English 198/Asia 198
Professor's nickname: Deep
Office: 221 Drown Hall
Meets: Tuesday-Thursday 10:45am-12pm
Film Lab: Tuesday night 7-10pm (will not meet every week)
Office hours: Generally Wednesdays 1-4
An introduction to 20th and 21st
The aim is to survey the transformations in the life of the country provoked by the advent of modernity. We will read novels by authors such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mulk Raj Anand, Salman Rushdie, Manju Kapur, Amitav Ghosh, and Rohinton Mistry, and watch a selection of films by directors like Satayajit Ray and Mani Ratnam. We will take a close look at how writers and filmmakers represent historical events such as the independence struggle, partition, women’s rights, religious conflicts (“communalism”), and caste politics. We will also discuss recent hot-button issues in public health (AIDS), development (big dams), and the complex problem of globalization. Historical and critical readings will be assigned to supplement the primary texts, in order to acquaint students with relevant aspects of Indian history, politics, religion, and culture. No prior knowledge of the Indian subcontinent is required.
The Home and the World
Manju Kapur, Difficult Daughters
Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines
Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey
Githa Hariharan, In Times of Siege
Tejaswini Ganti, Bollywood
Suketu Mehta, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
Additional essays and short stories we will read. Most of these are quite short, and will be assigned to supplement primary readings and films. They will be available on Blackboard:
· Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, “A
Popular Literature for
· Andrew Robinson and Krishna Dutta, excerpts from Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man
· Amit Chaudhuri, “Modernity and the Vernacular,” “The Construction of the
Indian Novel in English”
· Salman Rushdie, “Introduction” to Mirrorwork anthology
· Amrita Pritam, “Pinjar”
· Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee, short excerpt from Pather Panchali
· Amitav Ghosh, “The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi”
A few others may be added along the way.
Please remember, when an essay or short story is assigned from Blackboard, to print it out and bring it to class on the day it will be discussed. I will not bring extra copies of materials assigned to Blackboard.
Assigned films: Pather Panchali, Mr. 420, Silsila, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Dil Se..., Satya,
On reserve in the library: Mother
These are films I would have liked to have on the syllabus, but there won't be time. Don't feel any obligation to see these.
I might also suggest that people take a look at a Charlie Chaplin film. I'll bring in clips, but if you've never seen Modern Times, you might want to do se before we see Mr. 420.
1/18 First day of class; Introductions
1/ 20 Read three essays by Amitav Ghosh on Tsunami. Also: Tsunami blogs
Read as much as you have time for on your own about the progress and problems
of Tsunami relief.
1/25 Bankim Chandra Chatterjee short stories; Begin Tagore's The Home and
W.B. Yeat's poems “Easter, 1916” and “A Prayer for My Daughter” -- on women
Film screening 7 pm: Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali. Post response paper to
1/27 Read: Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee, short excerpt from Pather
Discuss film, Bengali Renaissance, Satyajit Ray. View more Ray clips in
2/1 The Home and the World
2/3 The Home and the World
2/8 Kapur, Difficult Daughters
Film Screening: Earth
2/10 Discuss Earth, religious communalism; partition; Religious groups (Parsis,
Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims).
2/15 Difficult Daughters
Film Screening: Mr. 420 (also known as: Shree 420)
2/17 Read pp. 1-83 of Ganti's Bollywood. Silent and talkie films; rise and fall
of studio system; production and technical features; songs and musical
format; Indian star system.
2/22 Difficult Daughters
Paper #1 due on Tagore or Kapur (4-5 pages)
2/24 Read: Amrita Pritam, “Pinjar” (on Blackboard). Discuss: partition, abductions of
3/1 Such a Long Journey
Film screening: Silsila
3/3 Discuss film; also: Indira Gandhi's “Emergency”; Nehruvian system of
government; “License Raj”; Corruption
3/8 Spring break
3/10 Spring break
3/15 Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey
3/17 Such a Long Journey
3/22 Such a Long Journey
Film screening: Mr. And Mrs. Iyer
3/24 Read: Ghosh's essay “The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi”; discuss communal
violence and inter-religious tensions in class
3/29 Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines
Film Screening: Dil Se... (With the Heart)
3/31 Discussion of:
secession movements in
4/5 Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines
Paper #2 due: on Mistry or Ghosh
4/7 Githa Hariharan, In Times of Siege
4/12 In Times of Siege
Film screening: Satya (Truth)
4/14 Talk about Satya; Finish In Times of Siege
Film screening: Yuva (Youth)
Film screening: Bhoot (Ghost)
day of classes. Paper #3 due: Research on
Final exam : During exam week, to be scheduled
Terms, concepts, and historical events you will be learning about:
Basic regional familiarity
Asia” vs. “
Major languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujurati, Tamil, Punjabi, Marathi, Urdu,
Major religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism,
Literature and art: “Bengali Renaissance”
Indian independence movement
Mohandas Gandhi ("Mahatma")
B.R. Ambedkar: “Untouchable,” “Dalit”
Concepts in politics, religion
Caste. "Mandal Commission"
Post-independence historical figures, events
P.V. Narasimha Rao
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
Atal Behari Vajpayee
Manmohan Singh (1991, 2004)
Gender issues, women's rights
family living arrangement
"Uniform Civil Code"
as a business in
Financing and structure of industry; connections to mafia, etc.
