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M. Madhava Prasad (English and Foreign Languages University), "On the Aesthetics of Aspiration: On Contemporary Independent Cinema in India"
In the last twenty years or so, new cinematic practices have emerged more or less simultaneously in several Indian film industries, and have been perceived as constituting a distinctive new aesthetic turn in the history of Indian cinema. While few doubt the newness of these cultural texts when seen against the backdrop of the mainstream cinema, we cannot ignore the fact that the latter too has significantly remade itself in response to changing times. While both these transformations are clearly related to the full-scale capitalist turn of the Indian economy, there are other related factors. The evidence of the new cinema of today points to the unveiling, the coming into light of a cultural geography that was covered over by the mist of nationalism. It is a time of eloquence of the erstwhile ‘regions’ which were muted to enable official nationalist speech. Global capitalism plays a big role in this process, with its demand for social re-skilling and instigation of aspirational logics on the one hand and, in an apparent paradox, revitalizing local cultures with its direct address to markets in their own languages. The federal demand, which is increasingly heard nowadays, is also part of this new awakening. While the new mainstream cinema (or Bollywood) reflects social aspirations, the new independent cinema involves aesthetic re-skilling of film-makers and audiences alike, oriented toward subjective transformation as seen in the film Masaan (Neeraj Ghaywan, 2015), which will be discussed in some detail.
M. Madhava Prasad is Professor of Cultural Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India, and the Bliss Carnochan International Visitor at the Stanford Humanities Center, 2019. He is the author of the landmark book, Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction (Oxford University Press, 1998), and Cine-Politics: Film Stars and Political Existence in South India (Orient Blackswan, 2014). He has written widely for journals of film studies, performance studies, linguistics, and cultural studies, and has published numerous translations of prose and poetry from Kannada into English. At present, Prasad is investigating the history of language politics in India, with a focus on the modernization of Indian vernaculars. He is also examining the role played by discourses of aspiration in Indian social life today, through a reading of selected texts from contemporary Indian language cinemas.
Image: Masaan. Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, 2015.