Towards a more inclusive Indian identity? A case study of the Bollywood film Swades

National Identities, 12:1, 41-59

If there is anything I’ve learned from Maya Ranganathan, it is to place whatever you are arguing “squarely”¹ within social, political, and economic context. And that the ability to build said context comes from extensive reading.²

In this paper — Towards a more inclusive Indian identity? A case study of the Bollywood film Swades, I find her doing what she does best — make an argument within the context of reality. As a film that released within a year of passing of the Dual Citizenship Act, she reads Swades as an attempt at propagating a more inclusive Indian identity.

She takes her time outlining the idea of national identity, its manifestation on the diaspora, India’s history with Indians migrating to countries abroad, the need then for liberalisation and the resultant need to be more inclusive and inviting of NRIs, the expanding market for Bollywood films abroad, among other things. This is so rich, that is there is one reason I’d want to live 200 years is to be able to read all the papers and books she’s referenced in this section.

Strong on the foundation of context, she gets to Swades. She explores the idea of parampara in understanding one’s identity; and conflict in the film. She argues — “that it falls in line with what Chatterjee identified as a unique feature of anticolonial resistance: the creation of an ‘inner’ culturally sovereign realm while competing with the West in the ‘outer’ realm of politics and economy.”

The stereotypical media image of the callous and selfish Indian abroad of the 1980s when the Indian economy appeared to be doing well had to give way to a more tolerant image of the NRI following the waking up of the Indian government to the need of involving the huge NRI population in the process of nation-making.

She recounts one after another the various ways in which the film uses familiar images and symbolism to nudge the importance of returning to one’s homeland. She draws meaning from the film’s name and how it’s used, the names of the characters — the Kaveriamma in rural UP, “Charanpur” — the land that offers refuge. She reads Kaveriamma as metaphoric of (mother) India. But she returns to the Dual Citizenship Act and the need to be domicile in India to contribute to nation-building.

In the end, she also finds that, by the film’s logic, Mohan’s returning to settle in India might be useless.

Link to full-text on Academia.edu.

More reading

PS

¹ I find myself using that word often, to mean snugly/comfortably fitting into something. I remember having learned it from her.

² The learnings are more now in retrospect than at the time — she was a professor and thesis guide while I was in college in 2006-08.

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