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The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, 7 Volume Set by Fabienne Darling-Wolf, Radhika Parameswaran, Erica Scharrer, Vicki Mayer, Sharon Mazzarella, Kelly Gates, John Nerone, Angharad N. Valdivia

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12

Shifting Contours of Indian Womanhood in Popular Hindi Cinema

Sujata Moorti

ABSTRACT

This essay offers an overview of the shifts in representations of woman and femininity in popular Hindi cinema. Through a historical overview the essay underscores the relationship between the cinematic figure of the woman and the nation-state. During the colonial era, the category Indian woman was a capacious one, including men who cross-dressed and foreigners as well as Indian women. Ironically, these images were allegories for the anticolonial nation-in-formation. In the postcolonial era (1950s–1980s), the figure of the woman symbolized the many facets of India's struggle for self-reliance. Since the 1990s, images of Indian women have become one of the primary sites where the anxieties of globalization are worked through. The essay argues that contemporary Bollywood films offer a very limited repertoire of images of the ideal Indian woman. However, Hindi films from an earlier era offered more tantalizing possibilities for the articulation of a female subjectivity.

A tall, masked, pistol-wielding woman wards off a bunch of villains from atop a moving train. This blonde, blue-eyed, strapping female equivalent of Robin Hood is not a Hollywood persona but, rather, a very popular star from early Hindi cinema, Nadia. Known by her fans as Hunterwali (the huntress), Nadia is the antithesis of the stereotypical coy, all-singing, all-dancing Hindi film star associated with today's Bollywood. How ...

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