Bollywood and women

For the reminder files, an email response to a student met doing Capital in India proposing a PhD on women in Bollywood. I'm not sure I'm the one to ask and if my response is any help, but here it is:

"Sorry its taken a few days to get back to you properly. I have been travelling.

I've read your research proposal and thought about what you ask, and mainly I have some questions for you before I can answer really. Well, I can make some guesses at what you might want as an answer and give some suggestions, but really I'm not clear enough on your circumstances to best advise.

There are some corrections to be made on your text, but they are minor grammar ones and hardly the sort of thing that matters, especially if this is a draft that will change. I've ignored them as they are minor infelicities of speaking, extra prepositions and so on. Mistakes anyone can make in a longer text. So, first question – is this a draft?

IF this is a draft, are you committed to this study in this form? I mean, the image analysis, textual analysis, and interviews with spectators aspect seems, well, of a certain vintage. Is this kind of analysis the best we can do? Will it provide any result that achieves what you perhaps want it to – and, most importantly, what is that? What is the purpose of the analysis in the widest possible sense? The promotion of women in films? An understanding of this? A critique of this? There are many other possibilities.

I ask about this because there are people you might seek to work with who have done similar sorts of studies, using similar methodologies. I can suggest some perhaps. There are others who would possibly seek out students to do things a bit differently.

Another similar question, which shapes who might be suggested as a person to work with for PhD has to do with your engagement with a certain version of feminism. There are of course many versions, and not all scholars would put Laura Mulvey and Angela McRobbie in the same box, and some might find their work dated as well – there are others, doing good work. And not necessarily white western feminists. Of course not all women of colour feminists are the same also – ranging from identity to feminism-marxism you of course find the same range of variation. You must at least engage with these scholars. I guess I am asking if for this study you even need the version of western feminism that you set out in your draft?

Maybe you do want to do a study that is particularly focussed upon some version of feminism like that of McRobbie. I cannot think then who to suggest, but you could ask her. Similarly, you could ask Laura Mulvey. But then, I'd suggest asking someone like Meeta Rani Jha for advice. Actually she did interviews with women viewers of Bollywood film for her PhD. I've not read it in its final version, but read early chapters a can confidently say I am sure its really very good. I'd encourage you to look her up. I am not sure if she is teaching now, but she is on facebook.

My next set of questions are also pretty naive on my part. But why do you want to go abroad to do this research? If it is to connect to western feminism, then it of course makes sense, but for a PhD from abroad… well, the reasons are several, but in this day and age it is not a matter of access to materials. With good internet you can get everything you need in India book4you.org, and sci-hub though surely questionable sites in terms of copyright, will get you any text you need. My strong belief is that you should choose where to do your PhD by going to work with someone whose writing you really like.

That may be, as noted, Mulvey or McRobbie. Or someone else. There are certainly people in India that would be great to work with on this topic. If you have not considered this, then you must – IIT Kharagpur has Anjali Gera Roy and she is doing great and I think original work. Of course there are other stars in India eg SV Srinivas is really great, there is Moinak Biswas and Abhijit Roy at Jadavpur of course (as you know) and Madava Prashad in Hyderabad.

Anjali Gera Roy's work is not well enough known yet:
Gera Roy, Anjali (2010) '"Global flows": Ethnographic Studies of the Hindi Movie in Africa', Journal of African Literature and Culture 7(8):33-48.
Gera Roy, Anjali ed (2012) The Magic of Bollywood: At Home and Abroad, New Delhi: Sage.
Gera Roy, Anjali (2015) Cinema of Enchantment: Perso-Arabic Genealogies of the Hindi Masala Film, Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan.

Then, maybe there are other reasons for you wanting not to be in India – social, political even. I will not judge. Then you should look first to whose writing you like, then try to work with them. Have you heard of Rajinder Dudrah?

Check out:
Dudrah, Rajinder (2002) 'Vilayati Bollywood: Popular Hindi Cinema-going and diasporic South Asian identity in Birmingham (UK)', Javnost, 9(1): 19-36.
Dudrah, Rajinder (2006) Bollywood: Sociology Goes to the Movies, London: Sage.
Dudrah, Rajinder (2012) Bollywood Travels: Culture, Diaspora and Border Crossings in Popular Hindi Cinema, London: Routledge.
Dudrah, Rajinder, Elke Mader and Bernhard Fuchs (2015) SRK and Global Bollywod, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Raminder Kaur at Sussex University would be someone to consider working with. she has done brilliant work on a wider range of things, all of it is great.

See her works, among others:
Kaur, Raminder (2003) Performative Politics and the Cultures of Hinduism: Public Uses of Religion in Western India New Delhi: Permanent Black.
Kaur, Raminder (2013) Atomic Mumbai: Living with the Radiance of a Thousand Suns. Routledge, India.
Kaur, Raminder and Ajay J Sinha (2005) Bollyworld: Popular Cinema Through a Transnational Lens, New Delhi: Sage

I do not know if it is my place to even raise this, but have you funds for a PhD abroad in one of the expensive places (UK, USA)? I mean, there is very little chance of funding for Indian nationals for UK and US so its a big lottery if you are not already of independent means. Cost of living plus fees in the UK would reach £30,000 per year. Do not even consider converting that into rupees unless you are ready for the shock.

Which means, considering some of the less costly places to do a PhD.

There is Tejaswini Niranjana at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. I've no idea about fees there, or cost of living in Hong Kong, but the University is good and Tejaswini is a great scholar.

Of course I am not ruling out he US or UK if you have funds, and there are many people there.

I don't know enough about where and why you want to go. I repeat again that I think you should choose based on who you want to work with. Of course prestige of a programme also matters to some people (employers also) but in terms of quality of the research, you want to work with the people you think are the best.

I have not included anything specifically on women in my book just finished a few months ago, but I did try to survey what I thought was interesting in South Asian film studies in the recent period. Since some of the people I discuss are not mentioned by you, perhaps you would like to look at the book. I include it here (please NOT to forward to anyone). It will come out in India later this year I hope, also in more costly version in the UK. Its attached.

Check out form the bibliography there the work of Jigna Desai, Amit Rai, and Ajay Gahlawat.

You might consider working with the wonderful Earl Jackson at National Chao Tung University Taiwan. Their cultural studies dept, where I have been visiting prof and so has Madava Prashad, is really well respected. And Hsinchu is a very interesting city.

In the US also look at the work of H Mann, references in my book bibliography.

I hope it might be of interest and/or stimulate further thoughts. I'm sorry it was not in my competence to write anything particularly good on the role of women in films, though of course I do discuss related issues inevitably, Fire, Parched etc…

The book was what I was working on when we met. After working on it intensely after classes through that month, it was finished soon after.

Good luck
John"

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