PhD defended at:
This thesis is an investigation of the explosive growth of Bhojpuri cinema alongside the vernacularisation of north Indian media in the last decade. As these developments take place under the shadow of Bollywood, the thesis also studies the aesthetic, political, and infrastructural nature of the relationship between vernacular media industries – Bhojpuri in particular – and Bollywood. The thesis then argues that Bhojpuri cinema, even as it provincialises Bollywood, aspires to sit beside it instead of displacing it. The outrightly confrontational readings notwithstanding, the thesis grapples with the ways in which the vernacular departs from its corresponding cosmopolitan form and how it negotiates cultural representation as an industry.
The two chapters in Part I provide a narrative account of the discourses and media-texts that saturate the Bhojpuri public sphere. The prevailing discourses and the dominant texts, the thesis argues, resonate with each other, but also delimit the destiny of Bhojpuri film and media. The tug of war between the cultural and economic valuations of the Bhojpuri commodity, as between enchantment and discontent with its representative prowess, as also between ‗traditional‘ values and reformist ‗modernity‘, leaves us within an uncomfortable zone. The thesis shows how aspirations to male stardom consolidate this territory and become the logic by which the industry output keeps growing, in spite of a failing media economy.
Each of the three chapters in Part II traces the historical trajectory of language, gendered use of public space, and piracy, respectively. In this part, the thesis establishes the analytical provenance for the emergence of Bhojpuri cinema in particular, and vernacular media in general. While Bhojpuri media allows Bhojpuri to seek its autonomy from state-supported Hindi, it also occupied the fringe economy of rundown theatres as Bollywood sought to move towards the multiplexes. If the advent of audiocassettes led to the emergence of Bhojpuri media sanskar, the availability of the single-screen economy after the arrival of multiplexes cleared the space for the theatrical exhibition of Bhojpuri cinema. The suboptimal transactions of counterfeit media commodities, on the other hand, regulate the legal counterpart and widen the net of distribution beyond the film theatre. I argue that the suboptimal practices are embedded within the unstable meanwhile. As an occupant of this meanwhile temporality, Bhojpuri film and media, whether in rundown theatres or on cheap mobile phones, grow via contingent and strategic coalitions.
This thesis, then, argues that cinema as a form makes it possible for Bhojpuri speaking society to confront, and reconcile with, its own corporeality – the aural and visual footprints, the discursive and ideological blind spots, and the aspiration to break free. On account of the media economy and its power to ratify a new order of hierarchy via celebrity, Bhojpuri media threatens to transform the social order, yet remains open to the possibility of manipulation by which the old order could rechristen itself as new.