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BOLLYWOOD MOVIES AND THE DIASPORA: THE FLIP SIDE OF
GLOBALIZATION AND HYBRIDITY IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITIES.
San Antonio, Texas, 2005
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA, 54224
Bollywood and the diaspora: The flip side of globalization and
hybridity in the
construction of identities.
Historically Bollywood movies have had limited audiences in countries
outside India, but
in the last two decades as a consequence of globalization,
revolutions in ICT and
significant increase in the size of the Indian diaspora, filmmakers
in Bollywood have
been making films keeping the diasporic audiences in mind. The paper
Bollywood is just symptomatic of a larger phenomenon of media
India, China, and the Arab countries reaching out to émigré audiences
in the West,
constructing 'deterritorialized imagined communities' and 'hybrid
identities', in the postnational
context of globalization that is free of the geography of
nation-states. The paper
suggests that in a way this has flipped the binary dialectic of
global/local to local/global.
The paper undertakes a structuralist-semiotic textual analysis of a
Bollywood movie to
demonstrate the construction of 'hybrid identities' and the struggle
between the local culture and ideology as dominant and hegemonic and
the global as
Bollywood movies and the diaspora: The flip side of globalization and
the construction of identities.
With the increasing migration of people across the globe and the parallel
revolutions in information and communication technology, attracting
niche audiences in
the diasporai has become economically and technologically viable for media
organizations in the homeland, such as India, China, Mexico, and Arab
emergence of Zee TV, Sony TV, CCTV, Televisa, Globo TV, and Al Jazeera has not
gone unnoticed (Cunningham, Jacka and Sinclair, 1998; Dudrah, 2002a;
Thussu, 1998). These media outlets have to some extent reversed the
flow of information
that was traditionally from the West to the East. And in this counter
flow of media
products, movies constitute a significant component, especially from
India and China. To
tap this growing global market, Indian filmmakers, from the Bollywood
are reaching out to the diaspora from the sub-continent (Desai, 2003,
2002a, 2002b; Gillespie & Cheesman, 2002; Kaur, 2002; Rajadhyaksha,
2003). In this
paper, I will explore how this reversal in the flow of media products
warrants the need to
situate this phenomenon within the globalization discourse and will
Bollywood movies negotiate the global and the local in the text by practicing
hybridization in the construction of identities.
Bollywood, diaspora and globalization
The success of Indian movies at the global level since the late1990s
much scholarly attention (Desai, 2004; Ganti, 2004, Kaur, 2002;
For Indian immigrants living across the globe, movies from India are
an essential part of
their popular culture. In a feature story on Bollywood in the
February 2005 issue
National Geographic, Suketu Mehta quotes, a CEO of a film production
"For the diaspora the only connection with India is Hindi films.
Hindi film is India for
them." (Mehta, 2005, p. 64). Scholars have argued that Indian popular
movies are one of
the most significant and visible components of Indian popular culture
both at home and in
the diaspora (Basham, 1975; Desai, 2004; Pendakur, 2003; Prasad, 1998).
Bollywood movies constitute an element of public culture for the
and to some extent for the diaspora from the Indian sub-continent
(Dudrah, 2002b). It can
be argued that people of Indian origin in the diaspora, living in
different countries, share
similarity of experiences while watching Indian movies, which
contributes to the
construction of a global "public culture" (Appadurai and
Breckenridge, 1989; Desai,
2004) and an "imagined community" (Anderson, 1991). Here, it must be
noted that the
diaspora shares this similarity of experience also with the Indians
in the homeland, as
these movies are primarily made for home audiences. The similarities
of experiences are
rooted both in their construction of diasporic identity and ethnic
Indian identity. But in
the case of the diaspora, this ethnic Indian identity is free of the
confines of the nationstate.
Indian movies and movies in general, have traditionally played a
crucial role in
constructing national identity by combining features from diverse
ethno-linguistic identities that constitute the Indian nation-state
Chatterjee, 1995; Lutze, 1985, Nandy, 1998; Turner, 1988). The
question arises: Do these
movies play a role in constructing a global Indian identity? And a
further question is
whether a negotiation occurs between national identity and diasporic
identity in the film
texts, thus helping to construct hybrid identities.
To understand this phenomenon, Bollywood movies must be situated within the
context of globalization and its new emerging features. Bollywood
what Hannerz (1997) and Lash & Urry (1994) have described as the
cultural "flow" of
images across the globe, a characterizing feature of globalization,
albeit in a direction
counter to the hitherto predominant the west to the east/the north to
the south media
flows. Bollywood movies can be seen as a counter-flow of media products from a
developing country to the more developed west. And even though this
media products (news, movies, television shows, etc.) from the
homeland to the diaspora
sustains itself using the same systemic structures of globalization
that operate in cultural
flows from the west to a developing country and functions through the
principles of free
market economy and technology diffusion, it is significantly
different from the
perspective of its audience demographics. Tehranian (2002) explains
the emergence of
global satellite television channels from the countries outside the
west in the terms of
global linguistic communities. It can even be argued that this
phenomenon is constructing
global communities of Indians, Chinese, Arabs, and Hispanic
diasporas. It is the flip side
of globalization. That homeland media organizations reach out to the
diaspora "flips" the
phenomenon of globalization and the global/local dialectic. It has
reversed the dialectic
of the binary global/local to local/global in a Derridean sense. In
this sense the local
would become the "dominant" ideology and the global becomes the
Before exploring how this local/global dialectic plays itself out in
the text of
Bollywood movies and as a consequence plays a role in the
construction of a global
Indian hybrid identity, I must further situate this phenomenon within
a larger conceptual
framework of the flip side of media globalization, identity as a
negotiation in hybridity,
ideology and movies, and hybridization as a characterizing feature of
The flip side of globalization
To see why I am suggesting that this phenomenon is the flip side of
let me first delineate this flow of media products with reference to
the larger context of
theorizing about media globalization, which also situates the
construction of 'global' and
'local' in the literature. Global flows of capital, services,
images, and people in search of new markets are described by Lash &
Urry (1994) as
signifying features of globalization. This global flow, from the West
to the East (the
North to the South), has been extensively studied for its impact on
their cultural identities, modernity, and political-economic power.
