Bhakti and Ashiqi: The syncretic heritage of Hindi cinema

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The thematic and formal difference between Hindi cinema and other cinemas is predicated on its being structured by the principles of oral narrative traditions. South Asian film scholars have convincingly located its origins in indigenous narrative and performing arts. Their examination of Indian epic, narrative, visual and theatrical traditions underpinning cinematic texts has elevated Hindi cinema from a bad copy of Euro-American cinema to an alternative cinematic genre with a distinctive visual and narrative grammar derived from a diversity of ancient and modern sources. While these studies engage in great depth with the ancient legacies of the epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and with more recent ones such as Parsi theatre and calendar art, which reveal a certain intermediality, their privileging of the Hindi film's Hindu Sanskritic sources over others marginalizes those producing a homogenous discourse of indigeneity. While acknowledging the contribution of the dominant Hindu Sanskritic tradition to the shaping of popular Hindi cinema, this article aims to explore the alternative narrative streams that have irrigated storytelling in Hindi films, particularly the alternative Perso-Arabic legacy that has been erased or marginalized in the studies of Hindi cinema. Through tracing the imbrication of the Perso-Arabic heritage with the Hindu Sanskritic, it aims to show that its inherent syncreticism makes a diverse variety of cinematic audiences identify with the narrative conflicts in Hindi cinema.

Keywords: Ashiqi; Bhakti; Dastan; Hindi film; Laila Majnu; Perso-Arabic; Qissa; Sanskritic

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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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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