Bollywood's Imagination and the Middle Class - a Review of "Queen" and "Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi"

  • Jan-Sijmen Zwarts (Autor/in)

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A curious contradiction is present in Bollywood cinema, as enunciated by Jyotika Virdi in The Cinematic Imagination – Indian Popular Films as Social History. It is a cultural apparatus very much embroiled in the process of nation-building, which it does by imagining the nation with the bourgeois hegemony in mind (Virdi 2003: 9-10). The bourgeoisie, or middle class, of India is a complex audience. Because of its disparity in income levels as well as social positions, William Mazzarella recommends defining the middle class in India not as an empirical category, but rather as a performative and discursive space. Bollywood cinema, which Mazzarella situates as a cultural device that ‘brings the various middle class formations into an active – if often contested – alignment’ (Mazzarella 2016: 9), thus becomes a multi-layered space that engages with and offers resolutions for the social anxieties of the middle class.
Definitions of romance, love, and the female have been part of these social anxieties. This paper will analyse the manner in which the female protagonists of Jodi and Queen manage to steer their way through these anxieties as part of their coming of age. By making a comparative analysis of two films that arguably represent two different modes of middle class formation, this paper will show that Bollywood does not represent the status quo in the shape of a monolithic ideal.
To resolve this apparent contradiction within the Bollywood industry, Baudrillard’s notion of hyperreality will be put forward as a critical concept. The analysis of the movies will illustrate that Bollywood has a tendency to refer to itself, instead of strongly adhering to values outside of the industry. That does not mean that these values have disappeared from Bollywood films; it does however create a space in which certain deviations from the status quo are made possible.