The social matrix of films
Rachna Singh

Bollywood: Sociology Goes to the Movies
by Rajinder Kumar Dudrah.
Sage Publications. Pages 210. Rs 280.

Bollywood: Sociology Goes to the MoviesTHE Bollywood cinema as a genre has been regarded with derision by intellectuals who have written off this genre as being ‘escapist’, ‘trivial’ ‘low-brow’ and having only ‘mass appeal’. Such a response obviously stems from uninformed opinion makers who do not want to look beyond the ‘fluff’ perception of a ‘Bunty aur Bubbly’. But with the globalisation of Indian cinema, this perception is slowly but surely undergoing a change.

The hitherto marginalised and ridiculed cinema is now being feted as a multicultural celebration. Increased visibility vis-`E0-vis the South Asian diaspora has added a fresh dimension to Bollywood cinema. Film studies are shifting focus to the multi-faceted and multi-genre Bollywood cinema giving it a patina of serious intellectual study. So Bollywood cinema has finally arrived, and brought in its wake film scholars and their academic wrangling.

Sociology goes to the Movies is an intellectual articulation of Bollywood cinema, which would surely win warm approbation from the most hard-hearted elitist academic. Rajinder Kumar Dudrah has, in fact, made an interesting and refreshing attempt to revive a sociological interest in films. The sociological imagination is brought into dialogue with film studies and related disciplines of media and cultural studies. A Bollywood film, for Dudrah, is a popular cultural text which necessitates an elaboration of the medium through "various and simultaneous modes of enquiry". So, Pardes becomes an example of a film that reflects the diasporic sensibilities of the South Asian community settled in the UK and the USA. And cine stars like Shah Rukh Khan act as mediators between the homeland and the diaspora, enunciating the social and economic aspirations of the audiences through their on- and off –screen performances. This mediation is extended to a Hollywood-Bollywood interface.

The most diehard fans of Bollywood admit that a significant chunk of this cinema is a copy of popular Hollywood films, albeit in an Indian persona. Dudrah, however, logically argues against such a premise. Calling it cultural mimicry rather than plagiarism, he points out that such a mimicry only translates western differences and hierarchies for Bollywood viewers. So the jailor in Sholay is not just a comic colonial remnant but becomes a critique on state forms of penal control and governance in the India of the 70s. Moreover, Hollywood, he strongly feels is now borrowing from Bollywood cinema and with crossover films, the distinction, in any case, is lost.

Dudrah, thus, successfully renews an interdisciplinary dialogue between cinema and sociology, which has been sporadic at the best of times. The methodology of interviews and participant observation used in initial chapters authenticates and contemporises his theories. But the majority of the book reads like a research paper or an academic dissertation that seriously limits its readership. The "elitist versus pedestrian" debate generated by Bollywood cinema is reflected in our response to this book. So, we agree that Dudrah’s book is a great reference for multi-disciplinary research but is not likely to be a bestseller. We admit that the book gives academic credence to Bollywood cinema but has none of its mass appeal. Catch-22.