Media flows driven by
technology penetration and diffusion were once seen in terms of flows
from center to
periphery and it gave rise to modernization, dependency, and world
system theories of
globalization (Mattleart, 1994; Mohammadi, 1995; Schelsinger, 1991;
Tomlinson, 1991, 1997; Wallerstein, 2004). Though helpful, these
perspectives do not
help us to understand the reverse flows of the Bollywood phenomenon.
These earlier perspectives on globalization were later overtaken to a
by new evidence that suggested active resistance by 'local' level to
the 'global'. To
explain this phenomenon some scholars have proposed theoretical perspectives
explaining the global/local dialectic (Featherstone, 1995; Wilson &
Wilson & Paradise, 1996). But again, I do not think that this
helps us in fully comprehending what I am describing as the flip side of media
globalization with respect to the reverse flow (that changes the
binary from global/local
to local/global) of media products originating in home countries
(local) and consumed by
the diaspora (global). In this case the dominant ideology is a local
that faces resistance from the global (post-national/modern/western).
To conceptualize this flip side, I call attention to some of the
on globalization from the 'flows' perspective. Discussing these
"global cultural flows",
Hannerz (1997) agrees with the editorial stance of Public Culture
that called upon
scholars to understand and interpret these flows from new
perspectives. He saw Arjun
Appadurai's "global cultural economy" perspective as one of the ways
these global cultural flows. Describing modernity in the context of
Appadurai (1996) described it as "deterritorialization". By
"deterritorialization" he meant
cultural flows that are free of being situated within geographic
territory of nation-states. I
would suggest a fusion between the concepts of "deterritorialization"
communities" from a post nation-state perspective (Appadurai, 1996;
Anderson, 1991). I
hence would argue that the global mass media that are reaching out to
constructing their own 'deterritorialized-imagined communities' on a
global scale. As
mentioned above Appadurai argued that global cultural flows produce a sense of
"deterritorialization." He describes this "deterritorialization" in
terms of "scapes". To
understand globalization from a deterritorialized perspective he
suggested five scapes:
"ethnoscapes", "mediascapes", "technoscapes", "finanscapes", and "ideoscapes"
(Appadurai, 1990, p.9).
So within this context of media globalization, Bollywood movies can
as "mediascapes" that are consumed by the subjects in Indian
in the diaspora and the homeland). And if Bollywood movies constitute such
"mediascapes" and "ethnoscapes" they should construct a sense of
that transcends the geographical boundaries of nation state. For Appadurai,
deterritorialization from a new geographical paradigm is an
indication of a "postnational"
stage that encompasses cultural, social, and economic forces. These
interconnected repertoires of print, celluloid, electronic screens
and billboards produce
their own global public culture of ethnic communities. On a global
movies are constituents of the public culture of the Indian diaspora.
And in this sense it is
significantly different from national culture. Madhav Prasad (1998)
in his influential
work, Ideology of the Hindi Cinema had taken a national culture
approach to Hindi
movies. From an ideological perspective does construction of public
culture result from
shift in ideology. But before we explore it further in the text, let
me locate the
relationship between ideology and movies, and the case of Bollywood movies in
Ideology and Movies
Movies have to be studied with respect to the relationship between cinema and
cultures in which they are produced and consumed, the text and the
context, and the
ideology that permeates conditions of production and consumption. In
the issue of
Screen, vol. 4, 1978, devoted to the cinematic representation and
negotiation of ideology,
politics, and economics, MacCabe (1978) stated that the analysis
should identify the
ideological practices embedded in the text. He argued that cinema
represents reality as
seen through the prism of ideology. Some scholars argued that films
are the product of
specific economic systems and the product of the ideology of the
economic system that
produces and sells them (Comolli and Narboni, 2004). I would argue
MacCabe that in Bollywood movies we see a negotiation at ideological
tradition and the economic system. From a cultural studies
perspective, the interplay of
the relationship between economic, politics and ideology can be examined from
Gramscian and Althusserrian perspectives.
The "relative autonomy of ideology" from the economic base and the
elements are present in the Bollywood movies (Althusser, 1977; Gramsci,
1988; Prasad, 1998). Prasad (1998) states that even though strains of
can be identified in Hindi movies, overall they are free of state
ideology and are rooted in
what Prasad describes as "backward capitalist" organizational
structure. Here, Prasad
arguably seems to be stating that in comparison to other forms of
and Hollywood film industry the Hindi film industry was not run and
managed at the
level of corporations, a sign of advancement from the perspective of
But as Prasad (1998) also argued that political and economic structure are
constitutive in cultural production such as cinema, which in this
case of Hindi cinema
was an eclectic mix of early capitalism in its organizational
structure and Nehruvian
socialism. Hindi movies, as stated by Prasad (1998), were woven
around the idea of
feudal family romance, patriarchy, realism and melodrama. He reported
that there was
evidence that Hindi movies had bought into the socialist ideology and
consumerism and idealized scarcity and experimented with social
justice. It is important
to note here that Prasad's work, being historical in approach, did
not specifically address
the changes taking place in 1990s when the global Non Resident Indian
a phenomenon and the market potential of this niche audience was
noticed by the
Bollywood film industry. So it would valid question to ask do Bollywood movies
similarly are an eclectic mix of globalization and traditional culture.
Globalization in the case of India looked at from the perspective of
liberalization that was started in 1991, has had significant impact
on the economic
operations of the Indian movies. It is not a coincidence that the
1990s also witnessed the
rise of Bollywood movies at an unprecedented scale among the Indian diaspora
(Gokulsing, 2004; Kabir, 2001; Pendakur, 2003). With this
globalization, it is possible
that the ideological grounding of Indian movies has experienced a
shift from earlier
ideology to a new kind of blending with free market capitalism or
what Lowe (2001)
describes as "global network capitalism", and that such a such a
shift is negotiated in the
filmic texts themselves.
