Beyond Bollywood: The Cultural Politics of South Asian Diasporic Film

Author:   Jigna Desai
Publisher:   Routledge Publications
Reviewer:   Monika BIsht
Designation:   Research Scholar, School of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi

 

Desai, Jigna (2004), Beyond Bollywood: The Cultural Politics of South Asian Diasporic Film, Routledge Publications, p.vii+1-273, ISBN 0-415-96684-1

Human mobility across the national boundaries has created enormous impact on every aspects of human living today. The subcontinent of India witnessed massive international migration since the colonial time and still continues to be one of the top most among all the international migrant countries even in the 21st century. The size of the population from the subcontinent especially from India living in Europe and USA and their consumption of culture brought new dynamics into the politics of culture in many of these countries. Diaspora is always in the state of flux with new composition, migration patterns and the cultural dynamics which possess have bearing on the cultural politics today. The old and new Diasporas, religious, ethnic, regional and caste diasporas play quite different role in the cultural dynamic.

There are very few serious studies to investigate the complex cultural dynamics of the present diasporas. Jigna Desai’s book provides a prismatic look at the Bollywood film representing the popular culture of South Asia that played an important role in the identity formation. “…culture is the contemporary repository of memory, of history, it is through culture, rather than government, that alternative forms of subjectivity, collectivity, and public life are imagined”. The chapter begins with the above quote from Lisa Lowe that stresses the importance of culture in the diasporic existence today.

Each of the eight chapters in the book articulates very important issues of cultural politics of South Asians today reviewing some of the South Asian diasporic films. The First Chapter “South Asian Diaspora and Transnational Cultural Studies” (pg. 1-35) outlines the emergence of South Asian diasporic cinema which pays the careful attention to its narrative films and their relationships to various cinemas (e.g., Hollywood, Bollywood, National Art House and parallel). It also poses questions regarding the influence of diasporic films in relation to their cultural politics. These films explore the transnational communities and interculturalisms.  Moreover, these cinemas help to understand the feminist and queer politics of these Asian and diasporic cinema play in the construction, activation and deferment of Nostalgia. In the essence, the book seek to explore and explicate the cultural, political and theoretical ‘cartographies’ of South Asian Diasporas, transnationalities that are disjointed, heterogeneous and hybrid rather than stable, unified or coherent.

The Second Chapter “Between Hollywood and Bollywood” (pg- 35-71) interestingly explores how the multidirectional circulation of cultural products affects the diasporic cinema and how the spectatorships has been constructed that time. The diasporic cinema has been taking new shape with the immense representation of South Asian Diasporic films as well as Indian films which created a different relationship between South Asian Diasporic Films and Bollywood films. Infact, with the increase in transnational projects and transactions, filmmakers have greater access to the means of production. Also, the gradual contribution of South African filmmaking and representation of national, cultural and ethnic issues motivated the state support in the production of diasporic cinema.

The Third Chapter “When Indians Play Cowboys: Diaspora and Postcoloniality in Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala” (pg.-71-101) discusses the cultural politics and life-style in the films such as Mississipi Masala, Masala, Bhaji and Fire. Basically, the films are institutionalized within the canons of national cinemas that projects nation-building but with the rapid growth of globalization, the migration of people tremendously increased even after 1970, which needs to conceptualize, the interexchange of social, cultural and ethnic identities with each other. The South Asian Diasporic films are usually incorporated into these national paradigms, through the logic of multi-culturalism and cultural nationalism or through the nationalist forms of nostalgia. While understanding Meera Nair’s film, Mississipi Masala which highlights how Indian American are inserted into a classed racial classification which is based on a polarized black and white binary inadequate for understanding the position of Asian who often experience shifting, flexible and sometimes contradictory racialization processes. For example, Mina’s relationship with Demetrius functions in the film not only as the resolution of historical racial conflict but also as the process of Americanization and racial and cultural identity formation through a subsuming of the transnational migrant woman, narrative of the multi-cultural romance and American solidarity.

The Fourth Chapter “Reel a State: Reimagining Diaspora, Homeland and Nation-state in Srinivas Krishna’s Masala” (pg-71-101) discussed the Canadian film Masala works at multiple levels, shifting from issues of the nation and national culture to diasporic politics and global processesunderstanding the position of Asian who often experience shifting, flexible and sometimes contradictory racialization processes. For example, Mina’s relationship with Demetrius functions in the film not only as the resolution of historical racial conflict but also as the process of Americanization and racial and cultural identity formation through a subsuming of the transnational migrant woman, narrative of the multi-cultural romance and American solidarity.

