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Cultural geography of popular cinema

Both Nirmal and Aparna have raised interesting points in the former’s post A new Bhojpuri film . Nirmal is concerned that Bhojpuri cinema might be missing the opportunity to experiment with themes culturally specific to the geography it operates in. Commenting on his post, Aparna raises an interesting point about geographical authenticity. For example, if you have lived in the west, you notice that filmmakers have a sense of authenticity in portraying the settings of their plot, narrative, and characters. In comparison, the Hindi film does not share the notion of geographical authenticity. Cultures are plucked out of their original spaces and crammed into a filmic geography resulting in an interesting consequence, to put it very mildly.

The result is that the Hindi film narrative norm totalizes Indian culture and creates its own imagined one. The roots of this practice can be traced to the period between 60s and 80s. Scripts would be written in hotel rooms in one sitting — with producers, distributors, financiers, director all contributing their imaginations, aspirations, and ideologies to the text. This resulted in bizarre imaginations of geography, which lacks any organic authenticity. For example the representation of brothels in cities as spaces for music, dance, and romance!!! The romantic view of brothels in Indian cities papers over the horrific conditions of the real ones.

(Below) Pictures from the bordello: An imagined kotha dance from Bunty Aur Babli (2005) vs the real bordello (Mumbai’s Kamathipura area) vs the Mumbai bargirls protesting over their ban.

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A comparison of the pictures demonstrates the ideological fantasies of filmmakers and the audience and the irony when imagination-turned-reality was castigated. I am talking about the Mumbai “bargirls” who were banned from imitating the imagined culture of Hindi cinema in seedy bars for a livelihood. The Mumbai bargirls merely provided patrons in flesh what was circulated as mass fantasy.

The question is whether Bhojpuri filmmakers are following in the footsteps of the Hindi films and conjuring up their own imagined culture, or worse still imitating the imagined culture of Hindi films but encoded in the Hindi film norms. Bhojpuri filmmakers appear to be merely transferred these norms to a linguistic vessel rather than develop norms of narrative that tackle the cultural-geographical specifities of its audiences. Unless that is done, it will only be a poor copy of Hindi cinema. Till the change takes place, enthusiastic supporters shouldn’t feel too outraged over the usage of the term “bhojwood”.

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