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Gentrification and Nationalism as the Key Binary in Bollywood Cinema

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Gentrification and Nationalism as the Key Binary in Bollywood Cinema

The thriving Bollywood film industry is unequivocal in its popularity with the people. The film industry is important both as a financial money making machine and an art form and has developed into a sort of “Temple of Desire” (Mishra, 2002, p. 1) for the peoples of India. According to Steve Derne and Tejaswini Ganti, there is an underlining gentrification of the Indian films in order to appeal to the masses and focus on the financial gains. The film Dil Chahta Hai is a perfect example of that supposed gentrification as the relatively modern film revolves around the lives of three middle-class men and their approach to love. Through a purely economic stance the film can be argued to be intended for the appeal to the masses in an attempt to further the financial gain of the filmmakers, Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani. If reversed, from a nationalistic and almost socio-political perspective, the argument would underline the use of film as an art form that was developed into an entertainment for the masses that portrayed a sense of Indian pride through the stylistic devices like the importance of song and dance in Bollywood. Both arguments are clearly supported by a multitude of writers and are viable options when reading into the intentions of Akhtar and Ritesh.

        The intentions and philosophy of the filmmakers could be purely economic. The film’s focus on the lives of the three middle-class heroes shows the ideas of Ganti coming out in the real world. Ganti understood that there were “Dramatic changes in the structure of the Hindi film industry… when the Indian state recognized filmmaking as a legitimate industrial activity” (Ganti, 2012, p. 6). By this, Ganti was understanding that the aims and intentions of the filmmakers in India were changing into a more financially driven industry. He enforced the idea that the film industry in India was “progressing” and “gaining respectability” (Ganti, 2012, p. 2) and the representation of the characters in the film changed. In the case of Dil Chahta Hai the film puts the urban middle-classes at the center of attention. The landscape changes came in the form of Gentrification, which Ganti defined as “to renovate or convert an area to conform to middle-class taste” (Ganti, 2012, p. 4). By understanding Ganti, you can understand the intentions of Dil Chahta Hai and how they are not concurrent with a traditional art form as it is in essence providing an escape and entertainment in order to appeal to the taste of their target audience.

        Ganti also examines the locations of filming and the greater introduction of western settings and characters in order to gain respectability for the Indian film industry to further gentrify and increase the popularity of its work. Ganti claims that “Additionally, more and more films are being shot in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe rather than in India; thus India itself is increasingly erased from the films. In the film Dil Chahta Hai the film has an urban setting mixed with the beach and the countryside as the three protagonists travel in order to find themselves and love. One of the characters falls in love with a Swiss girl. The importance of the Swiss girl is the films moving towards more western ideals and India is pushed to the sideline after the nationalist movements in the forties and fifties. It adds to the marginalization of what it means to be Indian.

        The changing landscape of the film industry for economic gain pushed the target audience from the upper-classes to the urban middle-classes in order to obtain a larger viewing mass. The concept of gentrification begins to blossom again in this aspect as the heroes are made to be characters that the masses and those in India are capable of feeling a connection to as if they could be the ones in the films. Mishra discussed the importance of the heroes in the films as and their connection with the audience as being important to the idea of the films as being a “Temple of Desire” (Mishra, 2002). The ‘Temple of Desire’ refers to the films as an escape for the masses and an unmatched sensation that allows the audience to feel good about the characters and feel as if they are the ones in the film itself. The film Dil Chahta Hai hence becomes an almost “escapist commercial cinema” (Ganti, 2012, p. 3) rather than an art intended to convey a specific message or idea. In Dil Chahta Hai its ‘Temple of Desire’ is the concept of love in the film and how regardless of your stance on love you will always be able to find it. This reassurance for the people allows them to feel a connection to the three main characters and the target audience is made clear by the heroes of the film.

        To counter the concept of gentrification, the socio-political understanding of the film could be to see it as an art form that revolves around the nationalistic ideals and thoughts demonstrated by Jyotika Virdi in her work ‘The Cinematic ImagiNation’ where she discusses the importance of nationalism in Indian film and the origins of the Bollywood style. Within the text she looks to form the understanding that the film acts as a medium by which the nation’s creators can project an image that they want for their nation. In the case of Dil Chahta Hai the film focuses on the traditional aspects of Bollywood films and combines them with a modern perspective. The filmmakers used the key binary of traditional Bollywood by using song and dance, however needing to justify its use to the audience by giving a situation by which song and dance is acceptable in a modern setting. The importance of Song and Dance is underlined by Virdi in her comments: “Hindi film’s visual aesthetic, narrative form, and audio style have been influenced by nineteenth-century Parsi and Urdu theatrical traditions, with an emphasis on song and dance, disregard for unity of time and space, and an emphasis on frontality” (Virdi, 2003, p. 31). The key binary of tradition and modernity in the song development is exemplified by the song ‘Wo Ladki Hai Kahan’ where the song is justified as a hallucination by the main character in the movie theatre.

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