Topics in Asian Cinema: Popular Hindi Cinema

048:106 (039:145, 008:127)

University of Iowa

Spring 2007

Class Meetings: Tuesday & Thursday, 10:55 – 12:10, E105 AJB

Film Screenings: Monday, 7-10 p.m., E105 AJB

Professors:
Corey K. Creekmur                                        
Departments of English,                                 
Cinema & Comparative Literature                  
Office: W211 AJB Phone: 335-2824             
e-mail: corey-creekmur@uiowa.edu               

Philip Lutgendorf
Department of Asian Languages and Literature
Office: 667 PH  Phone: 335-2157
e-mail: philip-lutgendorf@uiowa.edu

Course Aims:  This course, team-taught by a film specialist and a Hindi language and popular culture scholar, will provide a critical overview of one of the world’s largest and most beloved film industries, the popular Hindi cinema produced in Bombay (Mumbai) and consumed around the world under the label “Bollywood.”  This course will focus on the post-Independence (1947) era to the present, and will introduce key films, directors, stars, genres, formal techniques, and themes, as well as critical analyses of these and other topics.  Periodic lectures will situate films in their historical and cultural contexts, as well as within the careers of directors and stars.  Special attention will be given to the pervasive role of music, song, and dance.  Other topics to be addressed will include: the cultural sources of Hindi cinema, cinema and nationalism, the star system, and the global reception of Hindi film.  The course assumes no previous knowledge of Indian culture or cinema, and all films will be shown with English subtitles.

Film Screenings: Mondays, 7-10 P.M., E105 Adler Journalism Building
Screenings are open to the public.  All films are in DVD format, with English subtitles.

 

Schedule:

Rang de Basanti

Monday, Jan. 22, 7:00 PM
Rang De Basanti (“The Color of Sacrifice”), Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 2006, 171 min.

This complex and unsettling saga of the political awakening of jaded urban upper-class youth became one of the most talked-about films of 2006 and is India’s entry in the upcoming Academy Awards competition.  It features a popular score by A. R. Rahman and strong performances by a cast headed by Aamir Khan, and prominently featuring a Hindi-speaking British actress (Alice Patten).

 

Shree 420

Monday, Jan. 29, 7:00 PM
Shree 420 (“The Gentleman Swindler”), Raj Kapoor, 1955, 177 min.

One of the most beloved films of the 1950s “Golden Age,” Shree 420 features director and star Kapoor’s Chaplinesque Indian “Everyman,” Raju, here as an orphan who comes to the big, bad city to find his fortune.  In this Nehruvian allegory, Raju is drawn into a real estate scam and must choose between the competing visions of success proffered by beautiful women named “Wisdom” and “Illusion.”  The celebrated score includes the much-quoted song “Mera Joota Hai Japani” (“My shoes are Japanese…but my heart is Indian!”).

Mother India
Monday, Feb. 5, 7:00 PM
Mother India, Mehboob Khan, 1957, 168 min.

One of the most influential and cited of Indian films and the first to be nominated for an American Academy Award (1958), this epic drama of the life of a poor rural woman and her two sons made actress Nargis a national icon.  Sometimes compared to “Gone With the Wind,” it celebrates fortitude, chastity, and devotion to the Mother(land) through a two-generational plot rendered in lavish Technicolor and accompanied by a near-operatic medley of twelve famous songs.

Pyaasa
Monday, Feb. 12, 7:00 PM
Pyaasa (“The Thirsty One”), Guru Dutt, 1957, 139 min.

The quintessential film of one of the most acclaimed auteurs of 1950s Bombay cinema, Pyaasa is a dark fable of an artist pitted against a materialist culture.  Introducing the radiant Waheeda Rehman as the good-hearted prostitute Gulab and featuring comic Johnny Walker as a carefree masseur, it uses Marxist-influenced lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi to pointedly question the nation’s progress under Congress Raj.  The film assembled the creative team that would collaborate on such Guru Dutt masterworks as Kaagaz ke phool (“paper flowers,” 1959) and Sahib, Bibi, aur Ghulam (“master, wife, and servant,” 1961).

Chaudhvin ka Chand
Monday, Feb. 19, 7:00 PM
Chaudhvin ka Chand (“Full Moon”), Mohammed Sadiq, 1960, 169 mins.

The penultimate film produced by Guru Dutt prior to his suicide in 1964 at age 39, this comedy of mannersis a “Muslim social” set in the courtly city of Lucknow.  A tragi-comedy of mistaken identity that results in two best friends vying for the love of the same woman, it masterfully explores cultural understandings (and cinematic manipulations) of “the gaze” from a non-Western perspective.

Lagaan
Monday, February 26, 7:00 PM
Lagaan (“The Tax”), Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001, 225 min.

