Fingerprinting Popular Culture: The Mythic and the Iconic in Indian Cinema by Vinay Lal
Cinema in India has always been a play of middle-class sensibilities and fantasy life. And, this middle class now seems to have come into its own. From the time of Indira Gandhi, the political agendas of political parties and leaders have been increasingly shaped by middle-class consciousness and popular cinema has become for this class both an ideological phalanx and a major vehicle of self-expression. The media-exposed public in turn has become more accessible through the mythic structures and larger-than-life figures of popular cinema. The medium has become a new, more powerful language of public discourse. This book, like its companion volume The Secret Politics of our Desires (1998), is a product of this awareness. It uses Indian popular cinema to reexamine the relationships among society, politics, and culture. The six essays in it, mostly by contributors from outside the world of film studies and film criticism, span topics such as showmanship and stylization of images; the human characterization of abstract concepts such as good and evil; the open-ended, episodic and fragmented nature of the narrative, cemented together through devices such as family "history" and "filial love"; and the re-emergence of "Hindustani" as a secular language of film. The essays also cover popular cinema's fear of using comedy when dealing with the legitimacy and authority of the state; the "ideal" femininity conjured by Lata Mangeshkar's voice; and the debts to Hollywood and the carnivalesque that shape Guru Dutt's comedies.