Musical vs. non-musical films
Sync-sound vs. “playback”
Technical issues and limitations in the industry
turn to globalization
Notes for first day of class.
On the board:
Goals of the course.
Introduction to modern Indian history and culture. Why does it matter?
Modernity, nationalism, globalization
This course has three basic goals. One is to introduce you –
if you aren't already familiar with it – in a general way to
How does this related to life in
I think it's reasonable for you as students to wonder what the value of the texts you're reading might be. Why is this good? How does it relate to me? I hope you'll give the material I've selected the benefit of the doubt, but I'm open to those questions as well.
Watching films critically. The hardest of the three goals, believe it or not, will be #3. Watching a lot of films may seem easy to some of you, compared with reading novels. But I'm going to be asking you to watch films critically, with an eye to what in film studies is called the language of cinema. How does the director of the film tell a story visually? How do they produce point of view, a sense of space and time, and continuity via editing? There is a whole technical language of film that we'll at least be flirting with a little along the way. Above all, I'll be asking you to watch actively and intelligently, rather than passively. Watching films this way may feel a little like pulling teeth, but there is no other way to do it in a college classroom.
Another issue is cultural difference. We'll be talking more about this, but the most direct way in which you'll probably grapple with the issue of cultural difference in this course is in watching these films. Things that many Americans perceive as bad – excessive melodrama, for instance – are quite common in Indian films. Indian audiences don't mind them as much. Is it because Indian audiences are less sophisticated than American audiences? Probably not. There are other features of Indian commercial films that western viewers don't always initially know how to read. So if you haven't seen many of these films, there may be a bit of a learning curve. You may not like them at first, even the more modern films.
I can't guarantee that you will like them. But even if you
end up not liking them, I am going to ask you take them seriously as art, and
make an attempt to understand them. The films I've selected focus on three
overlapping themes: modernization, nationalism, and globalization.
The first two go together. Historically,
At the same time as modernization was happening in
Also, how should Indians go about achieving it, when most of
the country was relatively indifferent? Only the more privileged people in
Indian society were directly affected by British rule – they were the ones who
were learning English. It was the economic dominance of Indians who were
already wealthy that was threatened. Most ordinary Indians were apathetic,
because being poor under one set of masters is no
worse or better than being poor under another set. More important than the
apathy was the question of strategy. Should
Tagore was writing beginning in the 1890s, and was active until the 1930s. He wrote novels, essays, and poetry, and was one of the few Indian writers of his day to be widely recognized in the west. He even won the Nobel Prize in 1913, for poems that he himself had translated into English. We'll see this struggle with nationalism directly dealt with in the first book we'll be reading, The Home and the World. And it will raise one other issue, which is what role, if any, women should play in this new movement. Tagore was sensitive to the problem of the repression of women in traditional Hindu society. In some sense, he was a feminist. But he also worried about what would happen to society if women entered into modernity without any checks... He's ambivalent about it.
After Tagore, all of the writers
in the course are essentially contemporary, even though several of them are
writing about events that took place some time ago. Manju
Kapur is writing about women's involvement in the
independence movement in
And Rohinton Mistry
is writing about some events that occurred in in
Several of the novels and films I've selected deal with the
theme of religious violence. Each one takes a slightly different
approach. But it will be something we'll be discussing all along: what makes
people commit acts of violence in the name of religion? How did
The third main issue is globalization, which has
really become an issue since 1991, and is one of the ways in which I hope to
make the case that the literature and film of
For more than 40 years,
But then in 1991, the central government started a process
of liberalization. The goal was to open up the economy to more imported goods.
Since then the growth rate of the economy has jumped ahead – averaging anywhere
from 5 to 8 percent. A lot of wealth has been created. New industries have
emerged, especially the high tech industry in cities like
The change also opened up the media environment. More
foreign films and TV shows became available as satellite television and cable
ended the government's television monopoly.
To some extent, the boom within
It's not entirely clear why this is the case, but along with
the explosion in the media environment has been a boom in South Asian
literature. There are dozens and dozens of new writers on the scene, many of
them selling a large number of books in the
The 1990s and 2000s, in short, have been an incredibly
exciting time for
I should add that we'll be ending the semester with one
non-fiction book as well, Suketu Mehta's Maximum
City, which is really all about the 1990s. As a person who has lived both
A practical matter: Screenings will be on Tuesday nights. Instead of having you write formal papers on the films, I'm going to be looking for written responses to be posted to Blackboard. In part, you can use these responses to debate with your classmates the relative merits of the films you're seeing, but I want to see that you're identifying and substantially debating the social issues the films are concerned with.
Another practical matter: Pronunciation of some words
may be difficult at first. I'm going to encourage you to just say it however
you feel comfortable. If you really want to work on getting Indian names and
places to sound right, set up a meeting with me. It might seem a little weird,
but I'm happy to do it if it helps. I should also say that since I myself am
raised in the
For Thursday: I wanted to start the class off with a
look at some of the issues that have come out of the tsunami in December. It's
been a huge catastrophe, one which has killed 150,000 people (maybe more),
and affected the lives of millions. The worst hit area is in