Lowe (2001) writes that globalization is a re-invention and
adaptation of neocapitalism
and capitalist elites to overcome the systemic crises faced by a Fordist
economy. The Indian film industry, built as a "backward capitalist
1998), was undergoing a major financial and systemic crisis during
1980s with dropping
box office revenues because of video piracy and overall slowing of
the economy (Mittal,
1995; Oommen, 1991). The emergence of the global market along with economic
liberalization at home contributed to the re-invention of Bollywood
in its new global
avatar. The "backward capitalist organization" of the Bollywood film
industry has reinvented
itself through global network capitalism and incorporation since
business of filmmaking as an industry by the government in 2001.
First the re-invention
came in the form of videotapes. Bollywood saw videotapes as an
opportunity to market
its movies to the diaspora in the absence of theatre space. And now
they are doing it with
DVDs and Internet movie websites.iv Lowe (2001) argues that through
communication technology a new form of hegemony is being constructed
in the realm of
communication and cultural symbols. Globalization of the
informational economy has
moved away from mass consumption and mass audiences to 'niche' consumers and
fragmented audiences; and in the process is producing commodity-based symbolic
identities. And the 'global Indian' in the cosmopolitan cities at
home and in the diaspora
is such a 'niche' consumer.
Some scholars have argued that media images, including Bollywood movies, have
come to represent this new hegemonic ideology of "free market"
liberalism and middle
class identity based on global consumption patterns (Fernandes, 2000;
Juluri, 2002; Khan
and Debroy, 2002). So in Bollywood movies that are made keeping the diasporic
audiences in view, the ideological subtexts are globalization and
market driven network
capitalism.v There is some evidence that suggests that Bollywood
filmmakers are making
movies keeping the diaspora in view, even though the majority of
audiences are still in
the homeland. Mehta (2005) quotes Aditya Chopra, an Indian filmmaker,
saying that they
have to make films keeping both the diasporic and home audiences in
popular Indian movies have also to cater to the audiences at home,
the majority of whom
are far removed from the discourse of globalization. Karan Johar, the
producer of Kal Ho
Naa Ho, was reported as saying, "We have to cater to the Indian
Yuppie in New York
and the man in rural Bihar" (Kabir, 2004, p.7.). Incidentally Bihar
is the most far
removed, rural, and socio-economically backward state in India. It is
to be explored how
the filmmakers embed traditional values and symbols of refusal, simultaneously
producing a counterdiscourse of globalization in form and content
while exploiting the
market as the logic of global network capitalism. In keeping with the
of relative autonomy Gramscian possibilities of resistance, some
filmmakers could be
working "within the system" and some might be resisting ideologies of
recent Bollywood movies, the effects of globalization are such that
within one single text
we might see a negotiation between the hegemonic ideology of the
and the emergent ideology of globalization working itself out both in
form and content.
From an active audience (spectator) perspective, the consumer can
take part in this
negotiation thus socially construct his/her own identity in response
to the narrative and
images (Srinivas, 2002).In the process of this negotiation between
homeland and adopted
land new hybrid ethnicities emerge. These new ethnicities were
defined by Bhabha
(1994) and Stuart Hall (1990) using the concept of cultural hybridity.
Diasporic identity as a negotiation in hybridity:
The concept of cultural hybridity as defined by Bhabha (1994) and Hall (1990)
can be used to explain the discursive identity of the immigrants in
the diaspora, although,
the idea of immigrants negotiating their identities in the process of
by ethnic media with reference to immigrants is not new. Robert Park
(1950) in his study
of the process of immigrant assimilation and the role of immigrant
press came up with
the idea of "the marginal man" that describes an immigrant living in
vi In W.E.B. Dubois (1996) and Frantz Fanon (1982), the double
consciousness takes a radical turn that becomes a problem of
co-existence. This doubleconsciousness
also figures in Paul Gilroy's (1993) approach to Black identity, which is
rooted in the experiences of slavery and forced uprooting in Western
societies. It is
negotiated as modernity that transcends the constraints of ethnicity
constructing a trans-Atlantic Black identity. In this respect
Bhabha's idea of hybridity
that is rooted in the colonial experience, makes immigrant identity a
problem of coexistence,
not in a multicultural sense, but in the emergence of "the third
Bhabha's concept of hybridity that originated in his study of the
interaction of the
native with the colonial has come a long way in its application in a
but the essential idea of hybridization has remained the same. Bhabha
(1994, pp. 102-
122) saw in the colonial interaction between the native and the
colonial authority a site of
cultural hybridization. From this perspective it would be too
simplistic to see the colonial
as just repression of local traditions. Bhabha argues that colonial
discourses were sites of
resistance and negotiation. We can see within the globalization
discourse similar sites of
resistance and negotiation. In the case of post-colonial immigrant
experience, for instance
the cultural flows are the new sites of resistance and negotiation. I
Bollywood film is one such site that assumes major significance
because of its centrality
in the public culture of the Indian diaspora.
Similarly modernity is not just the product of repression of
tradition but can be
seen as a mutation, a hybrid. Indian movies can be seen as a site of
tradition and modernity (Nandy, 1998; Prasad, 1998). Movies that were
colonizers' progress and modernity became sites of "domination
(Bhabha, 1994). And perhaps it can be explained in terms of the
negotiation in hybridity
that Indians from different cultural and ethnic settings underwent in
the early part of the
20th century when they moved from the villages to cosmopolitan urban
settings such as
Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, and Delhi. The narrative form of Indian
movies can also be
sees as a hybrid between the narrative structures of films in the West and the
natyashastra tradition of Indian aesthetics and the narrative form of
Identity construction in popular culture is about transformation and
Stuart Hall (1990) saw as significant to cultural hybridity and
construction of identity. In
Nation and Narration Bhabha (1990) sees the identity of a nation as a
construction" that is a product of "hybrid" interactions between
constituencies. Bhabha (1994) views this cultural hybridity as
negotiation between the
adopted land of the immigrant and the homeland, creating a "third
space" or "liminal" or
"interstitial" space that becomes the site of hybridization.
