The year 2013 marked the centenary of Indian cinema and as a result the country saw multiple celebrations through the year commemorating this event—film festivals, government funded programs, special films made to mark the occasion and of course tributes in the forms of books, journals, conferences etc. In this paper I want to focus on two song and dance numbers that were performed at the popular Hindi cinema award shows Filmfare and the International Indian Film Awards (IIFA). The first of the two was performed by actor Hrithik Roshan at the Filmfare awards, while the other was by the upcoming actors Sushant Singh Rajput. Both performances were set to songs dedicated to the Hindu lord Ganesha; while Roshan danced to a song from his own film Agneepath, Rajput performed to a medley of songs, all of which were invocations to Ganesha in some capacity. I want to use these performances as illustrations not just of the communal politics of the Bombay film industry, but also of the male body as it performs or is made to stand in for an aggressive religious identity. This paper will try to demonstrate that these are not isolated events, but are instead visible evidence of the masculinization of what is being projected as the Hindu nation.
A Bollywood Map of Masculinity
Shah Rukh Khan
Since the early 1990s, the most popular actors of popular Hindi cinema, known unfortunately as Bollywood, have been the three Khans—Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir. All three hail from the Pathan group, who in India are Muslims originating from the Northwest frontier (near the border of Afghanistan). While Aamir Khan is crafting his image as a “serious actor”, Salman Khan has been categorized as the “brawns” of the industry. A middle ground of sorts is in Shah Rukh Khan, who is arguably the most popular of the three as his popularity cuts across classes and regions. Shah Rukh (I will refer to him as such to avoid confusion), was arguably the actor with whom there was a change in the image of the male lead’s masculinity.
At the peripheries of SCMS 2014, all screens led to basketball. SCMS took place March 19-23, a slice of time spanning the first three rounds of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual tournament. I’ve watched college basketball since I was a kid, and those early days of March Madness are always my favorite: pre-tournament narratives crumble in the face of expectedly unexpected results, and sports media are too caught up in reacting to this or that upset to fashion new favorites out of the ruins. I was consequently wary of this scheduling convergence, sure I’d miss out on basketball Madness in the rush of its media studies counterpart. As it happened, I shouldn’t have worried. We’re past the days of broadcast sports’ necessarily couch-bound consumption, and the tournament permeated the spaces of SCMS Seattle: I watched SportsCenter recaps in the Sheraton’s lobby, saw North Carolina top Providence at the bar where my panel met for drinks, and even caught other conference-goers following games on their smartphones during presentations.
This last mode of watching is most relevant to my purposes here, for it speaks to a recent trend: the proliferation of non-televisual ways to consume live sports. There has been work done on the relationship between sport and broadcast media, but the focus tends to be radio and television. Less analyzed are newly emergent ways of watching and listening, which restructure the relationships between body and spectacle, viewer and viewed. I don’t presume to give a thorough treatment of this topic in the space of a blog post, but I do hope to point towards some implications of consuming live games via mobile screens. And there are more and more ways to watch on-the-go: many applications for a number of sports. I focus here on March Madness Live, the dedicated streaming service for NCAA tournament basketball, both because I’m familiar with it and because it ties itself to television in a way many such applications don’t: it comes free with a cable subscription, and so reinforces economic investment in broadcasting even as it displaces the living room as primary scene of broadcast viewing.
Orange Is the New Black (2013- ) has generated a lot of discussion. Its success through Netflix seems to cement the wide-ranging industrial changes in adapting to and supporting binge-watching. Its ensemble of complex female characters has been celebrated as a corrective to male-dominated quality television. But if Orange means something for contemporary television, it’s important to examine how the show’s formal features might compare with other media forms. Such comparisons can offer hints about how some of television’s pleasures are being figured today. Spoilers follow.
I. The Prison as Network
The comparison I have in mind is to Jules Dassin’s 1947 prison film, Brute Force. The film concerns Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) and his efforts to escape from a prison that operates under the thumb of Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn). Beyond the superficial similarity of being set in a prison, Brute Force shares two key features with Orange. The first is its narrative structure. The second is the way our sympathies and pleasures are managed along that structure.
While Joe Collins is nominally the main character of Brute Force, he shares nearly equal screen time with a variety of characters – prisoners and prison authorities – who have relative independent storylines of their own. Collins fits the mold of the goal-oriented protagonist typical of classical Hollywood at the time. He needs to escape because his girl needs an operation and she will not go into surgery without him by her side. But the film spends precious little time expanding on this. Dassin’s real interest lies in the consequences that Collins’s plan has for the other characters and the structure of the prison. Collins disappears from the story for long stretches while messages are carried out and intercepted, inmates privately struggle over whether they want to risk escape, and authorities struggle with each other over how to control the inmates.
Let’s get this out of the way: I love pop music. Everything about it is a “yes” to me, so fortunately the universe timed my tween years in tandem with the 1990s boy band craze. Watching MTV’s Total Request Live after school was a way to forget those awkward middle school days that were occupied by hiding Tampax in my locker.
Those years were the last real ride for MTV—as we boy band lovers knew it—and it was also when Justin Timberlake’s career was resting on the success of N’Sync. N’Sync recorded several successful songs before, for example, their hit, “Bye Bye Bye.” That music video, however, was the moment during which Timberlake ditched his oversized hoop earring, but still retained a trace of wholesomeness: he was too sexy for an afterschool glass of milk, but not quite grown up enough to serve as soundtrack for raiding the parents’ liquor cabinet. Read more
I left Jane Feuer’s recent talk (“Musical Television: Glee, Smash and the Backstage Musical on TV”) thinking about the relationship between academic treatment of TV and the pleasure derived from viewing it. Feuer is the perfect lens through which to approach this topic, for in addition to being a scholar of television she is its devoted, unabashed fan. Her enjoyment of the shows she works on inflects the way she writes and talks about them: “I’m team Ivy,” she said in reference to Smash, having taken the on-line quiz she used to show NBC’s encouragement of multiple and competing audience identifications. Her approach to television is thus intellectual but not coldly distanced; she allows herself a place in Smash’s audience even as she theorizes it. Read more
There is a stunning short animated film making the rounds in movie theaters, about a farmer who goes from agrarian to industrialized production and back again. In a single two-minute shot, a green pastoral landscape gradually transforms into a series of drab warehouses. Cute oblong pigs with tiny scuttling legs get pumped with pharmaceuticals that inflate them into immobile spheroids, which then get crushed into pink cubes of meat that match the impersonal complexion of the new urban environment. The camera neatly mirrors that subtly violent process of abstraction by slowly changing its perspective over the land: an angled bird’s-eye-view of an open horizon becomes a schematic, straight-down aerial shot of the production line. While not exactly understated, the short is ambitious, elegant, and strangely moving.
In retrospect, the short-lived and prematurely canceled series Jericho (2006–2008) and Jeremiah (2002–2004), the first on CBS and the second on Showtime, struck a different tone, and expressed keener anxieties, than their contemporaries in the cluttered, and otherwise profitable, post-apocalyptic genre. While the more well-known and spectacular blockbuster releases of the oughts – The Day After Tomorrow (2004), I Am Legend (2007), 2012 (2009) – tend to treat the event of global destruction as an awesome spectacle, Jericho and Jeremiah are more concerned with the aftermath and its difficult, uneven realization. In the three Hollywood films, by contrast, the end of the world unfolds in a dramatic, thrilling present, its causes transparent if not advertised on the movie poster.