Indian Cinema as a Cultural Mirror
Program Semester and Year
1) At the beginning of May, I had an internship at the Cannes International Film Festival in France. In a taxi ride home one evening, I struck up conversation with the lead curator of the annual Chennai Film Festival. I mentioned our upcoming study abroad trip to India, and rather naively, began talking about my adoration for Bollywood films. It was at this point, that the curator lost interest in our conversation. “There’s more to Indian cinema than Bollywood,” he said (or something along those lines). There was weight in his words.
The type of Indian cinema that the rest of the world is exposed to is due to a long process of careful calculations by investors and distributors alike. The films define our perceptions of the nation as a whole- but in a nation full of such diversity, the formulaic Bollywood film simply cannot capture the totality of the Indian culture. To an extent, the common conception of “once you’ve seen a Bollywood film, you’ve seen them all” is true. Though, there is much more to the world of Indian cinema.
I intend to investigate the role that cinema plays in India. How does it reflect cultural values and traditions? Or vice versa, how are cultural values and traditions impacted by what is represented on screen? As an International Affairs major and Rhetoric & Media Studies minor, I see this topic as a nice blend between the two fields of study. Cinema plays a strategic role in any culture, walking a fine line between existing as propaganda or becoming cultural scripture. As I intend on pursuing journalism/documentary cinematography with my degree from LC, this topic will be a good introduction to thinking critically about the field and weighing the impacts that media can have on understanding cultural phenomenon.
2) In our globalized world, media touches nearly every corner of our lives. The way that we interact with and interpret cinema, in particular, influences the way that we make sense of our own cultures and the way that we perceive others. I expect, each city we visit, will carry different perceptions about what it means to be Indian- with my research, I think it will be interesting to look at the similarities and differences between regional perceptions.
Also, there IS an international film festival in Chennai. This film-hub will foster many opportunities for conversation about the role of cinema in India, and the role of Indian cinema on an international front.
3) For interviews: I hope to set up interviews with theater owners, workers, and movie-goers alike. I’d also like to speak with various media outlets, such as newscasters, about the ways that Indians engage with and interpret media. The good thing about talking about movies is that they play a role in nearly everyone’s lives- interviews, hopefully, will be easy to come by.
Field research: I’ve never conducted field research before, so I would like to learn some new tactics. Certainly, interviews will be a major part of collecting the information that I will use to supplement my research material.
In terms of materials to gather: Alongside articles and online research, I’d like to expose myself first-hand to new forms of Indian cinema. Already, I have begun watching some small-release films from up and coming Indian directors, though as I mentioned earlier- there is a whole world of Indian cinema that will be fresh for me to explore.