Bollywood's Lens on Indian Society

INTL 448/548, Spring 2016

Wednesdays, 4-7:50 p.m.

229 MacKenzie Hall

Professor Anita 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 today.


Course Objectives:

1. To gain an awareness of the historical context of the subcontinent and of contemporary Indian society;
2. To understand the sociocultural similarities yet significant diversity within this culture area;
3. To learn about the political and economic realities and challenges facing contemporary India and the rapid social changes the country is experiencing;
4. To learn about the Indian film industry, the largest in the world, and specifically about Bollywood.

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 much of the song/dance and/or fighting 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 hotlinks on this 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) or through Netflix. The required books are:

        Rachel Dwyer Bollywood's India: Hindi Cinema as a Guide to Contemporary India Reaktion Books, 2014
        Akash Kapur India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India Riverhead Books, 2012



Requirements for Undergraduate students:                                (percentage of final grade)
*  Attendance and class participation (e.g., questions/responses that                                    15%
nderscore efforts to understand and engage with course materials)
*  Two 3-5 page double-spaced essays exploring sociocultural issues                                   25% each
presented in any two films viewed. The essays should draw upon
readings and class discussion as relevant and is due at the beginning
of the class after the film being written about is screened. Alternatively,
one of these essays can focus on technical issues seen in the film being
written about (though you may need to avail additional outside readings
on that).
*  10 page research paper, due on the last day of class. The paper is to                                35%
explore any social issue which was raised in a segment of this course.
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 your paper.


Requirements for Graduate students:
*  Attendance and class participation (e.g., questions/responses that                                    10%
underscore efforts to understand and engage with course materials)
*  Three 3-5 page double-spaced essays exploring cultural issues presented                        20% each
in any three films viewed. The essays should draw upon readings and
class discussion as relevant and is due at the beginning of the class
after the film being written about is screened.
*  15 page research paper, due on the last day of class. The paper is to                                30%
explore any social issue which was raised in a segment of this course.
Look at its social origin, and then focus on the way in which this issue
is in flux in India today. The research paper should include an in-depth
literature review and should be based on primary source research.


All students need to confirm the topic of your term paper by Week 6. While you can begin researching and writing the term paper at any time -- and submit it whenever you would like -- the absolute deadline for turning it in is the last day of class.
                                                                            Link to grading guidelines        




Course Outline

Week I, March 30   Introduction to the Course, briefly to Indian history and society, and to Indian Cinema/Bollywood


"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)


Dwyer pp, 7-11, 12-36

Kapur pp. 1-12



Week 2, April 6 Revisiting Indian History and Society           Special notes on historical background


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

Ashoka the Great directed by Santosh Sivan, 2001                                         

Devdas directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002



Dwyer pp. 37-47
Guha, Ramachandra India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy Harper Perennial, 2008, pp. 1-15



Week 3, April 13     History from Within and Views of ‘the Other’: Partition and its Relevance Today

                                  Special notes on Indian society, Hinduism and caste   

                                          Link to UTSAV celebration and Hasan Minhaj's performance on April 16th


Lagaan (Once Upon a Time in India) directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, produced by Aamir Khan Productions, 2001

Recommended films:

Gandhi directed by Richard Attenborough, 1982    

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

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

Lage Raho Munna Bhai directed by Rajkumar Hirani, 2006

A Passage to India directed by David Lean, 1984 

Rang de Basanti directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 2006

The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, directed by Ketan Mehta, 2005



Dwyer pp. 47-64

Nicholas Dirks “The 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

Tejaswini Ganti “From Vice to Virtue: the State and Filmmaking in India” in Producing Bollywood: Inside the ContemporaryHindi Film Industry Duke University Press, 2012, pp. 41-75

For further reading

Guha, Ramachandra India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy Harper Perennial, 2008
Lindley, Arthur “Raj as Romance/Raj as Parody: Lean’s and Foster’s Passage to India Literature/Film Quarterly, 20, No. 1, 1992, pp. 61-66

Prasad, M. Madhava “The State in/of Cinema” in Partha Chatterjee (ed.) Wages of Freedom: Fifty Years of the Indian

   Nation-State Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 123-146

Metcalf, Barbara D. and Thomas R. Metcalf A Concise History of India Cambridge University Press, 2001

Trautmann, Thomas R. India: Brief History of a Civilization 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2015

Wolpert, Stanley India fourth edition, University of California Press, 2009


Week 4, April 20     Family Norms and Social Change

Film:  Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness) directed by Yash Johar, 2001

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
Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna directed by Karan Johar, 2006
Kal Ho Na Ho directed by Nikhil Advani, 2003

Salaam Namaste directed by Siddharth Anand, 2005       


Dwyer pp. 64-78, 207-222
Kapur pp. 15-44, 82-92



Week 5, April 27   Gender Norms, Social Change . . . and Fantasy

Film: 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

Recommended films:

