Bollywood’s India: A Public Fantasy



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During the 1950s the young Indian nation faced immense challenges but was, as Professor Priya Joshi explains in this interview, still innocent and optimistic. By the 1970s the bloom of youth had faded as Indians suffered under widespread political and economic corruption and malaise, most visible in the 22 months’ “Emergency” which gave Prime Minister Indira Gandhi the power to limit democratic governance and civil liberties. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, India charted a new course of economic liberalization that led to dynamic growth and increased engagement with the rest of the world.

In Bollywood’s India: A Public Fantasy (Columbia University Press, 2015), Priya Joshi chooses these three historical periods – the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – to illustrate how, in critiquing the state, Bollywood blockbuster films have performed a kind of “social work” for the Indian nation. Popular throughout India and globally, Bollywood films feature a rich mixture of romance, comedy, melodrama, social themes, and exuberant singing and dancing. Professor Joshi focuses her analysis on the serious social commentary flowing through these films, such as Awara (The vagabond, Raj Kapoor, 1951), Sholay (Embers, Ramesh Sippy, 1975), and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun? (Who am I to you?, Sooraj Barjatya, 1994). She looks at the themes of crime and punishment in the 1950s, the family and romance in the 1970s, and the emergence of “Bollylite” in the 1990s. Throughout this entire period, however, Joshi’s Bollywood turns a sharp edge to the Indian state in the secure and safe fantasy world of the cinema.

I spoke to Priya Joshi on September 16, 2015, about her new book Bollywood’s India: A Public Fantasy.

Audio Download (mp3)

—Fred Rowland

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