Gowariker’s “historical” film revisits the Colonial era to craft an epic national allegory of a group of drought-stricken villagers who take on their local British rulers in a cricket match, the prize being exemption from the dreaded annual tax.  Aamir Khan stars as a peasant who assembles a ragtag team to challenge the colonial masters at their own game.  Memorable characterizations, a brilliant A. R. Rahman score, and deft pacing during the climactic match highlight this uniquely Indian take on the proverbial “underdog” sports saga.

Sholay
Monday, Mar. 5, 7:00 PM
Sholay (“Flames”), Ramesh Sippy, 1975, 199 min.

This stylish “multi-starrer” about a village saved from rapacious bandits by the unlikely alliance of a retired police officer and two petty crooks became the definitive megahit of the 1970s and helped launch Amitabh Bachchan to superstardom.  Released soon after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s ruthless assumption of Emergency powers, it adapts conventions of the American Western to a surprisingly dark parable of social renewal through violence and revenge.

Deewar
Monday, Mar. 19, 7:00 PM
Deewar  (“The Wall”), Yash Chopra, 1975, 174 min.

Another of the seminal Bachchan texts of the 1970s, Chopra’s film retells the Mother India saga of a woman forced to destroy her favorite son, this time against a darker, urban backdrop of an India threatened by organized crime, smuggling, unemployment, and labor unrest.  Bachchan’s iconic portrayal of a laborer-turned-mobster, who is tragically opposed by his policeman brother, is enhanced by taut and justly famous dialog by the Salim Khan-Javed Akhtar team.

Jai Santoshi Maa
Monday, Mar. 26, 7:00 PM
Jai Santoshi Maa (“Hail Mother Santoshi”), Vijay Sharma, 1975, 138 min.

In a mid-‘70s Hindi cinema dominated by “angry young men” and revenge dramas, this exuberant “mythological” film became an unexpected hit, especially among female audiences, and it came to enjoy (literal) “cult” status—since the deity it celebrates has become widely popular.  Its parallel, often broadly-comic narratives of the heavenly career of an upstart goddess and the earthly trials of her greatest female devotee are accompanied by catchy pop bhajans (devotional hymns) and sets and costumes that mirror the conventions of popular poster art.

Amar Akbar Anthony
Monday, April 2, 7:00 PM
Amar Akbar Anthony, Manmohan Desai, 1977, 174 min.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, populist director Desai redefined the masala action film with a series of hugely successful “multi-starrers” characterized by baroque plots, manic energy, and the “three p’s” (piety, patriotism, and parody).  Many consider this robustly entertaining allegory of three separated brothers who are raised by Hindu, Muslim, and Christian parents — and featuring Amitabh Bachchan as a Goan saloon-keeper named Anthony Gonsalvez — to be the quintessential Desai blockbuster.

Hey Ram
Monday, April 9, 7:00 PM
Hey Ram (“Oh, God!”), Kamal Haasan, 2000, 186 min.

This dark meditation on inter-religious hatred and violence excavates a dying archaeologist’s tortured memories of the bloody birth of a nation, and indirectly addresses the Hindu nationalist politics of the 1990s.  Brilliant, disturbing, and controversial, the film uses the conventions of mainstream Bombay cinema (and stars like Shahrukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee, and Hema Malini) to craft a sur-real retelling of the events leading to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, that author-director-star Hassan tellingly and punningly terms “an experiment with truth.”

Dilwale
Monday, April 16, 7:00 PM
Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (“The True Lover Will Take the Bride”) Aditya
Chopra, 1995, 190 min.

One of the most successful Hindi films ever made—still playing in one Mumbai cinema hall, and enduringly popular among South Asian diasporic communities—Aditya Chopra’s directorial debut re-orients the West as a place where transplanted Indians happily live, love, and loosen up, while their hearts remain reassuringly Hindustani.  The palpable chemistry between Shahrukh Khan and Kajol is enhanced by the strong supporting performances of Farida Jalal and Amrish Puri (whose glowering NRI Father became a new transnational Parent-Icon) and an irresistible Jatin-Lalit/Anand Bakshi score.

Satya
Monday, April 23, 7:00 PM
Satya (“Truth”), Ram Gopal Verma, 1998, 175 min.

Director Verma darkened the “Bombay noir” with this gripping and gritty portrayal of the gangster bhais (literally “brothers”) of the city’s underworld.  The brief career of an enigmatic outsider ironically named “Truth” exposes mobster links to both the film industry and the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party.  A superb cast includes then-newcomer Manoj Bajpai, whose portrayal of lumpen crimeboss Bhiku Mhatre won a well-deserved Filmfare award.

Veer-Zaara
Monday, April 30, 7:00 PM
Veer-Zaara (“Veer and Zaara”), Yash Chopra, 2004, 192 mins.

This heart-stirring tale of star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of the India-Pakistan border stars Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta, with Rani Mukherjee as the human-rights activist lawyer seeking to reunite them.  Lushly romantic and superbly scored, it deftly weaves topical political and social themes into a “formula” rooted in the ancient Sanskrit Ramayana saga and the medieval tales of Indo-Islamic Sufis.

 

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