 1990 ninety-eight million people have migrated from India, predominantly to Europe and North America. That is a forty-eight percent increase over the previous decade. (Azad India Foundation 2010) There are Sikhs in Canada, Punjabis in America, Hindus in Mexico. They have very little in common, except for the fact that they are all Indian. The Desh (homeland) is what links them to one another. (Lal 2007) With new technologies it is easier for Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to maintain ties and allegiances to the same ideas and places as before their relocation or displacement. Within the identity of Deshi (countryman) is there is security, and a certain amount of power. “From the most biased and superficial student of the Mahratta achievement cans scarcely fail to recognize that the unity of India was its very soul,–it’s light and innermost strength” (McCully 1935).

Indian Film In India

Film is extremely popular in India as a whole. Much like language, different areas of the nation have their own type of cinema. In the north films are primarily produced in Mumbai (Bombay), have higher budgets, more violence, and are more liberal in their use of violence, romance, political voice, and ethics. Mainstream media in other parts of the country are similar in application of more traditional music, dance, and story lines. (Dickey 1993)

However, it is the entire continent whose economy is booming. And not a matter of region is the nation’s devotion to film. Millions of middle-class movie goers use film as an escape to a better, more colorful life. Cinema has also seen an increase in popularity among the urban and rural poor, which are a large part of the consuming population. (Dickey 1993) As more and more people attend movies and begin to rely on them as sole means of entertainment, ticket prices have began increasing across the board. Not only are the prices becoming more in-line with the industry in the west, the cinema halls are becoming gentrified as well. Gather this with new means of production, and increasingly profitable product placement deals, and Indian cinema is earning more at home, and becoming ever more competitive with its foreign competitors. (Walsh 2006)

As the film industry becomes more powerful and prolific, it has begun to be used as a means of political expression, much as the news media is in the west. Certain movements and political candidates fund films and thusly they are converted into propaganda mechanisms with specific ideologies, symbols, and messages. Overtly political movies first began appearing in the late 1960’s, and are still used today as a mode of communication of the elite to the masses. (Dickey 1993)

Indian Film and the Ex-Patriot

An increasingly common way the Deshi maintain their connection to the homeland is through the nation’s film industry: Bollywood. The industry can be viewed as a book on the social history of the entire country. (Jha 2003) Often, it is the cinema that teaches youth how to toe the fine line between the traditions of the old world, dance, nationalism, chastity and their modern environment of pop music, English catch phrases and liberal ideas. Films also are used as markers to the lives of those away from home, reflecting the national mood, fashions, and political ideals. (Jaikumar 2003) Filmmakers concern themselves with telling stories about the nation, often as they are in reality, but also often as the establishment would have them told. Nonetheless, the films expose the reality, however filtered, of India. Cinema, with its mix of colors, dance, music, and dialogue, as well as its stars, viewed with a god-like reverence [Indian film star Rajnikanth actually has a shrine erected to him, each year visited by thousands of fans and bathed in milk and flowers (Rushe 2008)] brings the stories of India to its ex-patriots in a way that other mediums cannot. (Nezam 2009) These films, and the ideals they present, are a huge part of the Indian diaspora, they are a link back to home for displaced nationals, a photograph of what the nation is like for someone so far away. The Hindi film forces bonding and loyalty unique to the Indian diaspora. It allows interest from the Arabic, European, and American nations to be garnered by South Asian culture. (Lal 2007) Also, as circulation and popularity of films increase, filmmakers are gaining access to new means of production and new markets, allowing the industry to follow the diaspora more fully. (Desai 2004)Even the most patriotic of films are sold in Pakistan, where Bollywood films have been banned both officially and through the use of social tabooing at various times. (Sengupta 2002) Although there are multiple areas of importance in reference to messages, ideals, and issues covered by Indian cinema, this paper is going to focus on nationalism, Kashmir, Pakistan, and more modern issues such as corruption of government, and the unique issues facing the persons termed American-Born Confused Deshi (ABCD).