According to Bhabha this
"liminal" space is the site of production of meaning. I would argue
movies represent such a "third space", both in the Indian local
context, where cultural
production has been a negotiation in hybridity between contending
cultural traditions of
the largely rural India and metropolitan Bollywood, and also in the
context of the flip side
of globalization. Bollywood movies have traditionally practiced
hybridization in a
multicultural and multiethno-linguistic society (Chatterjee, 1995;
Lutze, 1985, Nandy,
Hybridization in Indian Movies:
Bollywood filmmakers who also come from different cultural and ethnic
backgrounds play a significant role in constructing Indian national
with many sub-national identities in the Indian nation-state many of
them have their own
well developed cinemas (Chakravarty, 1993; Edensor, 2002, Lal, 1998,
Vasudevan, 2000, Virdi, 2003). Blackledge (2002) argues that in
heterogeneous societies, dominant language ideology is constructed
and reconstructed in
the discourse at all levels in the media. In the case of India, Hindi
is the pre-eminent
language of movies made in Mumbai, but as filmmakers are sensitive to
angularities of multilingual India they have over the years
constructed and reconstructed
the language of Bollywood movies as 'Hindustani'. (It is similar to a
in the news media, in the form and content of "Hinglish"vii, a
combination of English,
Hindi and Punjabi).
The dominant linguistic ideology in Bollywood is still that of Hindi-Urdu with
strong influence of Punjabi. The construction of Indianness in the
linguistic hybrid of
"Hindustani" by the filmmakers, points out that not always all
cultural interactions in a
multicultural society is structured hierarchically. Hence one of the
aspects of this cultural hybridity in the Bollywood movies is
language.viii So called
'Hindi' movies are made in a language that is a hybrid of the many
languages, especially Urdu (the language of the Muslim minority),
Punjabi, and Marathi
(the language spoken in the state of Maharashtra where the Bollywood
film industry is
located) (Boyk, 2004, Kesavan, 1994)). Thus the language of Bollywood
films is also
sometimes called as 'Hindustani'. And interestingly, even the
identity construction in
these movies is signified as 'Hindustani'.
Indian popular movies made in Bollywood have traditionally constructed hybrid
identities in their narrative and characterization as well. In most
cases it is difficult to
identify the protagonist with one ethnic identity. The protagonists
are a mélange of
ethnicities. Filmmakers came to Bollywood from diverse cultural and
and were conscious of the fact that they were making movies for
audiences spread across
different ethno-linguistic and religious cultural settings. They
constructed a mélange in
language, clothes, studio sets, and even outdoor locations
(Chatterjee, 1995; Lutze, 1985,
Thus, the long-established hybridity in Bollywood films has to be reworked in
new ways to accommodate and appeal to diasporic audiences and to a context of
globalization. The narratives of movies and television play a crucial
role in self-image
construction of the audiences (Featherstone, 1996). And Indian movies
are seen as a
negotiation in parallel discourses of globalism, localism, ethnicity,
nationalism, race and
religion (Durham, 2004). The texts might currently represent
hybridity with which both
the diaspora and audiences at home can identify. In this case, the
texts might attempt to
negotiate multiple identities while simultaneously negotiating
hegemony and resistance
in their ideological structures in the context of globalization's
flip side. To investigate the
issues discussed I propose the following research questions:
R.Q.1: Do Bollywood movies produced keeping diasporic audiences in
deterritorialized public culture or they are still vanguards of
R.Q.2: Do Bollywood movies construct global or hybrid Indian
identities in keeping with
the idea of deterritorialized imagined communities, and if so what
are the textual markers
of such identities?
R.Q. 3: Do the texts of Bollywood movies exhibit both affirmation and
globalization within the dialectic of local/global?
The method is dictated by the research questions posed and the
selection of the
'artifact'/document (Foss, 1996). To address the questions posed
about Bollywood and
the Indian diaspora, the 'artifact' selected, in this case a movie
has to be representative of
the dialectic of the local/global phenomenon of the mass media
globalization from a
cultural flow perspective; and as a mass media product it should
epitomize the market
capitalization of global network capitalism. The movie I have
selected, Kal Ho Naa Ho
(Tomorrow may never come), fulfills these criteria of
representative-ness. It was released
globally in November 2003 (Kehr, 2003).
Kal Ho Naa Ho opened to full houses in New York, Fremont, Los Angeles, and
Houston, in 52 theatres across the United States (Pais, 2003). It was
one of the biggest
Bollywood successes at the box office in India, the United States and
Kingdom (Trade Guide, January 10, 2004). The film was shot in New
York City, and
depicted the life of an immigrant Indian-American family living in
New York (Kehr,
2003). These geographic and demographic tropes are part of a
deliberate attempt by the
filmmaker to identify with diasporic audiences (Ganti, 2004). The
fact that Kal Ho Naa
Ho was made keeping diasporic audiences in mind, and was a phenomenal
it a good representative 'artifact' for the current purpose.
Following Foss (1996), I would argue that the method best suited for
purpose is narrative textual analysis that uses the tools of
ideological criticism, taking a
structuralist-semiotic approach. There is a long tradition of the use
of this type of method
in literature that deals with ideology, culture and identity in the
movies and television
(Eco, 1985; Fiske, 1987; Foss, 1996; Metz, 2004a, 2004b; Mitra, 1999;
2000; Turner, 1999; Sieter, 1992). Metz (2004) has argued that cinema
is a semiotic
system. It is a multilayered and complex text that has all the
elements: visual image,
written language, and audio (voice, music, and sound effects) (Metz,
2004). And cinema,
like every text, relies on a "semiotic convention" in the
construction of its signification
(Eco, 1985). Through a representation of different discursive and
material practices it
carries contesting ideologies and constructs identities. Every
signification in a movie is a
negotiation over meaning and is struggle between the ideological
'points of view' of the
producers and the audiences (Hall, 1982).ix In the case of Bollywood
movies and the
diaspora, these ideological 'points of view' can be seen in terms of
local national culture
(local) and public culture (global). As Turner (1999) points out,
while film texts contain
internally contradictory codes, they reproduce culture and nation.
Scholars have argued that filmmakers make deliberate choices while editing a
film, connecting frames using syntagmatic and paradigmatic codes that
desired/preferred meaning (Fiske, 1987; Metz, 2004; Prasad, 1998,
2000; Seiter, 1992).