The Fourth Chapter “Reel a State: Reimagining Diaspora, Homeland and Nation-state in Srinivas Krishna’s Masala” (pg-71-101) discussed the Canadian film Masala works at multiple levels, shifting from issues of the nation and national culture to diasporic politics and global processes. The film indicates the diasporic cultural politics as merely duplicating the national homeland culture. Masala interweaves the stories of several families in a Toronto Hindu community during the late eighties. It poses possibilities of (dis)identification from and with dominant cultures (in the Indian and Canadian case) for diasporic subjects. Broadly, it examines the relationship between nostalgia and cinema which suggests how the cinematic apparatus may function in diasporic process of (dis)identification of the community.

The Fifth Chapter “Homesickness and Motion Sickness: Embodied Migratory Subjectivities in Gurinder Chadda’s Bhaji on the Beach” (pg-133-159) focused on the lives of non-resident Indians. The film is significant in its depiction of the shifting relationship between the diaspora and homeland in the light of globalization processes including the political and economic liberalization in India. The diasporic people felt homesickness which always gives attachment to the motherland while residing at alien land. The diasporic women faced various problems such as multiple nationalisms, contested citizenship, strained patriarchies, racism and economic exploitation in both the public and political platform in other countries.

The Sixth Chapter “Homo on the Range: Queering Postcoloniality and Globalization in Deepa Mehta’s Fire” (pg.-159-193) questioned how to think about sexuality within globalization from diasporic and transnational positions when homosexuality has become a global sign. This film depicts the heterosexual relationship which quest for the acceptance of these relationship at the social and political floor. There are severe gender problems such as racial inequality with women which can be noticed in day-to-day life.

The Seventh Chapter “Sex in the Global City: The Sexual and Gender Politics of the New Urban, Transnational and Cosmopolitan Indian Cinema in English” (pg-193-211) discussed class, gender and sexual ideologies, political economy, power relations between diaspora and postcolonial nation-state located in the global city through analyzing the film named “Bombay boys”.  The film raised emerging issues such as Non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the present era of globalization and transnationalism. The Bombay Boys, Split Wide Open and Monsoon Wedding concentrated on the exploitation of women visualizing through various issues such as heterosexual romance, the dedicated girl-friend who sold herself in the hope of making it in Bollywood and abandoned by her NRI lover, the homeless girl-child who is paid in candy and clothes by the male NRI and molestation of a girl child by her rich NRI uncle respectively. These diasporic cinema provides a critical perspective of gender diaspora and exploitation and economic power of relations between the diaspora characterized as the elite NRIs and the homeland.

The Concluding Chapter “Conclusion: Migrant Brides, Feminist Films and Transnational Desires” (pg-211-231) discussed the conditions as well as development of both South African and Indian diaspora consisting a huge number as compared to other countries. The diasporic communities are actually surviving in a hybrid cultural environment relating to the issues which are beyond the territory of Bollywood cinema. Therefore, the name of the book is very appropriate for the subject it deals with. The author did not address the kind of occupations in which the diasporic communities are engaged in. The new emerging social issues require a serious attention by the society. The films help in exploring the emerging issues in academics which actually fill the gaps between existing social norms and emerging challenges.

In the globalized world, the boundaries of social, cultural political domain are continuously made the contested identities. The South Asian Cinema tried to depict multi-culturalism, ethnic disparity and simultaneously, the impacts of societal changes such as inter-religious marriages, homosexuality and increasing role of diasporic women in social political spheres. The wide range of various themes and issues such as racism, new modes of marriage institution, homesickness and problems related to ethnic identity demands an interdisciplinary perspective for the policy formation at the global level. As Spivak (1999, 357) suggests, “Culture alive is always on the run, always changeful…” (P-8). The complex dynamics of the cultural politics and negotiation of identities in the transnational spaces are well explored by the author from  interdisciplinary perspective.



 

By:-

Monika Bisht,

Research Scholar, School of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University, India, Delhi, email: monika4bisht@gmail.com

Publication Date:   Monday, Aug 20, 2012
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