Bollywood's Lens on Indian Society

INTL 448/548, Summer 2014, 1st session (June 24 - July 17)

Tuesdays & Thursdays, 2 - 5:50 pm

105 Peterson
Contact information for Professor Weiss


Course Syllabus

Film has the ability to project powerful images of a society in ways conventional academic mediums cannot. This is particularly true in learning about India, which is home to the largest film industries in the world. This course explores images of Indian society that emerge through the medium of film. Our attention will be focused on the ways in which Indian society and history is depicted in film, critical social issues being explored through film; the depicted reality vs. the historical reality; and the powerful role of the Indian film industry in affecting social orientations and values.

Class format

Professor Weiss will open each class with a short lecture on the issues which are raised in the film to be screened for that day. We will then view the selected film, followed by a short break, and then extensive in-class discussion. Given the length of most Bollywood films, we will need to fast-forward through some of the song/dance sequences.


There will be assigned readings for each day which can be found either in the following required texts (available at the UO bookstore) or through hot-links from this class website. Please try to complete all readings before the day in which they will be discussed. Most recommended films are available at Vishnu India Imports (135 E. 29th Ave., Ph: 343-6932), other Indian stores in Portland/Beaverton or through Netflix. The two required books are:

Tejaswini Ganti Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry Duke University Press, 2012

Neil De Votta (ed.) Understanding Contemporary India 2nd edition. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010.




Requirements:                                                                                   (percentage of final grade)


Class participation                                                                                                          10%

A typed, 2-3 page double-spaced essay exploring cultural issues presented                        20%

in any film viewed. The essay should draw upon readings and class discussion as

relevant and is due at the beginning of the class after the film is screened.

take-home examination, to be handed out in class Thursday July 17th                                 35%

and is to be submitted to Professor Weiss by 2 p.m. on Tuesday July 22, in 307 PLC

6 page paper (approx.) due in 175 PLC no later than Friday July 25th at noon.                      35%

The paper is to explore any social issue which was raised in a segment of this course. You are to look at its social origin, and then focus on the way in which this issue is in flux in India today. There are a number of books recommended throughout the syllabus “for further reading;” these are good places to start researching for your paper. (If you would like to customize this requirement further because of your professional needs, I am happy to accommodate such requests. Please come talk with me in person; not just via e-mail.) While you can begin researching and writing the term paper at any time during the term -- and submit it whenever you would like -- the absolute deadline for turning it in is Friday July 25th. I will be departing the U.S. on July 27th and will take the papers with me to grade. They will be available for pick-up (or return via mail) at the beginning of Fall term.

Please refer to Additional Grading Guidelines for further advice on the paper.




Course Outline

June 24-26        Introduction to the Course; Historical Depiction of Indian Society and Rewriting History

                                    Historical overview notes here     


Tuesday: "Beginnings" The Story of India with Michael Wood BBC/PBS,  2008 (1 hour)

          "Larger than Life: India's Bollywood Film Culture Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2005 (57 minutes)

Thursday:  Jodhaa Akbar, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, 2008 (213 minutes)


Recommended films:

      Devdas, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002 (also here)

      Garam Hava (Hot Winds),directed by M.S. Sathyu, 1973

      Ghare Baire (The Home and the World), directed by Satyajit Ray, 1984  


Required Readings:  

Ganti, “Introduction” pp. 1-37; “From Vice to Virtue” pp. 41-53

DeVotta, “Introdution” pp. 1- 20; “India: a Geographic Preface” pp. 23-30; “The Historical Context” pp. 31-51; “The Arts: Cinema” pp. 276-279

Milton Singer "Passage to More than India: A Sketch of Changing European and American Images" When a Great Tradition Modernizes: an Anthropological Approach to Indian Civilization Praeger Publishers, 1972, pp. 11-37




July 1-3      History from Within and Views of the 'Other'; Relevance of History Today

                                Hinduism, caste and hierarchy notes here


Films: Tuesday:    Lagaan (Once Upon a Time in India), directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, produced by Aamir

                               Khan Productions, 2001 (also here) (224 minutes)

             Thursday: Veer-Zaara, directed by Yash Chopra, 2004 (192 minutes)


    Recommended films:

    A Passage to India directed by David Lean, 1984 (164 minutes)    

   Gandhi directed by Richard Attenborough, 1982

    Henna directed by Randhir Kapoor, 1991

    Lage Raho Munna Bhai directed by Rajkumar Hirani, 2006 (144 minutes)

    Mirch Masala (Hot Spices) directed by Ketan Mehta, 1985

    The Rising: the Ballad of Mangal Pandey directed by Ketan Mehta, 2005 (also here)


Required Readings:  

Ganti, “The Structure, Organization and Social Relations of the Hindi Film Industry” pp. 175-213

DeVotta, “The Historical Context” pp. 51-64; “Indian Politics” pp. 67-93; “The Politics of Caste” pp. 249-266

Dirks, NicholasThe Home and the World: the Invention of Modernity in Colonial India” in Robert A. Rosenstone (ed.) Revisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Past Princeton University Press, 1995, pp. 44-63




July 8-10   Bollywood! Changing Gender Roles and Family Norms


Films:    Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (Journey of a Woman, or There Seems to be a Stain on her Shirt)

                directed by  Pradeep Sarkar, 2007 (137 minutes)

                Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani (literally, This Youth is Crazy) directed by Ayan Mukherjee, 2013 (160 minutes)


 Recommended films:

     Amar, Akbar, Anthony directed by Manmohan Desai, 1977

     Baghban (The Gardener) directed by Ravi Chopra, 2003

     Billu Barber directed by Priyadarshan, 2009

     Bunty aur Babli directed by Shaad Ali, 2005

     Hum Tum (You and I), directed by Kunal Khohli 2004

    Jab We Met (When We Met), directed by Imtiaz Ali, 2007

    Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (Don't Say We Will Never Meet Again) directed by Karan Johar, 2006

    Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Sometimes There's Happiness, Sometimes Sadness) directed by Karan Johar, 2001

    Lajja directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, 2001

    Salaam Namaste directed by Siddharth Anand, 2005



Required Readings:  

Ganti, “From Slumdogs to Millionaires” pp. 77-80, 90-118; “Pleasing both Aunties and Servants: Class-ifying the Audience” pp. 293-313

DeVotta, “Population, Urbanization and the Environment” pp. 153-177; “Women in India” pp. 181-206



July 15-17       Social Pressure, Religion and the Fear of Terrorism Today

                                      Chronology of terrorist attacks in India, 2001-11


       Tuesday: A Wednesday, directed by Neeraj Panday, 2008 (104 minutes)

          Om Shanti Om directed by Farah Khan, 2007 (162 minutes) - excerpts only

       Thursday:  3 Idiots, directed by Rajkumar Hirani, 2009 (170 minutes)


   Recommended films::

    Bombay directed by Mani Ratnam, 1995

    Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Dairies) directed by Kiran Rao, 2010

    Fanaa directed by Kunal Kohli, 2006

     Guru directed by Mani Ratnam, 2007

     Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) directed by Sabiha Sumar (Pakistan), 2003

     Khuda Kay Liye (In the Name of God) directed by Shoaib Mansoor (Pakistan), 2007

    My Name is Khan directed by Karan Johar, 2010

    Salaam Bombay! directed by Mira Nair, 1988


Required Readings:  

Ganti, “Risky Business” pp. 243-278; “The Fear of Large Numbers” pp. 315-358

DeVotta, “India’s Economy” pp. 123-148; “Religion” pp. 209-246; “Trends and Prospects” pp. 293-309


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