The narrative is constructed with the use of cultural and ideological
codes (Hall, 2002).
And as Barthes (2002) argued, the narrative is anchored; the text is
structured, in such a
way that it leads the reader to receive the signifieds. Prasad (2000)
had used the
syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis of frames in Bollywood films to
ideological codes. I will be using a similar approach to identify the
signification at an ideological level in Kal Ho Naa Ho..
To answer the questions posed by the paper, the hegemonic ideology will be
identified within the text, and for this purpose the method of
ideological critical analysis
is well suited. Some of the hegemonic ideological elements that have
been identified in
the literature on Bollywood movies are represented by discursive and
depicting cultural, religious, family, and gender values (Gokulsing,
1993; Nandy, 1998; Nasreen, 2001; Prasad, 1998). Following the steps
suggested by Foss
(1996) I will trace the ideologies embedded in the codes that
underlie the signification in
the movie. I will identify the nature of the ideologies, the
interests that are included in the
movie, and the strategies used to support the ideology.
The 'point of view' of cinema is a "national fiction" (Mitra, 1999),
because a film
is a culmination of choices made in the representation of the
cultural, religious, and
"material practices" and "everyday life" (Hebdige, 1979, Williams, 1961) of
communities. It can be said that Bollywood cinema is creating a
'diasporic fiction', a
social construction, by making choices in its representation of
"material practices" and
"everyday life" of the diaspora. As mentioned earlier, because of the
fact that Bollywood
producers are targeting both audiences in India and in the diaspora,
they would be
constructing hybridization in the representation of the "material
practices" (food, clothes,
material symbols rooted in traditions and religion, etc.) and
"everyday life" (the family
routine and the outdoor routine). Identifying these hybrid practices
can give us an idea of
the construction of 'hybrid identities' as opposed to 'national
identity' in Bollywood
movies, and help in dealing with questions about hybrid identities.
In the following sections, I will give in brief the plot of the
narrative (story) of
Kal Ho Naa Ho, and then conduct analysis of the film identifying its
hybrid elements. It will be followed by discussion on the elements
identified from the
perspective of the conceptual framework and the research questions posed.
The plot of the movie:
Kal Ho Naa Ho on the level of genre is a popular Bollywood movie. It
is a mix of
romance, comedy and pathos (Kehr, 2003). It is a story of an émigré
Indian family living
in New York City. The story is autobiographical, and is told by one
of the characters in
the plot, Naina Catherine Kapur (played by Preity Zinta, one of the
leading actresses of
Bollywood). It has six songs and as in any Bollywood movie they are
integral to its
semantic structure. Naina is a young woman who is studying for an MBA
and living with
her family that comprises her mother, paternal grandmother, and two
siblings. She is
unmarried and to her chagrin her grandmother is searching for a
suitable Sikh (Punjabi)
groom. The grandmother and her mother do not have a good relationship
and are shown
constantly squabbling. The family is going through difficult times.
The family restaurant
business is not doing well and they are defaulting on a bank loan.
The mother, Jennifer
Catherine Kapur, reassures the children that God will send an angel
to help them.
Meanwhile, outside the family pathos, Naina has a flirtatious
friendship with classmate
Rohit Patel (played by Saif Ali Khan).
And then one day a visitor from India comes to the neighborhood. The visitor,
Aman Mathur (played by Shah Rukh Khan, a leading actor of Bollywood), is
"infectiously optimistic and energetic" (Kehr, 2003). His presence in
brings sunshine in the otherwise gloomy environment. He is the
"angel" the family was
hoping for. Naina falls in love with Aman. But Aman, who has a fatal
heart problem of
which she does not come to know till the end of the movie, does not
reciprocate her love.
Instead, like a good Samaritan he sets on a mission to get Naina and
Rohit together. The
"angel" in the life of Naina's family helps them come out of their
financial mess, gets
Niana and Rohit married, and resolves the differences between the
in-laws. On the sides
there are other significant characters, two sisters whom are friends
of Jennifer and Naina,
Aman's mother and doctor, and Rohit's parents and maid.
In brief this is the plot of a 150 minutes long celluloid fantasy.
Like any film the
signification is constructed by a complex interaction and a play of
difference between the
semantic elements: visual image, written language, and audio
including the songs. The
structuralist-semiotic analysis of the text brought up themes that
will help in discovering
the ideological sub-text and the construction of hybrid identities in
Autobiographical narrative structure: The movie uses an autobiographical
narrative structure to tell the story. The story is told by a young
Indian émigré woman.
The narrative structure could be an attempt to establish credibility
with the diasporic
audiences, especially the young; giving it a touch of authenticity,
but not necessarily
construction of realism.
New York, a global city: The movie begins with the narrator, Naina, jogging
through the streets of New York and introducing the audience to the
city. She says, "New
York, one of the world's biggest cities…the business capital of the
of the city, every heartbeat is defined by pace…people are always in
a hurry…in a hurry
to leave home…in a hurry to reach the office…to be a step or two
ahead of life. There is
no place for anyone, who cannot cope with its pace… Miles away from
India…the city is
crowded with Indians." With the monologue the film situates itself in
environment, with New York City as the center of the new global economy.
Language: The language of the film is a mixture of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi,
Gujarati, and English. Bollywood has traditionally constructed its
language as a hybrid,
also sometimes referred to as Hindustani (Boyk, 2004; Kesavan, 1994). The film
constructs a hybrid by incorporating American ways of
hailing/addressing such as,
"cool", "sexy", "babe", "jerk", and "dog". The women are referred to
in the movie many
times as "sexy". The connotation here seems to be beautiful and
pretty, as any real sexual
references are missing. Naina refers to Rohit as a 'jerk'. Aman
addresses Rohit as "dog",
there is an obvious reference to the style of hailing in hip hop
culture. The evidence of
mélange in the language seems to be an attempt to construct hybridity
and identify with
the diasporic audience.
