Pittsburgh Film Colloquium: Shalini Ayyagari

October 15, 2015 - 5:30pm

Dancing in the Desert: Women’s Bodies and Gender Representations in Contemporary Hindi Cinema

In this talk, I aim to tease out the complicated representations of place and the female body in contemporary Hindi cinema by examining intersections of a Rajasthani landscape and the portrayal of Rajasthani women in song sequences from two films, Paheli (2005) and Dor (2006). Images and sounds of a distinctly regional Rajasthan in northwestern India––the Thar Desert landscape, women in gagra-choli dresses, songs featuring folk tunes, Rajasthani sung dialect, and specific instrumental timbres––are often mobilized in contemporary Hindi cinema to create a timeless, traditional, and heritage-laden backdrop for filmgoers to imagine an inclusive Indian national identity. At the same time, Hindi cinema often treats female characters as oblique spectacles reinforcing gender and cultural norms, creating comfortable and universal categories of comprehensibility through which contemporary Indian women have come to be understood. Both films addressed here met with small but critical acclaim in India, toured on international film festivals, and were marketed as dealing with important social issues facing Indian women––societal treatment of widows, male child preference, rape, dowry, and infanticide/feticide. In this paper, I zero in on the films’ promises to be voices of social change in India, bringing such important women’s issues to light. I suggest that the use of Rajasthan as regional landscape creates a liminal frontier. As gender violence continues to plague contemporary India, it is only in fantastical song sequences, not in the real world of everyday life, in which such transgressions of gender and societal norms could possibly take place.​

Location and Address

Cathedral of Learning, room 407