How do big-budget Bollywood films, like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Chahta Hai, portray the upper middle class’s disenchantment with wealth and exemplify the importance of self-fulfillment? How does Dabangg demystify the socio-cultural politics behind inter-caste marriages? Does psychoanalysis of Bollywood films reveal the dreams and aspirations of a country and its people?
For Rachel Dwyer, Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS), University of London, and an author of several books on Indian films, ‘behind the scenes’ has a completely different meaning.
In her latest book, Picture Abhi Baaki Hai: Bollywood as a guide to modern India, Rachel investigates the ‘imagined worlds of mainstream Hindi cinema’, arguing that it is ‘the most reliable guide’ to understand India’s dreams, hopes, fears and anxieties. Rachel looks at Bollywood films since 1991, the year in which market liberalisation brought rapid economic and social transformations.
In explaining the focus of the book, Rachel says, “Bollywood is the focus of the book, not the other forms of Hindi cinema which have emerged recently, notably the multiplex/independent (hatke, offbeat, indie) films.” From DDLJ to Dabangg and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Kahaani, Rachel shows how escapism and entertainment function in Bollywood, juxtaposing it with how the films have shaped the collective imagination and portrayal of modern India. Rachel is quick to say that her book is neither a sociological profile of Hindi cinema nor an encyclopedia or a gazetteer, but aims to examine what the imagining of India in the last 20 years has to say about the new and emergent India.
With Hindi cinema as her main research interest, Rachel has researched themes such as consumerism and the new middle class; love and eroticism, visual culture and religion, and written on them for film journals. She has authored several books on Indian cinema like Cinema India: The Visual Culture of Hindi Films (with Divia Patel), Beyond the Boundaries of Bollywood: The Many Forms of Hindi Cinema (with Jerry Pinto) and Filming the Gods: Religion and Indian Cinema.
Talking about her latest book, Rachel says, “It covers my own period of major Hindi film viewing and marks a personal journey. Indian films drive me and have been the best way to understand contemporary India. Picture Abhi Baaki Hai brings together the ways in which I have found the films rewarding, insightful and critical, as well as unpleasant and alarming, in the ways in which they present a worldview and imaginary world.” She hopes that the understanding she presents in the book will prove of wider interest “and that no one will ever say to me again that Hindi films are all the same and ‘unrealistic’.”
Concluding her introduction to the book, Rachel writes, “While ‘The American Dream’ is widely acknowledged, ‘The Indian Dream’ is not. Picture Abhi... hopes to provide an initial exploration of this, by looking at Hindi film, the major source of India’s dreaming.”