Friday, June 27, 2014

[Indian Culture Workshop 2013-2014] Session 6: Changing Indianness: Bollywood, music, and dance

Session #6: Changing Indianness: Bollywood, music, and dance
Speaker: Ms. Minaz Master

Indian movies have gained international attention in the last decades, and even earned a title, Bollywood. From the 3 Idiots to the first 3D dance movie ABCD: AnyBody Can Dance in 2013, the Indian cinema is surely a global sensation. Speaking of Bollywood, people would normally think about series of singing and dancing scenes, as well as colorful costumes and settings. This perception did nourish the birth of the Moulin Rouge!, which was an attempt for Hollywood to create something that resembles the Bollywood genre. Yet, if we take a look at some classics in the past decades, we will find the many transformations of Indian cinema. To be precise, this involves adding a lot of Westernized elements, while enforcing some of the Orientalist perceptions.

In this session, Ms Master showed us the constant change of Indian cinema, including the dance and music styles in it. She explained that the Indian cinema has been able to preserve some traditional Indian values, but at the same time also adopted some Western elements. Film is a powerful medium for us to understand Indian society which is in turn highly influenced by this medium.

Indeed, contemporary Indian cinema plays a powerful role in creating and shaping social identities, political orientations, as well as cultural values. Other than being joyful and delightful, Bollywood movies are also a medium to tackle critical social issues. Sensitive subjects such as sexuality, that are difficult to articulate in everyday contexts, are often a popular theme in Indian cinema. In Deepa Mehta’s Elements trilogy (Fire, Earth and Water), Fire became the first Indian movie explicitly dealing with homosexuality, and Water touched on the topic of widowhood. Indian film also plays a role at times of political turmoil. For instance, the 1957 classic Mother India uses a mother figure during a period of instability in India, to create a sense of security for the people.

Using Bollywood movies as a lens to look at social or cultural taboos provides a new way to intercultural understanding, and helps to debunk a lot of misconceptions. 

Ms. Minaz Master (far right) enjoying Indian cuisine with the participants after giving a talk on Bollywood movies