The film Lagaan: Once Upon A Time in India (Aamir Khan Productions 2001) is most simply a movie about rain, romance, and cricket (not the bugs, the sport). Going beyond the music, dancing, deep looks of smoldering passion, and Aamir Khan, Lagaan is the story of an underdog, Bhuvan, against the righteous Captain Russell. Indian peasant against the British crown. Bhuvan makes a fool of Captain Russell by preventing him from making a kill on the hunt, Bhuvan scared the targets by skillfully throwing rocks to cause them to scurry away. Under the auspice of asking extension on the tax that the peasants must pay for the protection of the British army, Bhuvan and his fellow villagers go to the Raja Puran Singh to ask his excuse from that years Lagaan, or land tax. Whilst at the compound, Bhuvan and his cohorts witness a game of cricket. Bhuvan sneers at Captain Russell’s playing on the game, saying it is the same simple game the village children play. For three times the tax, or three years without it, Bhuvan makes a bet for the entire village, a game of cricket. In their anger, no one will play with Bhuvan, so he begins to train and learn the rules of the game, alone except for the help of Memsahib Elizabeth, Captain Russell’s sister and an admirer of Bhuvan’s with romantic feelings for him. She is the redemption of the British, but she still is using Bhuvan to fulfill her own vision of what India should be. Bhuvan’s fellow villagers are furious with him for his acceptance of the wager, and at first do not participate. He makes a moving speech about fighting against British rule, and it is with his words in mind that some start to join him. The town blacksmith joins after being badly beaten by Captain Russell over the shoeing of the Captain’s horse. This scene is possibly the most violent of the movie, and a clear statement of the supposed British attitude towards the countrymen, and their treatment of the natives as less important than their imported animals. Deva the sikh joins to avenge his forced participation in the British Army as a sepoy. Here the film seems to speak of the forced assimilation of the natives into British society, not only requiring them to fight in the military, but to believe in what they were fighting for, or against, as it were. Kachra, an Untouchable, is asked to play by Bhuvan, who says his life is as much at stake as the others, and his skill is just as desirable, thus the movie criticizes the caste system. Peripheral characters such as Ram Singh, Russell’s manservant who has fully assimilated to the British way and serves happily until the end of the film, are also important to the message of the film. Raja Puran Singh is the ruling class of India, who sold out to the British in order to maintain their wealth, and control and comfortable position. Captain Russell offers Singh the opportunity to save his people from the tax, if only he would eat chicken offered to him. Admittedly, this is a large sacrifice, but it could have saved all of the Raja’s people from paying the crippling tax. Ultimately though, after a thoroughly difficult cricket game, it is the spirit of the native that prevails, and the British are sent home in shame. The film paints the collective Indian natives as unbeatable, because of their loyalty to their land and each other, and the British as cruel, arrogant, and at times, laughable.

The Ballad of Mangal Padney: The Rising is a film similar in tone. It follows sepoy Mangal Padney during the Anglo-Afghan wars in the mid-1800’s. Padney saves the life of his British commander William Gordon, and they develop a quite unlikely friendship. Initially, Gordon represents the good Brit. He is fair to Padney and saves a young widow from committing sati, the act of following ones deceased husband to the funeral pyre. However, when Padney trusts Gordon to tell him the truth about whether or not the cartridges of their new Enfield rifled muskets are greased with pig and cow fat, Gordon tell Padney, untruthfully, that the cartridges are free of contamination. The British using the Indian at all costs to their native culture. When Padney learns the truth, he leads a mutiny against the army, leading to the climax of the film, where Padney and Gordon, former friends, are in hand-to-hand combat with one another. Quite literally the irreverent British officer against the loyal and true native Indian. Padney is caught, and against the protestation of Gordon, executed. Interestingly enough, Gordon does not support the execution because of his love for his one time friend, but because he believes Padney will become a martyr, revered and used as a rallying point. The film illustrates the lack of empathy and understanding the British had for the land and people, and how easily they would sacrifice friendship for even the smallest measure of control. The movies displays a strong commentary on what the British still call a mutiny, but Indians look upon as their first step towards independence. The change of Padney from servant to rebellious leader is used to highlight the racist and capitalist oppression of the British (here through the East India Company). (Rawat 2005) In addition to a clear voice on British occupation of India, Aamir Khan, who plays Padney, has drawn a line between the story line of the movie, and the story of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq that is currently unfolding. (Rawat 2005) Often hard to delineate, Khan illustrates clearly the attitudinal directive of this movie for its modern audience.