Lajja (Propriety), directed by Raj Kumar Santoshi, 2002 

Mirch Masala (Hot Spices) directed by Ketan Mehta, 1987



Dwyer pp. 184-191

Kapur pp. 66-81
Jyotika Virdi The Cinematic Imagination: Indian Popular Films as Social History Rutgers University Press, 2003, “TheIdealized Woman” pp. 60-86, "Heroines, Romance and Social History," pp. 121-144

For further reading

Derne, Steve Movies, Masculinity, and Modernity: An Ethnography of Men's Filmgoing in India  Greenwood Press, 2000

Forbes, Geraldine Women in Modern India Cambridge University Press, 2007

Jeffery, Patricia and Amrita Basu (eds.) Appropriating Gender: Women’s Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia

   Routledge, 1998

Mankekar, Purnima Screening Culture, Viewing Politics: an Ethnography of Television, Womanhood, and Nation in

   Postcolonial India Duke University Press, 1999



Week 6, May 4   Religion as Politics    *All students need to confirm topic of your term paper

Film: PK directed by Rajkumar Hirani, 2014, 155 minutes

Recommended films:

Bombay directed by Mani Ratnam, 1995
Om Shanti Om directed by Farah Khan, 2007



Dwyer pp. 79-92, 97-115, 116-150

Kapur pp. 92-118

For further reading

Brass, Paul The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India University of Washington Press, 2005
Doniger, Wendy The Hindus: an Alternative History Penguin Press, 2009
Varshney, Ashutosh Ethic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India Yale University Press, 2002



Week 7, May 11   India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Conflict

Film:  Bajrangi Bhaijaan directed by Kabir Khan, 2015, 163 minutes

Recommended films:

Fanaa directed by Kunal Kohli, 2006

Henna directed by Randhir Kapoor, 1991
Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) directed by Sabiha Sumar (Pakistan), 2003

Veer Zaara directed by Yash Chopra, Yashraj Studios, 2004



Amitabh Mattoo and Souresh Roy “Summer of Discontent: Considering Conditions in Kashmir” Harvard International

   Review, Winter 2011, Vol.32(4), pp. 54-58
Ananya Jahanara Kabir “The Kashmiri as Muslim in Bollywood’s ‘New Kashmir films’” Contemporary South Asia Vol. 18, No. 4, December 2010, 373–385
Eric S. Margolis War at the Top of the World: the Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet Routledge, 2000, pp. 54-85, 101-118

For further reading

Bose, Sumantra Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace Harvard University Press, 2005
Hiro, Dilip The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan Nation Books, 2015
Schofield, Victoria Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War 3rd edition, B. Tauris, 2010


Week 8, May 18   Social Pressure and the New Economy

Film: Three Idiots directed by Rajkumar Hirani, 2009, 170 minutes

Recommended films:

Guru directed by Mani Ratnam, 2007

Khoobsurat directed by Habib Faisal, 2014  

Salaam Bombay! directed by Mira Nair, 1988

Youngistaan directed by Syed Ahmed Afzal, 2014



Dwyer pp. 223-247
Kapur pp. 45-66, 154-178, 237-261, 274-281
Tejaswini Ganti “From Slumdogs to Millionaires” in Produci ng Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film IndustryDuke University Press, 2012, pp. 77-118

For further reading

Bose, Sumantra Transforming India: Challenges to the World's Largest Democracy Harvard University Press, 2013
Kumar, Shanti Gandhi meets Primetime: Glo
balization and Nationalism in Indian Television University of Illinois Press, 2006
Luce, Edward In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India Anchor, 2008
Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre (HDC) Human Development in South Asia 2010-11: Food Security in South Asia Oxford University Press, 2012

Mendelsohn, Oliver and Marika Vicziany The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty, and the State in Modern India

   Cambridge University Press, 1998
Narayan, Deepa and Elena Glinskaya (eds.) Ending Poverty in South Asia: Ideas that Work World Bank Publications, 2006
Rothermund, Dietmar India: The Rise of an Asian Giant Yale University Press, 2009


Week 9, May 25   India’s Changing Cities and the Growing Fear of Terrorism

Film:  A Wednesday directed by Neeraj Pandey, 2008 (104 minutes)
Recommended films
Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Dairies) directed by Kiran Rao, 2010
Khuda Kay Liye (In the Name of God) directed by Shoaib Mansoor (Pakistan), 2007
My Name is Khan directed by Karan Johar, 2010



Dwyer pp. 93-96
Kapur pp. 119-153, 181-208, 209-223
List of the world's largest cities (India has 3 in the top 20)

Timeline of terrorist attacks in India, 2016

India conflict map 2015



Week 10, June 1         Bollywood!

Film: We’ll screen a quintessential, though new, Bollywood film: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani directed by Ayan Mukherjee, 2013 (160 minutes)



Dwyer pp. 248-258

Website: Planet Bollywood


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