New course brings magic of Bollywood to campus

Fans of the movies “Dhoom,” “Monsoon Wedding” and the dance sequence in “Slumdog Millionaire” now have the chance to study Bollywood cinema.

A new course on Bollywood cinema is making its debut in the English department this semester. The course was designed, in part, to attract more students to English department classes, and is the first time a class on Bollywood cinema has been offered at the University.

Kavita Daiya, an associate professor of English who will teach the course this spring, said she aims to attract students with diverse interests by combining Bollywood film with literature.

“I think there are a lot of people interested in film and they are just not interested in literature,” Daiya said.

Daiya added that she hopes students from South Asian backgrounds will enroll in the class.

Daiya began designing the course after discovering that other universities, like New York, George Mason and Brandeis universities, offered Bollywood cinema classes. About 20 people have enrolled in the course for the spring semester.

The course will offer students the chance to take an interdisciplinary approach to studying the films, highlighting cinematic, directorial, choreographic and musical elements, Diaya said. She said students will engage with the cultural and social ideologies that are sometimes at tension.

“It is a great way to learn more about the culture of India and the politically debated rhetoric about identity, gender and belonging. True cinema,” she said. “We will look at cinema as a true register of the ways in which these ideas and debates about nationalism and identity can be debated, contested, inscribed and challenged.”

By taking the class, students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences can fulfill English, Asian studies and creative writing major requirements. For Elliott School of International Affairs students, the class counts toward humanities and a concentration in Asian studies.

Daiya said American audiences have come to know Bollywood through the film “Slumdog Millionaire” and Coldplay’s music video “Hymn for the Weekend,” which define many Americans’ perceptions of India.

“When you look at how the song is visually constructed and the video is constructed, you see these elements that were taken from Bollywood cinema, especially the scenes with Beyonce and the sequences of Indian song and dance,” Daiya said. “This type of analysis leads to one of the main questions that will be explored in this course, which is, ‘How did this hundred-year-old industry evolve and develop its key features and aesthetic?’”

Ambica Kalburgi, a senior adviser on the executive board of the Indian Student Association, said the class should encourage students of all backgrounds to engage with Indian culture.

“I think it is really great that a course is being offered,” Kalburgi said. “One of our missions is to spread Indian culture throughout our university, and studying Bollywood is a great way to learn a lot about Indian culture.”

The Indian Student Association hosts events open to all students, though usually only South Asian students attend, Kalburgi said. She said she hopes the new class will encourage students of all backgrounds to attend the events to promote dialogue between cultures.

“Sometimes we have movie screening events and primarily South Asians attend. But we are open to people of all cultures coming to watch these films with us. We would really like to see that presence grow further,” Kalburgi said.

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