The Star-Spangled Banner and other signs taken for America (Global):
Though the plot of the movie is set in New York City, there are no
white, black, or other
ethnic American characters in the film. Non-Indian American
characters are conspicuous
by their absence. Rohit Patel works in an advertising agency, where
almost all the
workers are white Americans, but none of them are featured, they just
move around in the
background. Both Naina and Rohit are studying at a business school
but once again this
locale just remains in the background, with no non-Indian American students or
professors featured in the film. The banker with whom Jennifer pleads
for extension of
her loan is also has an Indian name. Even Aman who has come to
America for medical
treatment has an émigré Indian doctor. America and global culture are
brought into the
movie through the use of signs. The movie uses signs that point to
connotations. The signs have been deliberately used and most often
they seem to work
quite effectively in bringing America into the movie, as an other
that looms large in the
The American flag looms large over the screen. The very first song in
has people waving the star spangled banner. People from all races,
Asians, etc. are shown dancing with huge American flags in the
background. There is a
deliberate attempt to signify loyalty to the adopted land. The song
itself is a mix of Indian
Bhangra and American Rap.
Some of the salient signs that have been strategically blended into
the film are the
New York skyline, the American flag, the Merrill Lynch bull, glazed
muffins, large cappuccinos to go, cereals for breakfast, jogging in
the street and
central park, and a blind date. The food figures while the characters
are in a hurry and
stop at a fast food joint to pick something that they eat while
walking on the street,
perhaps an attempt to show the fast paced lifestyle of New York. The
Merrill Lynch bull
is the most conspicuous landmark that figures many times in the
movie. As a sign it can
be seen as connoting global network capitalism.
Life is not easy in the West: The story is about a working class
family living in a
working class neighborhood. Naina's mother Jennifer runs a restaurant
that is not doing
well. She is shown pleading on the phone with a banker requesting for
an extension on
her loan. And then Naina enters sorting the mail and saying, "bills…
bills… bills!" The
connotation is that the family is struggling to make ends meet. Life
is not easy in this big
city, and by inference in the West. From the diasporic perspective
this could be taken as a
depiction of reality. It is like any other place. One has to work
hard to make a living
Indian tradition fills values that are missing in the West: The film
individualism of the West and the communitarian values of the East. A
big global city is
the backdrop against which the whole movie is painted. New York City
success of the West and its modernity that has attracted many
Indians. But then there are
certain things that are good and valuable in India. Some old Indian
traditions cannot be
found in the West. Naina's mother and grandmother have a quarrelsome
nagging grandmother hates her mother and is an irritant and a burden,
but Naina knows
that she is their responsibility, and cannot be asked to leave. Older
parents are the
responsibility of the children. Naina says, "The city has taught me
to be independent and
fulfill my responsibilities, but it could not teach me to love." And
in the film Aman, who
is visiting from India, teaches her to love and resolves the
differences between the mother
and the grandmother. This evidence suggests a use of a dominant
which places India as superior to the West.
An Angel comes from India: Facing difficult days, Jennifer, Naina's mother,
tells her two younger kids, "Jesus will send an angel to wipe our
tears…An Angel will
come and bring lots of happiness and will take our sorrows away."
(The religious identity
of the family is constructed as a hybrid of Sikh-Hindu-Christian. It
will be explored
later.) And when the little one asks, when will the Angel come, the
shot cuts and shows a
man, with his back towards the audience, standing on a boat that is
moving towards the
New York shoreline, with the Manhattan skyline in view. And then the
shot again cuts
back and shows that the family is praying and a man standing on a
neighboring balcony is
watching. He is the same man who was on the boat. And once again the
shot cuts and
shows that earlier in the day the same man had collided with Naina
spilling her coffee, on
her clothes, at the railway station. The scenes in the shot are not
linked at a syntagmatic
level but at a paradigmatic level they are sequenced to construct the
metaphor, 'An Angel
comes from India.' It can also be seen as a possible signification
suggesting to the
diaspora to welcome a newly arrived immigrant from the homeland.
Hindustan in America: One of the desires of Naina's grandmother is that her
native Punjab becomes a part of New York. The connotation seems to be that the
diaspora misses the cultural homeland but values the good life and
prosperity of the
adopted land. As the restaurant business is not doing well, Aman recommends to
Jennifer to remodel her restaurant, from a regular American
restaurant, to an ethnic
Indian restaurant. He states that the Chinese restaurant in the
neighborhood is doing well
because, "they have brought their culture and country to this place."
He goes on to give
an impromptu speech, "We have a great advantage, which we must make use of…and
that advantage is Hindustan…We must get Hindustan to New York…We have to get
Hindustan here, bring it to the streets, spread it in all
directions." When Naina replies, "I
do not believe in this nonsense", Aman asks her to shut up and says
Hindustan can do anything, anywhere…anytime." While making the
speech, Aman does
not say "India". He says Hindustan. The connotation here seems to be
that India is a
nation-state and Hindustan is a culture; a set of core values that is
shared by multiethnic
people of India. The re-modeled restaurant is named "New Delhi
Restaurant". The Indian
union constitutes of ethnolinguistic states and New Delhi is the
capital, representing an
all-India identity. Calling everyone to put their effort into the
task of re-modeling, Aman
says, "Come on all-India", making a reference to Indian immigrants
from all the states
that constitute India.
Hindustani identity (Cultural unity of multiethnic Indians): The movie has
émigré Indian characters from different religions and ethnicity.
Naina's wedding with
Rohit Patel is mentioned as a marriage between Punjab and Gujarat.
Naina's mother is
Christian and Grandmother Sikh-Punjabi, Rohit is Hindu and Gujarati,
Aman's uncle is
Hindu. Names in India signify ethnicity, especially the last names.
In the beginning of
the movie the narrator says, "I am Naina Catherine Kapur and this is
my story". And at
the end of the movie she gives her name once again as "Naina
Catherine Kapur Patel."
She is now a hybrid of Hindu, Christian, Punjabi and Gujarati.
Ethnic differences and conflicts that the characters have, gets
resolved by the end
of the movie. Jennifer's Jesus and Grandmother's Guru Nanak get a
place on the same
wall. The middle name Catherine could also be representing America,
the Christian West.
The ethnicity of Naina's mother, from whose name the protagonist gets
her the middle
name, is left ambiguous in the movie. She is shown as a Christian and
is chided in the
movie by her mother-in-law because she does not know how to cook
Indian food. This
could be an attempt to signify a western identity in the construction
of her character.
