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Nautanki and Hindi Cinema: Changing Representations

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This essay examines the changing representations of Nautanki in Hindi cinema through an analysis of Teesri Kasam (1966) and Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon (2003), and addresses the role and function of such representations in engaging intersecting questions of theatre, gender, modernity and nationalism. Produced at a distance of more than three decades, the films focus on Nautanki dancer-actresses, give them space to express their voices, and expose the difficulties and power-relations involved in negotiating their public and private lives. Yet the cinematic frames and aesthetics of these films, derived in part from Nautanki, function as technologies that both mark and participate in the shifting ideological perspectives on the place of theatre and its actresses in the cultural life of the nation, and in relation to Bollywood. While Teesri Kasam functions as a film that intends to produce for its audience a political consciousness about folk theatre at a time when the post-independence nation sought an autonomous identity through the revival and recuperation of its traditional cultural forms, Main Madhuri Dixit, produced in the post-1990s milieu of a globally growing Bollywood industry, suggests that cinema is the appropriate cultural medium for fulfilling the Nautanki actress's desire for greater social success and acknowledgement across national and transnational sites.
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Keywords: Hindi Cinema; India; Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon; Nautanki; Teesri Kasam; theatre actress

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Western Ontario.

Publication date: 2009-05-01

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  • Studies in South Asian Film and Media (SAFM) is the most promising new journal in the field. This peer-reviewed publication is committed to looking at the media and cinemas of the Indian subcontinent in their social, political, economic, historical, and increasingly globalized and diasporic contexts. The journal will evaluate these topics in relation to class, caste, gender, race, sexuality, and ideology.
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