Spotlight On: Bollywood Film Series

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On a recent Wednesday afternoon, I sat down with Assistant Professor and Director of Film Studies Rashna Richards to discuss her interest in Bollywood cinema and to learn about the Bollywood Film Series that took place on Rhodes′ campus from March 27th to April 30th.  Professor Richards′ exposure to Bollywood film began during her time in Bombay, India, where she lived until she was twenty-two: "Bollywood is so pervasive, especially in Bombay because that′s where it′s based.  It′s hard to escape. . . . The Bollywood songs, for instance, get hugely popular, and then they′re always playing, at every street corner."

The series, organized in collaboration with Assistant Professor of Theatre Dave Mason, featured five different films, from the archetypal Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to Monsoon Wedding, directed by an Indian American filmmaker, to Bombay, which is based on recent religious conflict in the major Indian city. The series also included Rang De Basanti, Professor Mason′s favorite Bollywood film, and culminated with the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire.  

Professor Mason had already noted a curiosity about Bollywood film among Rhodes students, and Professor Richards hoped that a film series would raise awareness on campus of the Film Studies program.  The recent release of the popular and critically praised Slumdog Millionaire only added to the subject′s appeal.  Professors Richards and Mason decided to focus on broadening the perceived range of Bollywood film in their selections for the series, while keeping the films contemporary in order to ensure that they were easily accessible to the students.  "In general," Professor Richards explains, "a lot of people are sort of familiar with Bollywood as kind of a song and dance cinema, and a lot of people think that′s all it is. . . . [T]rue for a vast majority of Bollywood films, but those aren′t the only kinds of films that Bollywood puts out.  So, one of the main things I was interested in was to give a sense of . . . the wide range of Bollywood films."

In addition to exposing viewers to a new school of filmmaking, the series also exposed participants to a bit of Indian culture.  Indian snacks were offered at the screenings.  In addition, Professor Richards, who is fluent in Hindi, and Professor Mason, who studies Indian theatre and culture, were available to provide insight about India’s history, cultures, and languages as depicted in the films. 

If you are interested in learning more about Bollywood film, Professor Richards is offering a course in the fall titled "Hollywood to Bollywood," which will feature her most recent area of study, classic Hollywood cinema, and the Bollywood reincarnations of these films. 

Meredith York ′09