Deimantas Valanciunas (Vilnius University, Lithuania) “Of Roots and Routes: Migration, Home and Belonging in Bollywood’s Films on Diaspora”


Hindi popular cinema (loosely referred to as Bollywood) is one of the major features of contemporary Indian public culture, consumed and appreciated by millions of people in India and abroad. For a long time despised by intellectuals as kitsch, melodramatic, superficial and trivial, in the past twenty years Bollywood has become an object of serious academic research, marked by the dramatic shift from (often) Eurocentric theory, which dominated film studies in the ‘70s and ‘80s to appreciation of diversity in World cinemas, propelled by the growth of postcolonial and cultural studies and the disappearing preoccupation with the forms of ‘high culture’ (Featherstone 2005). The acknowledgment of the importance of popular culture in the academic researches appreciated Bollywood’s unique form of cinematic expression and, more importantly, its impact on the everyday experiences and identities of its spectators.

Since the independence Indian popular cinema was actively participating in the project of imagining the nation, constantly shifting and re-thinking its narratives according to the socio-cultural and historical transformations in India. After the economic liberalization of 1991 and increased migration resulting in many Indians settling abroad, Bollywood presented many film narratives located in the diaspora spaces (London, New York etc.), marking the diaspora as inevitable outcome of modernity, globalization and contemporary postcolonial India. Films with diaspora setting are consumed and appreciated by the spectators both in India and overseas (for example, such high-grossing films as Namastey London (2007) and Jab Tak Hai Jaan 2012)), marking these films not only as a profitable global product, but also as a distinctive reflection of the changed role of India in the global arena.

Many Bollywood films set in diaspora locations would emphasize the questions of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’, incorporating many important aspects of gender (especially through the representations of women character), religion (or the Hinduness) and national identity (the possibility of staying ‘an Indian’ in the diasporic space). The diaspora space constructed in Bollywood films, however, is ideologically ambiguous and very different from films, created by actual diasporic filmmakers. This space becomes an ideological site where concepts of ‘hybridity’ and ‘the third space’, celebrated by the postcolonial theorists and diasporic filmmakers, are negotiated and even contested. Therefore the present paper proposes  to investigate the construction of diaspora space in contemporary Bollywood’s films (e.g. Purab aur Pacchim (1970), Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaenge (1995), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), Namstey London (2007)) tracing the major ideological shifts in the films’ narratives in relation to the changing socio cultural and political climate of India.