12Prasad, This thing called Bollywood - This thing called...

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This thing called Bollywood MADHAVA PRASAD BOLLYWOOD: what a strange name! But stranger still is the wide acceptance that the term has gained over the last few years in a country where the dominant prevailing view is that Indian popular cinema is an entirely indigenous product. Today, not only the English language media which is probably the term’s original habitat, but also the Indian language press, not only journalists but also film scholars employ this term to talk about Indian popular cinema. Is this a name that incorporates a criticism? Is it meant to suggest that the cinema is imitative and therefore deserves to be rechristened to highlight this derivativeness? Or is it in fact the opposite: an attempt to indicate a difference internal to the dominant idiom, a variation that is related to but distinct from the globally hegemonic Hollywood? Is it Indian cinema’s way of signifying its difference or is it (inter)national film journalism and scholarship’s way of reinscribing the difference that Indian cinema represents within an articulated model of global hegemony and resistance? It is natural that those who have invested in earlier models of the Indian popular cinema – the ‘so many cinemas’ model, the folk culture model, the ‘yeh-to-public-hai-yeh-sab-janti-hai’ model, the regressive ‘pulse of the people’ model, the ideological model, art versus popular, and so on, should feel slightly resentful of this development which threatens to absorb their own special areas into its commodious (because ill-defined) purview. Bollywood in that sense is not a term with a specific signified: an empty signifier, it can be applied to any set of signifieds within the realm of Indian cinema. Contrary to what we might expect, it does not, for instance, explicitly exclude the middle/art genres from its field. It belongs to an order of signifiers that seems to want to ‘capture a mood or style’, rather than designate a piece of reality. I too, like Ashish Rajadhyaksha in his thoughtful piece on the topic, 1 not to mention Ajay Devgan in a
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recent interview, have felt resentment and indignation at what seems to be a callous act of symbolic abduction. Here, however, I want to take a deep breath and take another look at the matter. The term Bollywood has crept into the vocabulary of the Anglophone national culture slowly and steadily, almost without anybody noticing it. Like certain processes of which we become aware only when they are almost over, we are right now witness to the naturalisation of ‘Bollywood’ as the designation for what was previously known as Hindi cinema, Bombay cinema, Indian popular cinema, etc. It is tempting to think that this process of near-universal legitimation of ‘Bollywood’ is a symptom of some other social and cultural processes which have a wider significance. Can linguistic change be an index of social transformations and if so, how do we make sense of them?
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  • Spring '13
  • WILSON
  • Accounting, Bollywood, Cinema of India, hindi cinema, Indian Popular Cinema

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