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Laying Bare A Social Matrix


Soudhamini

MELODRAMA AND THE NATION: SEXUAL ECONOMIES OF BOMBAY CINEMA 1970-2000
Edited by Karen Gabriel
Women Unlimited (an associate of Kali for Women), New Delhi, 2010, pp. 392, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 7 July 2010

The book begins by attempting to address'a key weakness in film theory: the text governs the production of, and is also represented in, cinema. In this the author seeks to move beyond general film studies which deals only with ‘narrative and its thematic, stylistic and formal characteristics’, and also beyond traditional feminist criticism and its psychoanalytic approach. The author begins by locating the role of the state and society in the formation of the ‘filmic text’ via implicit regulations—conventions of ‘acceptable or approved’narrative and therefore those that become financially viable or not—as also more formal means of state controllike censorship. She moves on to study melodrama as the pre-eminent genre of mainstream Bombay cinema to show how patriarchal gender relations are fixed and regulated throughits narratives and legitimized by the use of mythological references and parallels. Next, using the postcolonial experience to arrive at an understanding of how power functions within any set of hierarchal relations, she applies this to patriarchy to show how it organizes social space, including or excluding often with violence those it considers a threat to its stability. The overriding metaphor of the Nation is exposed in its powerful nexus with Hindu patriarchy to render ‘gendered’ all minorities including homosexuals and Muslims, not just women. Stereotypes of the macho ‘vigilante’ hero are interrogated to reveal how despite the myth of social reform that they are purported to herald they are in fact entirely regressive figures vis-a-vis the liberation of women. The ‘invisibilization’ of women is then finally zoomed into, to once again expose how their subjectivities are entirely erased through the use of myth and metaphor rather than full blooded characterization.Thus even films that apparently ‘celebrate’ women’s power end up denying her true agency in real terms. In all of this it is undeniable that the author is breaking fresh ground both in providing a wider context for film criticism and giving a new perspective to social relations in general and gender relations in particular. The work is meticulously researched in terms of the statistics of film production. It is also painstakingly argued in establishing the complex ways in which the patriarchal power nexus works at different levels in the society and state, including finally in the composition of the ‘filmic text’ itself. Unfortunately, having taken such a complex web to untangle, the book seems to collapse under its own weight. ...


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