- Bollywood Goes to the Stadium: Gender, National Identity, and Sport Film in Hindi
Bollywood gives cinematic substance, form, and historical context to the dream of the nation . . .—Grant Farred (72)
the last ten years have witnessed the phenomenal expansion of India’s unique, Mumbai-based Hindi-language film industry, commonly referred to as Bollywood, into hitherto-untapped world movie markets. Though popular throughout Asia and even in the Eastern bloc since the 1950s, only recently has Indian film achieved mass popularity in the West. Its recent hegemonic internationalization can be attributed to a mutually beneficial feedback loop between changing strategies within Bombay’s film industry to appeal to Indian diasporic communities abroad, coupled with Bollywood’s increased exposure to non-diasporic audiences in Europe and North America (Bhaumik 191; Ganti 3–6; Gehlawat 139; Joshi 41). As Kaushik Bhaumik observes, “the recent twin successes of Lagaan (Ashutosh Gowarikar, 2002) and Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2001) amongst a relatively substantial crossover audience in the West ensured that the presence of Bombay films has begun to get felt more palpably in the mainstream” (192). In addition to an increased presence on cinema screens, television broadcasts of Bollywood films on specialized channels in the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as the DVD market and Internet streaming services such as Netflix, have allowed access not only to South Asian diasporic audiences but also to Anglo-American viewers who have come to appreciate the sheer entertainment value of an inherently hybrid film genre that combines vibrant rhythmic and melodic music with lavishly choreographed dance numbers, filmed on a variety of studio and location sets, and that depicts exotic urban and rural locations, featuring the romance, adventure, history, and laughter of stunningly attractive and charismatic stars and an array of familiar character actors.
Often dismissed precisely because of its popular entertainment value, Bollywood film can simply no longer be ignored by Western critics; although the body of film scholarship published in English on the Bollywood phenomenon has grown exponentially in the past decade, it remains largely—as Bhaumik observes (192) and Ajay Gehlawat’s review of the literature demonstrates (xi–xix, 1–26)—in the hands of Indian or diasporic Indian scholars working in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Mihir Bose argues in his history of Bollywood that whereas Hollywood has stopped growing, Bollywood will only continue to expand into the Western and world markets (26–27). Not only because of the sheer numbers—the industry produces over a thousand films per year, for fourteen million spectators per day (Bose 26)—Western critics and scholars can no longer dismiss it as childish fantasy for a third world audience or as a throwback derivative of 1930s Hollywood musicals (see Bhaumik 188, 192; Gehlawat 6, 10, 30). The best of contemporary Bollywood, what Tejaswini Ganti calls its “A-list” (27–28), offers a cultural product that couples visual artistry [End Page 34] with self-conscious exploration of generic conventions, dealing with themes essential to an understanding of the postcolonial world.
Although a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse audience has overcome the potential linguistic and cultural barriers to acknowledge the pleasures of this postmodern global film genre, film critics and scholars outside the Indian diaspora have only just begun to acknowledge—and analyze—its meanings. This article takes a step in that direction, focusing on a recently snowballing intersection between a genre largely identified with Hollywood—namely, the sport film—and Bollywood. In the following analysis, I examine how sport has been appropriated by filmmakers in Bombay and adapted to the conventions of Hindi film. After an overview documenting its growing presence in Bollywood, I offer a closer analysis of two sport films that feature female, rather than the usual male, sports heroes: Chak De! India (2007, dir. Shimit Amin), about a national women’s field hockey team, and Dil Bole Hadippa! (2009, dir. Anurag Singh), the tale of a woman who cross-dresses to play top-level cricket with a men’s team, both produced by Yash Raj Films, a multimedia studio emblematic of the contemporary Bollywood boom (Chopra 119).
Sport Film in India: Overview
One of the critical concerns...