When Aman, who is a Hindu, goes to a Church service with Jennifer and
Naina, they ask
him did he like their service. He says, "Yes, it was good and I would
like to come every
Sunday." Here again there is a connotation that suggests that the
diaspora should not only
respect but also subsume all that is good of the Christian West. It
refers to the value of
coexistence in the idea of hybridity.
Arranged Marriage: There is ambiguity in Naina's attitude towards the
traditional idea of arranged marriage; when she comes to know that
her grandmother is
looking for a groom, she tells her mother, "I do not want to get married, why
grandmother doesn't leave me alone?" When her grandmother shows her
three potential grooms she says "I am not interested in marrying
anyone….one, two or
three." She is not depicted explicitly saying that she will find
somebody, but the idea is
that she has to know the person before she marries him.
Later when she responds to Rohit's love, the whole affair is shown to have the
blessings of the two families. It is an "arranged love marriage"
(Uberoi, 1988). There is
once again a clever use of editing at a paradigmatic level. When
Rohit is shown
proposing to Naina, the scene takes place in a church and when Naina
proposal, the church bells sound in the background, an obvious
indication of blessings
from a Christian God and then the scene cuts and takes the audience
to her home where
everyone is shown rejoicing at the news.
Indian womanhood: The construction of Indian womanhood takes place at two
levels in the movie. One is that of a young unmarried woman, whose
destiny is to get
married and become a mother, and the other is that of a mother who
has to take care of
her children. Any other woman is a constructed as deviant. Naina and
Jennifer as Indian
émigré women, living in the West, are constructed as hybrids between
the idea of
emancipated womanhood in the west and the traditional patriarchal
gender in India. Naina is doing an MBA and wants to be successful.
She is proud of her
mother, who has provided for the family after the death of her
father, but yet misses the
presence of a strong man in the family. She and her mother are
contrasted with two other
Indian émigré women. These are two sisters, the younger one of whom
is on a lookout for
a man on a "blind date", and thinks dating is "cool". Her elder
sister, who is Jennifer's
friend and business partner, is unmarried and is depicted as a
nymphomaniac. She says in
the movie, "Love is the body's hunger." Though the sisters are
depicted as "good
persons", they are contrasted as deviant when compared with Naina and
Construction of woman as "mother" is a strong 'sign' in the film and it takes
place at a paradigmatic level. Woman as a mother is shown from the
perspective of a son.
In this case the son is Aman. His relationship with his mother is
depicted with the use of
paradigmatic frames that are sequenced with frames showing his
Jennifer. Aman says to Naina, "Whatever I have done, I did for those
eyes. You know I
have a problem…I cannot see any mother's sorrow or pain…" It is a patriarchic
construction. Naina the grown-up daughter, who is smart enough to jog
alone on the
streets of New York and to study in a Business School, does not bring
Jennifer. Aman is the man and the grown up son that Jennifer did not
have. In the latter
part of the movie where because of Aman's cajoling Naina has accepted
and the whole family is shown rejoicing, a frame shows Aman being
hugged by his
mother, Jennifer and the grandmother, suggesting how grateful the
mothers were for
having such a son. If we contrast this with the mother-daughter
relationship between Naina and her mother is that of two women. Naina
and Jennifer are
shown many times in the movie talking about love and life in general
like two women
sharing their experiences. But Naina's mother is never shown
discussing problems in her
business with her.
To see how the themes and the signs identified in the text help in
research questions posed, in the following section I will discuss
them from the
perspective of the conceptual framework of this paper.
Even though the movie affirms the ideology of globalization and global network
capitalism, on which it depends for its own economic success, the ideology of
globalization is not the dominant theme in the movie. The movie is a
strong example of
hegemony of the local ideology. The evidence for it can be noticed in
two major themes
in the movie. An angel comes from India and brings happiness back
into the life of an
émigré Indian family. And the movie at every moment of signification,
where there is a
conflict between the global and the local values, constructs the
local as hegemonic.
The analysis shows that the movie remains a vanguard of national culture, as
represented through its promotion of core Hindustani values of
patriarchy, family, unity
of religions, and the Indian concept of womanhood as wife and mother.
But as the movie
has been made keeping diasporic audiences in view, there are
evidences in the text of
hybridization as well as hegemony, as identified in the themes that
show an attempt made
in the narrative strategies to use material and discursive
significations that represent a
"public culture" (Appadurai and Breckenridge, 1989) .
The construction of Indian identity as Hindustani in the movie gives
it a public
culture at the level of 'ethnoscape' and makes it free of the
nation-state which is
restricted by geography. And the fact that the movie was so well
received by the
diasporic audiences also suggests that it succeeded in becoming part
of the public culture
of the diaspora.
As mentioned earlier the movie tells the story of an Indian émigré
family living in
New York City. But there are no non-Indian American characters. If we
take out the
location and the material and discursive markers in the text, then
what is left is India. The
movie is a typical example of the failure of Bollywood movies to
imagine the 'other'
(Lal, 1998). The only way the 'other' is constructed is through
subsumption of cultural
markers within hybrid characters such as Naina Catherine Kapur Patel.
suggest that all identities are hybrid in some sense as is suggested
by the movie, the
protagonist mentions her name in the beginning of the movie, "Naina
a hybrid of Sikh, Christian/Western, Punjabi identity. And at the end
of the movie she
once again mentions her name, "Naina Catherine Kapur Patel", a hybrid of Sikh-
Christain/Western-Hindu-Punjabi-Gujarati identity. The movie attempts
to construct a
hybrid identity of diasporic Indians as Hindustani-American-global.
