Weddings, Tradition, and Economics in Bollywood Films 1994--2004

Date of Completion

January 2011


Literature, Comparative|South Asian Studies|Cinema




In the most popular Bollywood films in the decade and a half following India's 1991 economic liberalization, weddings reflect a microcosmic picture of an everyday "normal." Conversely, in the most popular Hindi films of preceding decades back through the 1940s, weddings signified exceptions to the quotidian. This dissertation explores the shift in popular perceptions of Indian economics and identity through a close reading of five films released between 1994 and 2004, with particular attention to their treatment of weddings. ^ Through establishing first a context for understanding the political, economic, religious, and cinematic status quo in Indian popular culture leading up to and immediately following the early 1990's, and then a context for understanding the cross-cultural and Indian-specific functions of weddings, this study highlights the significant shift begun with 1994's Hum Aapke Hain Koun! (HAHK). A close reading of three Bollywood-produced films (HAHK, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayange, and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham ) and two Non-Resident-Indian-produced films (Monsoon Wedding and Bride and Prejudice) made as odes to the former reveals several structural and ideological similarities. ^ These movies distract the viewer from a sense of conflict between the present and the past, by naturalizing the material conditions of the present and narrowing the movies' scope such that any significant social ills of present times are rendered irrelevant through their absence. Characters are driven to self-identify in terms of tradition and "Indianness." ^ Comparing the Hindi films with their more English-based counterparts underscores how powerful the trope of the wedding is in establishing claims to Indianness. Even while the latter set more openly acknowledge social and economic conflict than the former, still their culminating weddings accomplish the same normalizing results. ^ Weddings are traditional. To be ideally Indian, these films imply, is to be what these weddings are. They are expensive (without felt cost), Hindu (in the context of blurring out any religious differences through rhetorical tolerance), and global (while thoroughly grounded as Indian). ^