Is Indian Cinema’s First Chick Flick, ‘Mouna Raagam’, a Hindu Nationalist Fantasy?

PopMatters, October 26, 2016.

Kumudhan Maderya begins this piece in his inimitable style — big words, confusing concepts, opaque theory. If you’ve the energy to plough through it, he makes for a fascinating and compelling case for Mouna Raagam as a Hindu nationalist fantasy.

Told from Divya’s point of view, Mouna Raagam asks and answers a question straight out of ‘chick lit’: ‘Why do women love bad boys and dump nice guys?’

You can read it here.


Is Indian Cinema’s First Chick Flick, ‘Mouna Raagam’, a Hindu Nationalist Fantasy?

Maya Machhindra and Amar Jyoti: Reaffirmation of the Normative

Economic & Political Weekly, April 25, 2009, vol XLIV no 17

I’ve always been wary analysing something that’s not recent — it becomes at effort in post-fitting what might have been, more than anything else.¹

So, when I began reading Maya Machhindra and Amar Jyoti: Reaffirmation of the Normative, I was worried of something from over 75 years old being analysed from a lens that is contemporary. I had underestimated academic writing by miles!

In this paper, Vaishali Diwakar “seeks to capture one such moment of dissonance in history and looks at how the popular cinema masked, evaded, deflected or resolved the anxieties about changing equation of gender and power.²” To do this, she chooses two of V Shantaram’s films of the 1930s.

While I’ve not watched either of the films analysed here, the introduction to the political climate of the time, and ‘votes for women’ movement in India makes for a great read. She covers the various movements, class and caste divides, differences in how men and women reacted to politics — and especially the anxieties it gave rise to. Once that is understood, the films almost smoothly fall to represent public sentiment on screen.

In the 1930s, both Sarojini Naidu and Begum Shah Nawaz declared that they were not feminists and there was no such thing as a feminist movement in India.

If you register on jstor, you can read the paper for free here.

¹ This doesn’t go to claim that I have never done it. I have. Perhaps because it was relevant, or because I was being silly. But I have been wary of it at all times.

² As response to recent criticism, Uma Vangal explores stalking and sexual harassment in Tamil cinema on similar lines:

Maya Machhindra and Amar Jyoti: Reaffirmation of the Normative

All Hail the Queen

Sohini Chattopadhyay, The Indian Quarterly, July-September issue, 2016.

This isn’t technically an academic paper, but that shouldn’t stop us from reading exceptional research/writing on film. In the latest issue of the Indian Quarterly, Sohini Chattopadhyay explores the on-screen depiction of a ‘veerangana’ — as a warrior, a queen, an outlaw, a cop, among others.

Chattopadhyay explores how the veerangana is being adapted for screen from various sources in warrior queens/princesses, folk tales and B-grade stunt films. She writes, of course, about ‘fearless’ Nadia, but she also draws parallels to Sivagami and Avantika of Baahubali, and Inspector General Meera Deshmukh of Drishyam.

The slight nagging I had with Chattopadhyay’s writing is of course the boundaries she draws for herself. The narrative arc or the purpose of the veerangana in the narrative isn’t much explored  — for instance, she talks of Avanthika in Baahubali, she says:

“In SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali, Tamannaah plays Avanthika, a committed soldier of an underground rebel movement in the kingdom of Mahishmati, ruled by the vainglorious king Bhallaldeva…..Her hair is pulled back from her face, her backpack is a quiver of arrows, her ears are unadorned with earrings; she climbs trees and jumps from them with the ease of a wood sprite. When the leader of the movement fixes a date to assassinate the king, it is Avanthika he picks for the job.”

But she doesn’t explore how Avantika in this film is ‘feminised’ and her ‘mission’ taken over by Shivu.

As I read this fascinating study of these veeranganas, I couldn’t resist thinking of Vijayashanti’s stunt films in Telugu and Tamil of the 90s. And of Uma Riyaz’s Palaniammal in Mounaguru.

Full-text here at The Indian Quarterly.

All Hail the Queen

Con-Scripts of Cinema: Framing the Tamil Third Wave

eDhvani (UoH Journal of Comparative Literature, ISSN 2279-0209) Issue 2, January 2013.

Madurai-based films as a study of caste representation in Tamil cinema are common —  in academic circles and otherwise. This group of filmmakers — Sasikumar, Balaji Sakthivel, Ameer and similar — being called ’new wave’ for their raw/realistic portrayal of life in Madurai is also not new. In this paper, the author explores the deliberate intertwining of the ideas of caste, criminality, civilization, citizenship and community (I swear I didn’t do this on purpose) in films set in Madurai, that makes it different from the others we’ve read so far.