It is much simpler for movies to dictate on current issues, quite well does the film industry know and exploit this fact. Often to the point of blurring the line between film and life, creating a conflict over films that bleed into real life conflict between friends and families over the political issues. (Mohaimen 2003) It is so in the films Fanaa and VeerZara, covering the topics of Kashmir and Pakistan, respectively. Films covering these areas play a larger role than simply that of entertainment. From 1965 to the present India’s industry has been both officially and unofficially censored, at the least frowned upon in Pakistan due to the fact that the nations are at war. (Malik 2005) It seems simple enough, but the censoring of a media almost always makes it more appealing, and so it was of Bollywood in Pakistan, the black market flooded with films and music, because commercial release was not allowed. Films were used to wage a war much more powerful than the one of guns and possible nuclear weapons. “Antagonists over Kashmir and Bangladesh, fighting for military supremacy and superpower patronage, strategists in both Pakistan and India knew the importance and power of cultural warfare” (Malik 2005).

When one watches a film like Fanaa where the heroin must chose between the love of her life and the father of her child, who happens to be a infamous Kashmiri terrorist, and her loyalty to her country. Obviously, and not just for the sake of story, she shoots her lover, and turns his body over to the waiting law enforcement. In juxtaposition, VeerZara tells the story of Veer, a military man, who falls in love with a vacationing Pakistani woman, Zara, and follows her back to her home country to stop her Muslim wedding. Her father, the representative of Pakistan as unyielding, without the ability to understand or compromise, has Veer arrested without her knowledge, and rather than implicate Zara in an undesirable romance, he remains quiet about even his identity for many years. Upon his release, he returns home to find Zara has left Pakistan, and been waiting for Veer’s return. She is the possibility of reconciliation, but completely at the cost of Pakistan. It is not difficult for one to look past the music, the dance, the romance, and the need for a intermission, to see that the Mumbai (Bombay) film industry is an “ideological behemoth” (Jaikumar 2003)

However, the industry does not isolate itself to what can be seen as pro-Indian, or governmentally positive messages. In 2004 Swades followed a NASA scientist on his journey back home to India to help provide his impoverished village with the power the government could not, a commentary of failing infrastructure and lack of governmental will. (Thomson 2010) 2006’s controversial Rang De Basanti told the story of a group of young Indian’s who lose one of their friends to the crash of his fighter jet, due to faulty parts that the government knew about. The young people, who had previously been very uninvolved with their nation’s history or current politics, and more worried about Western music and style, came together in the face of death and tragedy. This film spoke out against government corruption, the misappropriation of funds and a relatively knew subject, the loss of cultural awareness in India’s youth. These films were not as well received domestically, they seemed to break the mold of pro-National stories with strong Hindi hero’s defending their countryland, and soft spoken yet plucky heroins who sing and dab at their kohl. (The female lead in Rang De Basanti is a very verbal blonde American). The lack of critical film is often noted by opponents of Bollywood, saying the industry is fine “as long as you don’t mind it being totally racist, sexist and homophobic” (Mohaiemen 2003).

Implications of Indian Cinema

Commodification and Cooption by the West1

It may be fairly obvious for one to say the film industry has been commodified. Films exist, after all, to entertain and make money. However, in the case of a film industry that is so closely tied with the history and culture of a nation, as Bollywood is with India, commodification of film often means the same for culture. Indian stars parley their success into higher earnings, and directors and producers continue to raise the bar on films in order to further their appeal and solidify them as a necessity in the life of Indians, not simply light entertainment. (Jaikumar 2003) Most importantly, they have made sure Bollywood spreads beyond the boundaries of its native land. Movies like Monsoon Wedding and more recently Slumdog Millionaire (it should be noted that the latter is not actually a Mumbai film, but was written and directed by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, both British, but co-directed by Indian native Loveleen Tandan) have made Indian cinema more accessible. Interest in Indian culture by both ABCD’s and American natives is growing, and can be seen in the increased popularity of Indian inspired clothing and jewelery, and the growing number in those professing to follow Indian religions such as Hinduism. “Yet the recent popularity of Indian culture has manifested itself as more of a commodification of culture than a genuine interest in the issues of the country and its people” (Nezam 2009). Although the Indian film industry attempts itself to further a spread of its own unique culture, and it is holding a firm line against Hollywood, the American film industry, it is still subject to global markets and cultural globalization, often leading to the erosion of its autonomy. (Jaikumar 2003) Bollywood has not given any more ground than is necessary though, Yash Raj Films, one of India’s largest production companies, now spends the largest portion of their advertisement and distribution budget overseas, giving it the largest foreign market DVD sales of any film company, and allowing itself to be floated on the London Stock Exchange, a first for an Indian company. (Walsh 2006) This could be due to the fact that Bollywood has a large audience that has no taste for Hollywood. Many ex-patriots still do not watch non-Indian films, and when added to its large home audience, it makes Bollywood a veritable force to be reckoned with. The Indian government often attributes this to the growing economy, dubbed “India’s Shining (Rushe 2008)”, but still remains slightly embarrassed by the fact the industry is not as big as Hollywood. It is the desire to not only be competitive, but dominant, that is leading to more and more ‘successful’ western involvement in the once all Indian industry. That being so, there has still yet to be a genuine crossover success, a purely Bollywood film that captures western audiences without any modification or watering down. Financial strains stand in the way, as they tend to do. More than that, though, is the fact that westerners, and the displaced Indians and their offspring, seem unwilling to accept the whole of Indian culture as it is displayed through film. That is why despite even the most vigorous and financially flushed marketing campaigns, a successful film in India does not a successful western film make. (Walsh 2006)

