Constructing Indian National Identity in Literature and Film (Panel)

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Dr. Abby Bardi
contact email: 

In 1947, the nation of India was formed as an imagined community whose literalness immediately became vividly and at times tragically apparent. The creation of the independent state of India conferred a unified national identity on a place whose phenomenal diversity is manifested in over 1,700 languages as well as an infinitely complex cultural, social, and religious heritage.

This panel will investigate the past, present, and future of political India’s search for cultural identity in an examination of its fiction, poetry, and film. Intentionally, we are not designating a specific time-frame for the panel. Presenters may want to explore the distant past for roots and legacies or current Indian cinema, such as Bajirao Mastani; presenters may want to link the distant past and cutting-edge cultural developments in literature and film. They may wish to consider questions of how national identity is formed in a nation with so many diverse languages, religions, regional and cultural practices.

The panel invites papers that examine the ways in which India is constructed and imagined in literature and film: for example, in the 1957 Hindi film Mother India, the Bengali films of Satyajit Ray, the novels of Vikram Seth, Manil Suri, Arundhati Roy; in Bollywood hits like Chennai Express and Two States, which explore the north-south binary; in the important linguistic and thematic cross-fertilization that occurs, for example, in Vishal Bhardwaj’s use of the Faiz poem at the end of his masterpiece, Haider. Papers on any films and novels that grapple with Indian national identity, its problems and contradictions, plumbing the underlying tensions between India’s sense of national unity and its staggering diversity, will be welcomed.

Other possible questions for this panel: How does such a multicultural nation imagine its own identity? What cultural artifacts hold India together, and how does that operate in specific texts and films? What are the relationships between the various cultural forces that shape or have shaped the nation? What linguistic questions and challenges are presented by the multiple literary and cinematic traditions of India’s many language groups?

The panel welcomes presentations on works written in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, and other languages, as well as in English. Presentations may be on works about India by writers or filmmakers living outside of the sub-continent. Examples of this would be Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Lowlands” or “The Namesake” or Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy. The panel might also examine non-Indian writers whose work has represented India, from the canonical, such as Forster’s A Passage to India, to the contemporary, such as Katherine Boo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Beyond the Beautiful Forevers.