After defining ‘third wave’ (jumping from Dravidian/political cinema as first wave to Mani Ratnam as second wave),  when the author gets to the idea of these film characters being ‘conscripts of modernity’, the paper hooks one in.

Could identities and spaces marked by caste and crime become “conscripts of modernity”?

The author takes us through the idea of a deviant and dangerous hero, in Madurai, living in the middle of excessive violence and caste bigotry. He says, the heroes’ “representations provide the citizen-spectator a dangerous/deviant “other” as an identification to (dis)engage with.”

While discussing Kaadhal, he argues that “the fact that the heroic-subject is made mentally insane through the articulation of caste bigotry is an important facet to understand the problems of spectator identification/citizen-subject. Murugan’s deviance is structurally located in his caste status according to the cinematic apparatus. Hence, his caste-located-body becomes a conscript of cinema.”

The rest of the paper on Paruthiveeran and Subramaniapuram makes eloquent arguments about this “wave” of films and what they do to citizen-spectators and their identification with the ‘conscript’.

Here on

Con-Scripts of Cinema: Framing the Tamil Third Wave

Voices of Meenakumari: Sound, meaning, and self-fashioning in performances of an item number

South Asian Popular Culture, 10:3, 307-318

Another paper that takes into account just one song to make a larger point — but this one does an intriguing job. In this paper, Amanda Weidman explores the various meanings of an item song — En Peru Meenakumari from Kandasamy — as it jumps off the screen into other arenas (remediation/re-animation).

She “show(s) how a song that on its surface seems to invoke only the most exaggerated stereotypes of lower-class, sexualized femininity actually participates in complex projects of self-fashioning that exceed the conventions by which female voices are given meaning within the Tamil culture industry.”

As one listens to Tamil film songs, even outside the visuals and the lyrics being sung, one is able to identify it as a romantic song, hero-introduction song or item song. While often the difference is obvious, one couldn’t tell what makes it obvious. Weidman does that in this paper.

She explores the idea of an ideal female voice (singing voice, of course) and how the voice in this song differs from it. She then talks about the meaning and significance of the song in it’s re-animated in stage shows and reality TV. Fascinating and delightful read.

On research gate here.

Voices of Meenakumari: Sound, meaning, and self-fashioning in performances of an item number

Towards a more inclusive Indian identity? A case study of the Bollywood film Swades

National Identities, 12:1, 41-59

If there is anything I’ve learned from Maya Ranganathan, it is to place whatever you are arguing “squarely”¹ within social, political, and economic context. And that the ability to build said context comes from extensive reading.²

In this paper — Towards a more inclusive Indian identity? A case study of the Bollywood film Swades, I find her doing what she does best — make an argument within the context of reality. As a film that released within a year of passing of the Dual Citizenship Act, she reads Swades as an attempt at propagating a more inclusive Indian identity.

She takes her time outlining the idea of national identity, its manifestation on the diaspora, India’s history with Indians migrating to countries abroad, the need then for liberalisation and the resultant need to be more inclusive and inviting of NRIs, the expanding market for Bollywood films abroad, among other things. This is so rich, that is there is one reason I’d want to live 200 years is to be able to read all the papers and books she’s referenced in this section.

Strong on the foundation of context, she gets to Swades. She explores the idea of parampara in understanding one’s identity; and conflict in the film. She argues — “that it falls in line with what Chatterjee identified as a unique feature of anticolonial resistance: the creation of an ‘inner’ culturally sovereign realm while competing with the West in the ‘outer’ realm of politics and economy.”

The stereotypical media image of the callous and selfish Indian abroad of the 1980s when the Indian economy appeared to be doing well had to give way to a more tolerant image of the NRI following the waking up of the Indian government to the need of involving the huge NRI population in the process of nation-making.

She recounts one after another the various ways in which the film uses familiar images and symbolism to nudge the importance of returning to one’s homeland. She draws meaning from the film’s name and how it’s used, the names of the characters — the Kaveriamma in rural UP, “Charanpur” — the land that offers refuge. She reads Kaveriamma as metaphoric of (mother) India. But she returns to the Dual Citizenship Act and the need to be domicile in India to contribute to nation-building.

In the end, she also finds that, by the film’s logic, Mohan’s returning to settle in India might be useless.

Link to full-text on

More reading


¹ I find myself using that word often, to mean snugly/comfortably fitting into something. I remember having learned it from her.

² The learnings are more now in retrospect than at the time — she was a professor and thesis guide while I was in college in 2006-08.

Towards a more inclusive Indian identity? A case study of the Bollywood film Swades