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Bollywood cinema: A critical genealogy

Mishra, V. (2006) Bollywood cinema: A critical genealogy. 2006 Victoria University of Wellington. Asian Studies Institute, Wellington, New Zealand.

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"Bollywood" has finally made it to the Oxford English Dictionary. The 2005 edition defines it as: "a name for the Indian popular film industry, based in Bombay. Origin 1970s. Blend of Bombay and Hollywood." The incorporation of the word in the OED acknowledges the strength of a film industry which, with the coming of sound in 1931, has produced some 9,000 films. (This must not be confused with the output of Indian cinema generally, which would be four times more). What is less evident from the OED definition is the way in which the word has acquired its current meaning and has displaced its earlier descriptors (Bombay Cinema, Indian Popular Cinema, Hindi Cinema), functioning, perhaps even horrifyingly, as an "empty signifier" (Prasad) that may be variously used for a reading of popular Indian cinema. The triumph of the term (over the others) is nothing less than spectacular and indicates, furthermore, the growing global sweep of this cinema not just as cinema qua cinema but as cinema qua social effects and national cultural coding. Although Indian film producers in particular, and pockets of Indian spectators generally, continue to feel uneasy with it (the vernacular press came around to using "Bollywood" only reluctantly), its ascendancy has been such that Bombay Dreams (the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical) and the homegrown Merchants of Bollywood both become signifiers of a cultural logic which transcends cinema and is a global marker of Indian modernity. As the Melbourne (March 2006) closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games showed, Bollywood will be the cultural practice through which Indian national culture will be projected when the games are held in Delhi in 2010. International games (the Olympics, World Cup Soccer, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and so on) are often expressions of a nation's own emerging modernity. For India that modernity, in the realm of culture, is increasingly being interpellated by Bollywood.

Publication Type: Working Paper
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Series Name: Working Paper. Victoria University of Wellington. Asian Studies Institute.
Publisher: 2006 Victoria University of Wellington. Asian Studies Institute
Notes: Working paper No. 20
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