Dilution of Culture in Film

Over the past twenty years there have been more instances of the attempt at cross-over between Bollywood and Hollywood. Three notable films are 2004’s Bride and Prejudice, 1991’s Mississippi Masala, and 2002’s Bend it Like Beckham.

Bride and Prejudice is the Bollywood adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ As an adaptation of the novel critics believed lacked charm, was saved only by Aishwarya Rai’s beauty (Ebert 2005) and ultimately may have resulted in Austen taking a few turns in her well-settled grave (Nair 2005). One of the most notable, and possibly jarring, if not alienating, moments in Bride and Prejudice, is the crowning, large-scale musical number “A Marriage Has Come to Town.” Initially the number is pure Bollywoood, set in the street, bright colors, dancing beauties and appropriate background music. However, India quickly dissolves as the dancing becomes less traditional, and the Hindi lyrics are replaced by rhyming English lines. Not only does this leave the film in cultural limbo, neither the East nor the West, it makes it difficult for either audience to identify with it. Should a westerner viewing the film feel moved by the English, because it certainly is not being delivered in their dialogue or through appropriate western channels of dialogue. Should an Indian feel like they are seeing a part of home, because the lyrics are in English, the dance is contemporary, and the actors are, to be blunt, very white. This leaves the film ironically without country, and therefore, without an engaged or loyal audience. This feeling is augmented by the initially stiff dialogue, long drawn out moments of the American, British, and Indian characters exchanging vague, somewhat forced pop culture references and cliches from their own global corners, and the increasingly outrageous plot, as well as the musical styles that move from Bollywood purism to Broadway throwbacks.

A peacock of a slightly different feather is Mira Nair’s second film Mississippi Masala. Figuratively, literally if she is creative, Nair takes a page from Shakespeare, writing of two star crossed lovers with families to match. Mina is born to a Ugandan Indian family, she came to America at the age of six, to live and work in an Indian-owned motel, as well as her mother’s liquor store. She falls in love with an African American carpet cleaner, portrayed by Denzel Washington, much to the objection of their families and the community at large. Nair just barely brushes past racial stereotypes, Indian, African, and Caucasian alike, to attempt to show the real world implications to their interactions, possible dilution, ultimately. Nair does a slighter better job portraying the tension between traditional Indian values and the almost sinful allure of America. At the beginning of the film she uses a documentary style to show a traditional ceremony, which as true to India as that may be, it is not true to Bollywood. That seems to be the difficulty of this particular film. It is a Bollywood film, written, directed, acted by Indians, but it lacks some Bollywood qualifiers. The primary language spoken is English. There are no dance numbers, no songs, and no real message about the Desh. NRI’s may watch the film, but will only observe a stereotypical displaced family, attempting to deal with the reality that their home, in Uganda no less, is not really their home anymore.

