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Title: Study of visual narratives : mapping the postcolonial Indian biopic as historical palimpsest
Authors: Chowdhary, Reema
Menon, Nirmala [Supervisor]
Keywords: English
Issue Date: 6-Feb-2019
Publisher: Discipline of English, IIT Indore
Series/Report no.: TH173;
Abstract: George Custen in his book Bio/Pic: How Hollywood Constructed History, argues that biopic in its realm portray world history as ‘inequitable’ and ‘staggering’, where the twentieth century features the white, North American, or European males dominating the canon (77-78). The question of middle strata of the society or the social class which emphasizes the growing mobility for those who initiate in an inferior socio-economic state of affair is entirely neglected (79). Since much of the theoretical vocabulary is based on and comes from western discourse with focus on Hollywood’s mythmaking machine, this study examines biopics in its hybrid form to investigate its historiography in Hindi cinema. Examining biopic in its hybrid form, the study attempts to analyze what counts for ‘fame-shifts anew with each generation’ (Custen 6-7) and allows a multilayered reading of Hindi biopics, unveiling the varied possibilities, choices, their variability from one-time period to another and their capacity to depict the varied viewpoint through the treatment of their subjects. In keeping with Bingham’s experimental form of biopic andDwyer’s semi-fictionalized biopic, the study moves beyond to examine the distinctive visual and narrative accounts employed in the representation of historical lives and examines the undercurrent interest in the biopic, locating it in significant shifts in Hindi cinema.Biographical films depict and dramatize the life of a historical person or an event on screen. Drawing on the term ‘palimpsest’, the study demonstrates how biopics reconstruct a narrative adding a layer to the meaning of history recorded, remembered and envisioned. As a lot of theoretical vocabulary is based and come from the western discourse on biopics, this study examines some of the challenges that Hindi cinema faces in analyzing biopics and explores how far it adds (or does not) to the larger discourse of history. Seeing biopics as “perhaps the most familiar form of cinematic historiography and … by far the largest subgenre of historical filmmaking” (Burgoyne 72), I examine biopic as a separate genre with a liminal but suggestive presence in Hindi cinema also known as Bollywood.By presenting the small layers of national history through the depiction of life of recognizable figures from the past, biopics as part of Hindi cinema reckons its presence with movies like Raja Harishchandra (1913) based on king Harishchandra, Pukar (1939) on Mughal Emperor Jehangir, Sikander (1941) on King Alexander and Prithvi Vallabh (1943) on Queen Mrinalvati and Meena Kumari Ki Amar Kahani (1979), onscreen idol. All of these movies mainly evoke the historical grandeur and grand narratives. However, when we refer to biopics today, they cater not only to celebrity culture but also depicts some extraordinary stories of ordinary people. As Rachel Dwyer in her essay The Biopic of the New Middle Classes in Contemporary Hindi Cinema points out, Hindi cinema has produced a number of biopics about nationalist leaders of freedom struggle, but there were few biopics in mainstream Hindi cinema until the early 2000s. It is this time that Hindi cinema sees the revival of new biopics that depicts figures who are part of living memory; not rulersor leaders, nor those committed to public service but who have become heroes and heroines of an emergent social group – India’s new middle classes (68). The dissertation advances Dwyer’s argument and examinesbiopic as ‘hybrid’ or ‘experimental’ form and addresses the genre’s dynamic interplay of history-making. In this way, the study contributes towards developing a new vocabulary for understanding Hindi film biopic in its varied themes and complexities.
Appears in Collections:Discipline of English

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