Constructing South Asian Identity in Film and Fiction

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Richard Schumaker/Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

Constructing South Asian National Identity in Literature and Film: Confluences on the Asian Subcontinent

When Partition created India, East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) and West Pakistan in 1947, the nationhood of these new states moved from the theoretical to the real in dramatic fashion, setting up complexities and contradictions that continue to reverberate into the present day. This panel will investigate the past, present, and future of these South Asian nations’ search for cultural identity in an examination of their fiction, poetry, and film. 

The panel invites papers that examine the ways in which South Asia is constructed and imagined in literature and film: for example, in the 1957 film Mother India, the films and novels of Satyajit Ray, the state-of-India novels of Manil Suri, and Bollywood hits like Dil Se and Rang De Basanti, all of which grapple with Indian national identity, plumbing the underlying tensions between national unity and staggering diversity.

Intentionally, we are not designating a specific time-frame for the panel. Panelists may want to explore the distant past for roots and legacies or current cinema; or panelists may wish to consider questions of how national identity is formed in nations with so many diverse languages, religions, regional and cultural practices. What cultural artifacts hold them together as nations, and how does that operate in specific texts and films?

Other possible questions for this panel: How does such a multicultural nation imagine its own identity? What are the relationships between the various cultural forces that shape or have shaped this identity? What linguistic questions and challenges are presented by the multiple literary and cinematic traditions of diverse linguistic and religious groups?

The panel welcomes presentations on works in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and other South Asian languages, as well as in English. Presentations may be on works about South Asia 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.