Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
During my semester abroad in India I conducted an Independent Field-Work Project (IFP) on the representation of women in Bollywood cinema. I knew I wanted to study Indian film while I traveled around the country, and naturally Bollywood was the industry to look into. Bollywood is India's primary film producing industry and has been a proud, highly influential, and popular industry since its inception in 1947. The industry developed largely independent from state sponsorship and has managed to become one the world's largest feature film manufacturers. Regardless of Bollywood being one, single ‘genre', there are so many facets and sub-genres that I had to narrow my focus. After spending the summer viewing several classic and contemporary popular Hindi films I decided that the role of female characters was a key concept in all of the films. I became fascinated with the evolution of the female character and decided to spend my semester abroad in India further researching the changing representation of women in Bollywood cinema.
My initial plan was to interview a large sample of people to gain general knowledge on the perceived and preferred representation of women in Bollywood cinema. My program was one that traveled frequently and this gave me the perfect opportunity to speak with a variety of people from different backgrounds, disciplines and perspectives. However, as with most research projects, plans changed once I was on the ground and was thrown into researching. I conducted seven informal interviews and after analyzing the data from those I decided that I no longer wanted to pursue the same information. I switched gears and began interviewing film professionals, or more generally, people who have had experience or who were trained to deconstruct and analyze film. Once I started down this path I began gathering much more interesting information.
From my research I learned that the Bollywood heroine has changed over time to fit into the mold of ‘modern' Indian society, yet at the same time she upholds many ‘traditional' characteristics that aligned her with the religious life of Hinduism and the nationalist project that governs India's day to day life. I proposed the thesis that, "the changes in the Bollywood heroine over time reflect contemporary social and political issues in India and are the result of the film industry's struggle to join traditional and modern ideals of womanhood in order to maintain a positive nationalist appeal". Bollywood has throughout history, and still today, been criticized for being produced only for entertainment, solely as a mean of escapism. While this may hold true in many regards, the images produced in Bollywood cannot be disregarded as fictional or non-influential. I chose this project because Bollywood is highly influential and entirely accessible all over India, therefore making the images it produces a tool of socialization for India's youth and future generations. It was amazing to be researching the representation of women in film while simultaneously observing gender roles in society. I really enjoyed working on this project and would love to go back to India and expand upon my research.