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Gender, Nation, and Globalization in Monsoon Wedding and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
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Gender, Nation, and Globalization in Monsoon Wedding and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

The crossover success of Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding (2001), whose characters speak English, Hindi, and Punjabi, lies in the skill with which the film acquaints a Western audience with the sights and sounds of the new global India. Set in a burgeoning New Delhi suburb, the film uses a lavish Punjabi wedding as an occasion for staging the reunion of family members who are scattered across the globe. But the idea of a global India does not simply refer to the large numbers of Indians (known as Non-Resident Indians or NRIs) living in the diaspora.1 The term also signifies the social and cultural transformation India has undergone since 1991, when a new economic policy eliminated the bureaucratic red tape restricting imports and foreign investment. For the first time, the marketplace became flooded with consumer goods that had previously been available only on the black market, and designer labels became commonplace. Indian television went from the two channels of the state TV to the more than sixty channels available on cable and satellite in some urban areas. Whereas the state-controlled television programming promoted agricultural shows aimed at farmers, the new satellite TV channels broadcast sexually explicit music videos and Hollywood soap operas such as Santa Barbara and Baywatch that engendered Indian imitations. Sexual topics that were previously unmentionable were now being openly discussed, and television brought these discussions into the inner sanctum of the home. [End Page 58]

Monsoon Wedding presents the contradictions of everyday life that an opening of India to globalization has introduced. The film destroys any lingering image of a nation mired in some premodern space as a traditional land with ancient customs and beliefs. Rather, it reveals a postmodern world in which cell phones and e-mail coexist with age-old rituals and occupations.2 The audience witnesses Delhi street scenes of pushcarts and bicycle rickshaws weaving in and out of cars driving by a monolithic statue of Shiva.3 Golfers ride in golf carts across an immaculately landscaped golf course, while a row of women carrying sand in baskets on their heads (presumably for the sand pits) passes behind them. The camera often zooms in on television screens and monitors to emphasize the power of the new media, and it presents a TV talk show on film censorship, where guests debate the erosion of Indian morality and Hindu tradition. The heroine, Aditi (Vasundhara Das), represents a new generation of Indian women who live double lives in order to reconcile their desires with the wishes of their parents. Aditi secretly meets the man she loves the night before she is to marry the Houston NRI her parents have arranged for her to marry.

In foregrounding the clash of modernity and tradition, Nair makes explicit the anxieties about a national identity underlying the commercially successful films of Indian cinema, commonly known as Bollywood in reference to Bombay as the Hollywood of the Indian film industry.4 A hybrid form from its inception, Bombay cinema reworked the melodrama, musical, slapstick comedy, and gangster genres of the classic Hollywood era, by infusing them with Hindu epic plots, Orientalist exoticism, and the visual and aural overload of Indian culture to create a new aesthetic style. Once derided for its melodrama and derivative plots, Bollywood has more recently begun to infiltrate a Euro-American consciousness through what can be identified as a new transnational cultural literacy. Indian films have always enjoyed an international audience, being popular among Arabs, Africans, Mexicans, and Southeast Asians. Indian film stars such as Raj Kapoor had an enormous following in third world countries as well as the former Soviet Union, where loyal fans equally consumed the visual spectacle of his movies as his depiction of the angst of the common man. What is different today is that a Bollywood audience has expanded to include Western populations, while its cinematic style has been mainstreamed into British and American theater, film, and television.5 [End Page 59] Bollywood's crossover success can be attributed to the increased availability of Indian films on DVD, cable TV, and in theaters catering to...