There’s a sequence in the Indian film classic Sholay that is worth watching. It’s a musical number set during a village festival and filled with nonstop dancing, chaste flirting, and dramatic zoom-ins on key characters emoting grandiloquently. There is humor, music, clouds of bright colors, and a love story. Pretty much everything you expect from a Bollywood movie.
But there’s more to the Indian media landscape than underdog stories and elaborate wedding numbers. Associate professor of Communication Studies Aswin Punathambekar wants to give students in LSA the chance to explore the breadth and variety of Indian media forms, and he’s teaching a course called “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Media in the World” to help students do just that.
“Undergraduates are familiar with Bollywood," Punathambekar says, "but they’re often not familiar with the fact that there’s a range of different media forms in the Indian context. All of these forms circulate just as globally as Bollywood does. There are comic books and graphic novels and television shows available through satellite TV and also online.”
The course is part of next term’s university-wide theme semester India in the World, and it will feature a film series including at least two documentaries: Red Ant Dream and My Mother India. The filmmakers will be in attendance, too, to answer questions and give context to their work.
“Documentary films are a key part of media in India," says Punathambekar, "but they don’t get taught as much as Bollywood does. So I wanted to go well beyond Hindi-language Bollywood cinema and look at a range of media forms.”
Punathambekar wants to get students thinking about the global film industry, of which India is a significant and growing part.
“For a lot of students looking to work in the media industries in whatever capacity—advertising or online social media for example—the reality is that thinking in a purely national context is no longer going to be either productive or possible for them. So when they enter the job market as professionals in their industries, understanding increasingly important emerging markets like India is going to be crucial.”
India in the World, the semester-long celebration and exploration of India’s critical, global role, will feature visual art exhibits, musical performances, a lecture series, and even Indian plants in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The theme semester is organized by the Center for South Asian Studies.
Punathambekar is hoping that all of these resources and events will encourage students to understand India’s importance as a global power but also to think critically about superficial claims about Indian people, society, and government.
“It’s worth asking why we didn’t do an India in the World semester fifteen years ago at U-M. There’s clearly something about the current moment that interests not just faculty and students associated with the Center for South Asian Studies but everyone across LSA, the University and even across the state and the country.”
India in the World kicks off with Roysten Abel’s “The Manganiyar Seduction,” a performance featuring musicians from the state of Rajasthan in the northwest of India. There will be two shows at the Power Center, one each on Saturday, October 26, and Sunday, October 27.