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Understanding Indian Movies

Culture, Cognition, and Cinematic Imagination

By Patrick Colm Hogan

Publication Year: 2008

Indian movies are among the most popular in the world. However, despite increased availability and study, these films remain misunderstood and underappreciated in much of the English-speaking world, in part for cultural reasons. In this book, Patrick Colm Hogan sets out through close analysis and explication of culturally particular information about Indian history, Hindu metaphysics, Islamic spirituality, Sanskrit aesthetics, and other Indian traditions to provide necessary cultural contexts for understanding Indian films. Hogan analyzes eleven important films, using them as the focus to explore the topics of plot, theme, emotion, sound, and visual style in Indian cinema. These films draw on a wide range of South Asian cultural traditions and are representative of the greater whole of Indian cinema. By learning to interpret these examples with the tools Hogan provides, the reader will be able to take these skills and apply them to other Indian films. But this study is not simply culturalist. Hogan also takes up key principles from cognitive neuroscience to illustrate that all cultures share perceptual, cognitive, and emotional elements that, when properly interpreted, can help to bridge gaps between seemingly disparate societies. Hogan locates the specificity of Indian culture in relation to human universals, and illustrates this cultural-cognitive synthesis through his detailed interpretations of these films. This book will help both scholars and general readers to better understand and appreciate Indian cinema.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Cognitive Approaches to Literature and Culture Series


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p. xi

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Introduction: Indian Movies and the People Who Love Them: Universality and Cultural Particularity in the Cinema

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pp. 1-13

For anyone interested in film, the importance of Indian cinema can hardly be overstated. It is the largest film industry in the world, and probably second only to Hollywood in global influence. Vijay Mishra points out that Indian films are seen "by an average of 11 million people each day" (1).

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Chapter One: From Mythical Romances to Historical Sacrifices: Universal Stories in South Asia

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pp. 14-71

Humans think about and respond to categories by way of prototypes.1 This includes the category of stories. Prototypes are, roughly, standard cases of a certain group (e.g., birds). They do not provide necessary and sufficient conditions for membership in the group. However, they most often guide our thought about the group. Thus for most of us the prototype of a bird is more or less a robin.

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Chapter Two: The Film and the World: Global Themes, Local Movies

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pp. 72-99

Needless to say, films not only present us with characters and events. They present us with larger, intellectual issues, most often political or ethical issues. I use the word theme to refer to the development of such issues in the course of a work. The themes of a film are what give it social force, and mark it as having a purpose beyond aesthetic pleasure.

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Chapter Three: Once More, with Feeling: Human Emotions and Cultural Imagination

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pp. 100-159

Arguably, the most important concept in traditional Indian aesthetic theory is rasa. Usually translated as “sentiment,” rasa refers to the e emotional impact of a work on viewers, listeners, or readers. The centrality of rasa theory in Indian tradition suggests the centrality of emotion to the Indian arts, including Indian cinema. In this chapter, I start out with a general account of emotion, treating its universal principles, but also considering how these principles entail a certain degree of individual and cultural variation.

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Chapter Four: “So, What’s the Deal with All the Singing?”: The Cognitive Universality of the Hindi Musical

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pp. 160-193

The first thing non-Indians say when they see a mainstream Bollywood movie is often something along the following lines: “So, what’s the deal with all the singing? Things are going along normally. Then, out of the blue, somebody starts to croon. The next thing you know, the entire village is engaged in an elaborate dance number. I don’t get it.” Moreover, this response is not confined to newcomers.

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Chapter Five: Seeing Indian Style: The Brain and Its Visual Culture

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pp. 194-249

There has been a great deal of cognitive research on vision, much of which is directly consequential for the study of film. I will consider some of the most relevant material in two broad categories. The first concerns figures. The second concerns light, both color and brightness. More exactly, the first section takes up some of the main implications of research concerning figural vision, particularly as this bears on expectation and emotion. This relates most directly to editing, especially those aspects ...

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Afterword: On Watching Indian Movies

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pp. 250-258

Why do we watch Indian movies? Or, more generally, why do we watch movies at all? Recently, Lisa Zunshine devoted a book to a cognitive exploration of why we read fiction. The question about movies is directly parallel. Zunshine’s answer has to do with our “Theory of Mind,” our ability to infer other people’s intentions and beliefs. Perhaps, she suggests, we enjoy the experience of our smoothly functioning Theory of Mind capacities (20).


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pp. 259-264


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pp. 265-280


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pp. 281-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780292794160
E-ISBN-10: 0292794169
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292717862
Print-ISBN-10: 0292717865

Page Count: 305
Illustrations: 69 halftones
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Cognitive Approaches to Literature and Culture Series
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 311052855
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Understanding Indian Movies