Religious conflict, popular culture and the troubled spectators of recent Indian film

  • Author(s): Anthony R. Guneratne
  • When: 1997-04
  • Where: Contemporary South Asia
  • While detailed studies have been devoted to the visual cultures of the Western world, comparatively little attention has been paid to the circulation and popular consumption of images in India. It would be a mistake simply to adapt Western theories of film spectatorship to the Indian situation, for these fail to account adequately for the heterogeneity of film audiences or the modes of address film‐makers adopt to appeal to specialised constituencies of viewers. The problems of defining Indian spectatorship have been brought into sharp focus by the rapid spread of ‘reality television’ following the broadcasting of the fratricidal communal conflicts of 1992–1993. Film‐makers, whether they sought a mass audience within India, packaged Indian social realities for Western viewers or appealed to the leftist sympathies of an educated elite, began to turn to the traumas of recent history for their subject matter. The kinds of films they have made illustrate the diversity of Indian spectatorship as well as the continuing vitality of the cinema as a medium of cultural exchange and social transformation.

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