Bend it Like Beckham, although set in London, seems to have more of the traditional themes of Bollywood. Second generation Punjabi immigrant Jesminder Bhamra defies her parents by playing the very unfeminine and inappropriate sport of soccer. This theme of defiance of parents, of self-definition is common in Bollywood films, subtle nod to India’s attempt at full separation from the Crown. Also, the forbidden romance Jesminder shares with her soccer coach Joe is typical of Bollywood film. So while the message is in step with other movies, the execution lacks the flair of films from Mumbai. There are no bright colors, no long musical numbers, and no intermission. Although the storyline seems to fit the Bollywood mold, and fulfill an ideological bond, but stylistically the movie is a distinctive offering to Hollywood, lacking what the West would see as an audacious, over the top display of color and music, an essential aesthetic of India.

It cannot be though, that the attempt of the Bollywood film industry to become a global success would have more negative ramifications than pocket books made lighter or heavier by well or poorly received films, can it? It can, and does, Bollywood is getting its fifteen minutes of fame in the west, being seen as pre-packaged India, an easy access point. (Mohaiemen 2003) There are those who believe this is the best thing for not only the industry but for the people as well. Giving ex-patriots and ABCD’s a way to stay in touch with their culture, and to continue to be aware of new political and social norms is a positive thing, films bring a bit of the old-world to the upwardly mobile and techno-smart middle class in India and abroad. (Malik 2005) This may not be a needed or beneficial connection, there are those who believe the attempt to make more internationally received films will simply dilute the industry, making more bad movies that paint the nation in a negative light, than a few good, well-written and positively received films. India belongs to an ancient civilization with long established morals and norms, and a great deal of national pride. “Crude westernization was not the correct path to take as everything Western was not always right and appropriate for us,” said Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism (Chauhan 2009). Further, Zed said that if it is simply an economic game that need be played, Bollywood should not be destroying “the age old traditions and value system with the irrelevent arguments of “keeping with the times”, “globalization”, etc. (Chauhan 2009)” There are still those that believe foreign involvement, investment, and norms in Indian film “would only be a good thing for the industry” (Walsh 2006).

Cultural Death?

The important question to ask is what does the changing of Indian film mean for Indian culture? It is a commonly accepted precept that Indian films are a reflection of Indian society. India is a very young country, and unlike western nations, can track its growth through its films. During the fifteen or twenty years after independence was declared in 1947, the nation grew exponentially, and the film subjects were sweeping, and bold. Through the poverty and famine that came in the 1970’s and 1980’s, realism was almost taboo, and the industry developed its aesthetic more than its message. The past two decades have seen another shift, both in the number of people in the all important middle class, and in the subject of the films. “Society is changing…for good or bad-and that will be reflected in the films” (Rushe 2008). If that change is dilution, and both the ex-patriot, the countryman, and the ABCD look to films to show them what India is and what being Indian means, then the only thing that can come from the dilution of film is the dilution and eventual death of the culture. Westernization of film has already begun to change traditions and family roles, seen most obviously in the large cities of India, but as film and middle class spread, so does the effect. Sanjay Koul, a social activist in India for Eli Lilly, wrote his opinion in his personal blog, saying:

Slowly all our values for which India has the pride is vanishing & western culture is taking its place. People are blindly following the western culture without knowing its consequences. (Koul 2005)

Over the past two decades films that are a collaboration of India and the West have seemed to only destabilize and dilute South Asian ideas and ideals of identity, dominance, culture identities and nationalism. One trend, that of racial, social, and national development, seems to be leading the trends in bi- and trans- national film making involving South Asia. (Desai 2004) As India continues to morph and change, grow, one might say, the western influence is seeming to attempt to continually contain and curb that change. This is most successfully done through integrating western ideals, traditions, and values into the films. Hollywood has its own language and sense of self, and has encouraged India to follow suit, not directly, necessarily, but through the success of certain films. They are encouraged to make Indian versions of classic western story archetypes. (Rushe 2008) The people accept this mix of traditional Indian song and dance with Western pop-culture references and slang language. A fissure has begun to grow between new world and old world Indian film, and therefor, cultures. A society thus divided so early in its history with so many a concern is troubling. Film has seemed to be a socioeconomic, generational and religious bridge-builder. “Its impact should not be underestimated”(Malik 2005).

Works Cited

Bend It Like Beckham. Dir. Gurinder Chadha. Perf. Keira Knightley, Parminder Nagra. Fox Searchlight Films, 2003. DVD.

Brian, Paul. “”Postcolonial Literature”: Problems with the Term.” Washington State University. Web. <www.wsu.edu>.

Bride and Prejudice. Dir. Gurinder Chadha. Perf. Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson. Pathe Pictures, 2004. DVD.

