Bollywood 101: The Visual Culture of Popular Indian Cinema

Bollywood 101: The Visual Culture of Popular Indian Cinema

Thursday, October 30, 2014 / 10:00-3:30 PM
Mosher Alumni Hall
Gallery Exhibit: 3:30-5:00 PM, UCSB Museum

In popular Western perception, the term Bollywood conjures up a constellation of images: melodramatic performances rendered in a riot of colors, exotic locales, exaggerated gestures, and fantastic song and dance sequences. To challenge this dominant image of Bollywood, the objective of this panel is to offer alternate views that can help us examine popular Indian cinema from multiple perspectives. The visual culture of Bollywood, namely film posters, billboards, etc., circulates in myriad domains of the popular, creating novel forms that generate new meanings. Originating from the world of cinema, these artifacts from Bollywood penetrate, negotiate, and in the process alter contemporary art, religion, culture, and politics in India making it an omnipresent force in popular culture. In this symposium, we will examine these different sites in which the visual culture of Bollywood operates and the ways in which it transcends the film screen to become a part of everyday life both in India and its diaspora in the US.

By making Bollywood as the locus of intellectual inquiry and as an object of scholarly exploration, the main objective of this symposium is to engender a dialogue among the students and faculty in framing popular Indian cinema beyond its stereotypical image in the West as a colorful, boisterous, and in some ways, loud and frivolous form of cinema with little consequence beyond crass entertainment. Our discussion will engage with the visually complex subtext of Bollywood and its relation with religion, culture, art, politics, and transnational identity. We plan to pose the following questions for discussion:
1. How is the culture of Bollywood been represented in the West?
2. How could one use popular artifacts (such as film posters, banners, etc.) to create multiple narratives of Bollywood? How do these artifacts penetrate contemporary art, politics, and religion in India and what is their impact?
3. What is “Global Bollywood?” How do cinematic representations of “NRI’s” in Bollywood and the portrayals of their cultural identities both reflect and shape transnational communities in the US? How has this changed over the last two decades following the liberalization of the Indian economy?

Sponsored by the College of Letters and Science, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, the Dept. of History of Art and Architecture, the Dept. of Film and Media Studies, Art, Design & Architecture Museum and the Multicultural Center.


The Topical Image: Some observations on the Print-Film-Photography Interface in South Asian Visual Culture
Sudhir Mahadevan, University of Washington, Seattle

From Ravi Varma images to theatrical curtains to billboards and posters, a certain concern with the iconicity of images has singularly dominated the research and scholarship on India’s visual culture, especially as it pertains to the cinema. There is also of course an undeniable nexus between print, photography and film, the technological conditions for the possibility of these iconic images. That said, does the indexicality of the image have any pertinence for India’s visual cultures? How do images become relevant as indices of the present (and not just as iconic figurations)? And how would that question open new relations between the still, moving and printed image?

Such a question might necessitate a return to a somewhat less explored storehouse of visual culture comprising snapshots, printed photographs, and of course film. It might also necessitate a methodological shift from symptomatic readings of images as iconic and symbolic forms, to a contextually bound and phenomenologically inflected understanding of images as shaping and constituting the experience of everyday life and indeed of modernity in South Asia.

Cine Signs: The Evolving Art of Film Advertisements in Tamil Nadu 
Preminda Jacob, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)

Film publicity, in myriad forms, proclaims the centrality of cinema to everyday life in the south Indian city of Chennai. Film posters, both hand-painted and printed varieties, index the mass appeal of Tamil cinema; its economic vibrancy. In this talk I will survey the evolution of the film poster over a period of two decades, based on three sets of interviews (in 1992, 2002, and 2012) that I conducted with poster artists and designers in Chennai. Each decade witnessed a dramatic shift in the medium of poster production entailing, in each instance, a corresponding re-evaluation of the semiotics of the film poster and its reception in the public sphere. I will frame my narrative on the evolution of these advertisements within a larger discussion on the motivating forces that drive the momentum for change and novelty in the film industry.

Beyond Nostalgia and Orientalism? The Shifting Meanings of Bollywood Dance in Performance


Sangita Shresthova, Director of Henry Jenkins’ Media Activism & Participatory Politics (MAPP), University of Southern California.

Like the films that contain them, Bollywood dances have now become a global phenomenon.  Initially driven by enthusiastic Indian and non-Indian fans and audiences who wanted to experience the choreography they saw in Hindi films, Bollywood dance has now emerged as a popular, lucrative, and recognized movement category. Around the world specialized Bollywood dance schools advertise their ability to impart authentic Hindi film choreography to their students. Rather than just imitate dances in Hindi films, Bollywood dance instructors now often invest much time into re-choreographing the dances they teach to their students, thereby imbuing them with local meaning and relevance. With user-generated video upload sites like Youtube, the global circulation of Bollywood dance takes on new dimensions. Bollywood film production companies now actively promote their films through uploaded song-and-dance sequences, thereby augmenting more traditional distribution structures. Enabled by digital media, Bollywood dancers and fans now also share their live Bollywood dance interpretations online. Perhaps for the first time, producers and audiences have immediate online access to both live and filmed Bollywood dance content. In this presentation, I first engage my previous ethnographic research on live Bollywood dance in Mumbai and Los Angeles as a starting point for analyzing Bollywood’s changing global circulation. In particular, I examine how particular appropriations of Bollywood dance enabled localized orientalizing and nostalgic interpretations of Bollywood’s visual and performative cultures in these locations.

I then shift my attention to more current Bollywood dance communities, to ask how new media and the participatory practices it encourages, complicates, challenges and perpetuates these nostalgic and orientalizing paradigms. Specifically, I ask: What local and virtual communities are supported by this new media circulation of Bollywood content? Is there potential for resistance and mobilization here? And, what might specific instances of such disruption and circulation teach us about global media industries that lie outside the Euro-American axis?



Session 1
10:00: Introductions
10:15-11:00: Sudhir Mahadevan
11:00-11:45: Preminda Jacob
11:45-12:15: Discussion

Moderator: Swati Chattopadhyay
Discussant: Bishnupriya Ghosh

12:15-1:45pm: Lunch Break

Session 2
2:00- 2:45pm: Sangita Shresthova
2:45- 3:00: Discussion
3:00- 3:15: Concluding Remarks

Moderator: Swati Chattopadhyay
Discussant: Bhaskar Sarkar

3:30-5pm: Museum Reception and Gallery Visit

6:30: Dinner