For émigré Indians in the diaspora to identify with the characters in
the movie the
filmmaker uses a strategy of hybridization and constructs a mélange
of global (America)
and local (India). Employing its time-tested strategy of Bollywood of
film uses significant material and discursive markers with some
American slang thrown
here and there, food, the Merrill Lynch bull, etc to construct hybrid
protagonist jogs in the streets of New York City, wears global urban
clothes, is studying
for MBA, wants to be independent and successful and speaks Hindi and
English, and she
also holds onto traditional Indian values. Naina is thus constructed
as a "global desi"
The other émigré Indian characters, such as Jennifer and Rohit, are similar
hybrids with strong Indian consciousness. For example, when it comes
Naina and Rohit are opposed to the idea that their parents can choose
whom they have to marry, but then they seem to accept that marriage
is also between
families, suggesting merit in the system of arranged marriages. If we
look at this from the
perspective of Bhabha's concept of "hybridity" (1994), the concept of
marriage here is a
hybrid, an arranged-love marriage. The film undertakes similar
constructions that hold on
to certain core values associated with Hindustani culture that even
the diasporic Indians
are not ready to give away easily.
Jennifer is a hybrid construction of motherhood and wife. She forgives her
husband for having an extramarital affair and is even raising his
daughter from the affair
as her own child. Jennifer is a tough and independent woman who works
hard to raise her
family but she is also constructed as a typical submissive Indian
woman who loves her
husband unconditionally. She is first a mother and then a woman. The
movie builds on
Indian concept of "motherhood" rooted in the ideology of patriarchy. Using the
cinematic strategy of paradigmatic editing constructs a patriarchic concept of
'womanhood' that binds the three women, Jennifer (émigré Indian),
(Indian), and grandmother (past generation). The film's sub-text is
that an Indian mother
even when living in the West is no different from the mother in the
traditional ideology of patriarchy identified by Prasad (1998) in
Hindi cinema is found to
be hegemonic in the movie. There is evidence of relative autonomy in
the movie at the
level of ideology when it comes to "global network capitalism." At
the social level the
movie demonstrates the dominance of the local over the global.
The concept of hybridity is about co-existence in the movie. Global
with prosperity, modernity, multiculturalism, and success of the
The filmmaker uses signs in strategic ways in the movie to express
their affirmation to
the values represented by global America. For example, the use of the
American flag and
Merrill Lynch bull are global symbols and symbol of loyalty to the
adopted land. They
signify an affirmation to the ideology of
globalization/Americanization. But then Aman,
who is visiting from India and is given angelic connotations, calls
upon the diasporic
community to recognize that they have something unique to bring to
this new land and
that unique thing is Hindustani culture. There is reference to
another large disaporic
community from the East in the movie, the Chinese, who have succeeded
in bring the
local in the global. By portraying competition between an Indian
owned restaurant and
one that is Chinese owned, the movie suggests to the audience that
the local cultures of
India and China are competitors in the new global economy.
Coming back to the phenomenon of globalization and the flip side of the
global/local dialectic, I would argue using the evidence that emerges
from the analysis of
Kal Ho Naa Ho that Bollywood movies represent a symptomatic feature of this
phenomenon. In the construction of identities the text exhibits
hybridization. The movie
fixes and assigns the 'other' and through the process of disavowal
otherness in its construction of hybrids. There is strong evidence
suggesting that the core
Hindustani values are dominant and there is evidence of domination
At a cultural level the local becomes hegemonic whereas the global is
a resistant or
incorporated ideology in the 'third space'. Diaspora audiences are
sharing experiences in
the Bollywood 'mediascapes' and are constructing 'ethnoscapes', a
communitiy of global desis..
From the perspective of media globalization this flip side has tremendous
implications for theories of national identity, post-colonialism and
the switching of the dialectic from global/local to local/global the
dominance of the local
ideology is resurfacing with the concurrent subsumption of the
ideology within 'mediascapes'. The flip side has switched the slogan
and locally" to "thinking locally and acting globally."It also
suggests that at a cultural
level the idea of the nation is not fading away, it is re-inventing
itself in a deterritorialzed
environment. The "trope of the tribe" (Appadurai, 1993) and the
imagined attachment to
the homeland are being strengthened as a consequence of the flip side of media
globalization. It is constructing a deterritorialized nationalism,
which emerges in the
'third space' between the adopted land and the homeland.
Safran (1991) defines the diaspora in terms of the desire to someday
return to the homeland and therefore
the need to stay connected with the communal consciousness.
India has world's largest film industry. On average more than 800
movies are made each year in all the
major Indian languages. The Bombay film Industry that makes movies in
Hindi is the largest and has been
referred to as Bollywood by the film press in India, and more in
scholarly literature and it is resented by the
majority of filmmakers.
The Government of India, in the legal parlance uses this term to
refer to Indians in the diaspora. Many
people in the Indian diaspora refer to themselves as Non Resident
See Mary Gillespie (1989), Technology and tradition: Audio visual
culture among South Asian families
in West London. Indian movies were first distributed through video
rental libraries run by Indian grocery
stores in the United States and Britain before exhibiting movies in
theatres become economically viable on
a large scale. Today large DVD rental websites such as NetFlix.com
market Bollywood movies. In the last
few years many Internet websites have come up that use broadband
technology that uses streaming video to
show Indian movies on the Internet. Some of the popular ones are,
www.teluguone.com, www.malayalammovies.com, and www.tamilmovies.com.
v Arguably it can be said that the audiences in the major cities of
India that have fully or partially
integrated themselves with global network capitalism can also be
included in this category.
As mentioned, earlier the Bollywood movies can be seen as
"mediascapes" within the diasporic
"ethnoscapes", along with the television channels from the homeland
they can be viewed as the new forms
of ethnic media.
vii See "Use of 'Hinglish' to go Global" in Daily Mirror. Retrieved
from World Wide Web on 01-11-05.
Also see 'Hinglish' may soon conquer the world' on Rediff News.
Retrieved from the World Wide Web on
viii "Bollywood is also commonly referred to as "Hindi cinema", even
though frequent use of poetic Urdu
words is fairly common. English is more and more used in dialogues
and songs. It is not uncommon to see
movies which feature dialogues studded with English words and
phrases, even whole sentences. A few
movies are also made in two or even three languages (either using
subtitles, or several soundtracks)."
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollywood. Also see, Bollywood
Language on http://www.languagehat.com/archives/001694.php
ix It can be argued that audiences and filmmakers share similar
points of view but still possibilities of
differences between individuals are far greater.
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