Chauhan, Adarsh. “Hindu Group Critical of Crude Westernization in Bollywood.” Jaibihar. 25 July 2009. Web. <http://jaibihar.com&gt;.

Desai, Jigna. Beyond Bollywood: The Cultural Politics of South Asian Diasporic Film. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Dickey, Sara. “The Politics of Adulation: Cinema and the Production of Politicians in South Asia.” The Journal of Asian Studies 52.2 (1993): 340-72. Print.

Ebert, Roger. “Bride and Prejudice.” Rev. of Movie. Sun Times [Chicago] 11 Feb. 2005, Online ed. Print.

Elley, Derek. “Bride and Prejudice.” Rev. of Movie. Variety 6 Oct. 2004. Variety Film. Web. <http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117925148.html?categoryid=31&cs=1&gt;.

Fanaa. Dir. Kunal Kohli. Perf. Aamir Khan, Kajol. Yash Raj Films, 2006. DVD.

Featherstone, Simon. Postcolonial Culture. Edinburgh UP, 2005. Print.

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Guile, Melanie. Culture in India. Chicago: Raintree, 2005. Print.

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Kasbekar, Asha. Pop Culture in India: Media, Arts and Lifestyle. ABC-CLIO, 2006. Print.

Koul, Sanjay. “Impact of Westernization on Indian Culture.” Web Log post. KhirbhaWani. 8 Nov. 2005. Web. <http://in.reuters.com/article/bollywoodNews/idINIndia-31952920080214&gt;.

Lagaan: Once Upon A Time in India. Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker. Perf. Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelly. Aamir Khan Production, 2001. DVD.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print.

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The Legend of Bhagat Sing. Dir. Rajkumar Santoshi. Perf. Ajay Devgan, Sushant Singh. Tips Films, 2002. DVD.

Mahaiemen, Naeem. “Enemies: A Love Story, A Life Without Bollywod.” The Daily Star 26 Dec. 2003. Print.

Malik, Abdul-Rehman. “Bollywood to Lollywood: After the Raj: Among Pakistan’s Aspirational Middle Class, India Is No Longer the Devil Next Door.” The Guardian. 17 Aug. 2007. Web. <guardian.co.uk>.

Mangal Pandey: The Rising. Dir. Ketan Mehta. Perf. Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Toby Stephens. Kaleidoscope Entertainment, 2005. DVD.

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McCully, Bruce T. “The Origins of Indian Nationalism According to Native Writers.” The Journal of Modern History 7.3 (1935): 295-314. Print.

Mississippi Masala. Dir. Mira Nair. Perf. Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury. MGM, 1991. DVD.

Nair, Deepa. “Bride and Prejudice -A Review.” Rev. of Bride and Prejudice. South Asian Women’s Forum 2005. Www.sawf.org. Web. <http://www.sawf.org/bollywood/reviews/brideprejudice.asp?pn=Bollywood&cn=27&gt;.

The Namesake. Dir. Mira Nair. Perf. Kal Penn, Tabu. Mirabai Films, 2007. DVD.

“Nationalism a Recurring Theme in Gowariker’s Films.” Reuters India. Reuters, 14 Feb. 2008. Web. <http://in.reuters.com&gt;.

Nezam, Mallory. “Indian Film Festival Showcases Bollywood’s Newfound Sucess.” The Occidental Weekly: Entertainment. 29 Apr. 2009. Web. <media.www.oxyweekly.com>.

Rang De Basanti. Dir. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. Perf. Aamir Khan, Alice Patten. UTV Motion Pictures, 2006. DVD.

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Rushe, Dominic. “Bollywood Takes on the West.” The Sunday Times 15 June 2008. Print.

Sengupta, Somini. “Indian Patriotism Gets a Bollywood Make Over.” New York Times. 27 Jan. 2002. Web. <nytimes.com>.

Swades. Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker. Perf. Shahrukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi. Ashutosh Gowariker Productions Pvt. Ltd., 2004. DVD.

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Walsh, Conal. “Bollywood Focuses on Opening Up the West.” The Observer 19 Mar. 2006. Print.

1Although initially the discussion of the West represented Britain as the occupying force, moving forward with the discussion of film, ‘West’ will refer to Hollywood, the epicenter of Western film, and the ideological occupying force in the Mumbai film industry.