India is the second most populous country in the world and has a cultural tradition that has evolved over 5,000 years. It is also the world’s largest film-producing nation, releasing over 900 films every year. Of these, approximately 200 films are made in Hindi in India’s film capital—Bombay. Driven by the growth and spread of the Indian diaspora in recent decades, the popular Bollywood has become a ubiquitous presence in theaters and film festivals across the globe. While remaining India’s most beloved art form, this cinema today is also India’s most visible and fascinating export. Bollywood remains an exceptional industry that has successfully resisted the onslaught of Hollywood films in the country of its birth. These and other factors have contributed in making academic exploration of Bombay cinema a relatively new, but extremely exciting field of study. What makes Hindi cinema different? How are such a staggering number of films made in India? How do these ‘song and dance’ movies challenge our perceptions of narrative forms? How do Bombay films negotiate the polarities of tradition and modernity? How do they bear the burden of postcoloniality? Despite the plethora of languages and cultures that comprise India, how does Hindi cinema maintain its hegemonic position both within the subcontinent and without? What is the status of Bollywood as a national cinema? These are some of the larger questions with which we will engage in this canopic overview.
This class has three basic goals: 1) to increase sensitivity to a cultural form that may be at odds with our own perceptions of cinematic story-telling, 2) to interrogate the varied ways by which Indian popular films create and disseminate meaning and 3) to learn that the popular film is not a monolithic form, by exploring the ways in which it has evolved over the last 50 years.
Students are expected to write a short paper (5-6 pages). For this paper students will write on one film, genre, or filmmaker. The paper must combine close textual analysis with theoretical insights from lectures and course readings.
Students are expected to write one longer term-paper (8-10 pages) over the course of the semester. This paper must engage with different film-texts than those analyzed in the short paper. Interesting and innovative combinations of films and/or scholarly articles are welcome. I will furnish assignment details in a timely manner.
Each student must write a two-paragraph response to every film screened over the course of the term in the appropriate Sakai folder. These paragraphs must go beyond summary to demonstrate thoughtful engagement with the films. This response must be posted by 12:00 noon on Mondays. Questions will be posted ahead of time.
Informed participation in our classroom discussions is highly encouraged. Do not take this course if you are unable to attend weekly screenings. If you miss a screening, it is your responsibility to procure the film and post your response by noon on Monday. Informed participation requires having watched and thought about screened films, having read all assigned material and being present in class to talk about them.
Each student will prepare and lead the class discussion once during the semester. This requires reading the assigned material ahead of time to prepare a short response and questions for group discussion. Feel free to talk to me about your ideas ahead of time; also email me an outline of your presentation by 6 PM on Monday. Students will make these presentations on Tuesdays.
The class is structured on a Friday-to-Tuesday schedule. I will present new material every Friday and we will discuss readings assigned, as well as view in-class clips. Then, we will watch a film together as a class every Friday evening. On Tuesdays, classes will be held in a seminar/workshop format in which we discuss the readings in relation to the screened film. It will not work unless all of us are prepared to engage with the texts with care and attention. The task of making the discussions challenging and lively is not the sole responsibility of the presenter; every student is expected to contribute to class discussions.
If you miss more than four classes (excused or unexcused), YOU FAIL THE COURSE. If you miss more than two classes (excused or unexcused), your participation grade will be reduced by half a grade for every additional absence (for example, if you receive a B as a participation grade but have three absences, you will receive a C+ as a participation grade). A pattern of lateness will also adversely affect your grade (in general 2 lates = 1 absence), and I really discourage it because it is so disruptive to the class. Likewise, leaving class once it has begun is also discouraged and a pattern of such behavior will adversely affect your participation grade. If you are late or absent, it is your responsibility to find out what you missed. For screenings, viewing a film on a large screen allows you to notice details which your television set obscures. It also creates class community by viewing films together. (In fact, if you cannot attend the screenings, you should drop the course.)
No eating or drinking in the classroom please. Observe proper decorum during screenings: refrain from talking, turn off cell phones, and limit food and beverage to those appropriate to film viewing (i.e., a Coke is okay, a Whopper is not okay). Please do not use laptop computers or other electronic gadgets during class or screenings; these can be very distracting for everyone around you. The screenings are a time for serious viewing, not only for your entertainment; you should be taking copious notes on pertinent features of each film to prepare for discussion and exams (I recommend a penlight or small flashlight to help you see your writing). No pets or guests are allowed at screenings. Anyone talking, booing, taking cell phone calls or otherwise disrupting a screening will be asked to leave.
Academic Misconduct: You should be aware that academic misconduct entails severe penalties and incurs the resentment of honest students. The most common form of academic misconduct is plagiarism. It is your responsibility as a student to familiarize yourself with the rules of academic citation. If you have questions about academic citation, please ask me or consult the MLA guide, which I am happy to provide. Briefly, plagiarism is using the words, thoughts, ideas, writings, or artistic works of someone else and passing them off as one’s own, without complete citation in footnotes, endnotes, or internal citations. In the Internet era, it is quite easy to copy text off the Internet and forget to cite it in your paper. It is equally easy to catch you! Please, acknowledge all sources, and WHEN IN DOUBT, CITE THE SOURCE. Each student bears the responsibility of familiarizing herself/himself with the University’s policies and procedures involving academic misconduct, grievances, sexual and ethnic harassment, and discrimination based on physical handicap. No behaviors in violation of these policies will be tolerated in this class.
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It is vital that every student understand that this syllabus forms an implied contract. I seek to share their knowledge and analytical skills. In return, the student is understood to be in regular attendance, both physically and mentally. The schedule of readings/screenings may change. The papers are due when they are due; the reading assignments are to be read and films viewed. There will be no incompletes given in the course, and late work will be permitted only in the most serious circumstances (family emergency or illness), which must be documented to my satisfaction.