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Studying The Development Of Film Migration English Literature Essay

The nineties very much developed the inherent themes of settlement and migration that were ever-present early on in Hindi cinema. Films of the sixties and seventies, most markedly are significant in terms of their representation of natives of India migrating to overseas countries. Films of this period invariably cast those who were abroad in side roles or as villains, depicting them as harbingers of the bad ways of the West – a corrupting influence, or counter-reference to Indian values. [1] This portrayal of the diasporic character was recognised by director Govind Nihalani who stated in a magazine interview “The camera would start from those new shoes and tilt up, the trousers, the face with the cigarette handing from the mouth. The foreign-returned has an affected manner; the girl has bobbed hair, a mini skirt. They had lost their Indian-ness and become alien.” [2] 

These images were prominent and best illustrated in Manoj Kumar’s Purab aur Paschim (East and West 1970) in which the main protagonist was called Bharat, [3] who goes to London in pursuit of further studies. His character and persona is that of a proud Indian; he is sensible, traditional (does not drink, smoke) and respectful (he touches the feet of elders and even addresses the butler with an added “ji”). In contrast, the West is represented by a mixture of characters that can be described as unsavoury, to say the least. The son is presented as being a hippie, the daughter (played by actress Saira Banu) represents the wild Western girl; she has blond hair, wears mini-skirts, likes to go clubbing, drinks and is seen in a bizarre fashion continuously blowing smoke rings to the camera. There is also the added stereotype of shortened names. Towards the end of the film, Bharat transforms the family into traditional and respectable citizens. Inevitably, the whole family chooses to leave behind the materialistic pleasures of the West to inhabit the simpler pleasures of their native India. The last shots of film portrays the daughter emptying out the contents of a whiskey bottle while her mother tears up the return tickets to London, thus fully accepting and encompassing their new respectable lifestyles in India.

The period of the eighties indeed carried on this trend of representing the “west as bad” with portrayal of angry young men [4] fighting against the wealth of corruption to address and overcome the social upheavals present in India at the time, as well as acknowledging its growing role on the capitalist world order. In contrast, cinema of the nineties began to acknowledge the non-resident Indian as cosmopolitan in mind, speaking in English or American accents, but with their hearts and souls in the right place i.e. respecting all things Indian. [5] 

In the early nineties, the threat of economic collapse introduced a wide range of reforms, which dismantled the license raj. [6] Thus allowing multinationals entry into the country via various industries. What was previously considered a traditional society enriched in thousands of years of history was now knee-deep in the processes of globalisation. It just so happened that in this same year India welcomed satellite television, marking the arrival of the BBC World Service, MTV and Star Plus – to name but a few. In the coming years India underwent massive cultural shifts with the bombardment of foreign labels. Henceforth, Coca-cola, McDonalds and Levis were now accessible in India. Such liberalisation and the increased influences of the West brought the middle class into the fore (due to their spending power). But with this rapid change came much confusion.

This confusion and fast-paced changing environment led to a retreat back to traditional values, which was illustrated through the films being made at that time. Films like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (Who Am I to You? 1994), not a diasporic film, nonetheless, presented the ideal of traditional Hindu rituals with the added attention to family values. Hum Aapke Hain Koun was successful in that it rewrote the business of the Hindi film industry by realising that the youth and middle classes formulated much of the new audience of Hindi films.

The film’s plot follows the love story between Prem (Salman Khan) and Nisha (Madhuri Dixit) through the backdrop of various family festivities, traditions and rituals. The presence of modern technologies in the mise-en-scene suggests that while the characters were literate and modern;, they still adhered to traditional Indian values, joining in with the festivities and rituals. The film created box office history and fresh off its success came Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Brave Hearted Will Take the Bride 1995).

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) is the longest running film in Indian cinema to this date. [7] DDLJ brought the Indian diasporic community, often referred to as NRIs (non-resident Indians) to the fore with a conventional love story between Raj (played by Shahrukh Khan) and Simran (played by Kajol), two British Indians who fall in love during a trip to Europe. The obstacle however is that Simran has already been promised to marry her father’s best friend’s son in Punjab, India. The story thus entails Raj’s journey to Punjab to win Simran and her family over so that he can indeed take the bride.

The film’s protagonists, Raj and Simran, are not Indians who are temporarily in London for educational purposes or for work. They are themselves second-generation NRIs, who despite being born on foreign soil, adhere to the value systems of Indians and thus are morally sound. Interestingly, the only negative character in the film happens to be that of Kuljeet, Simran’s fiancé in India, who is presented as being highly chauvinistic and brash. In a scene, in the latter stages of the film, in conversation with Raj’s father Dharam Veer, he suggests that he will come to London to check out the English women. DDLJ questioned the Hindi film industry’s own NRI stereotype (as presented in films like Purab Aur Paschim) and turned it around.

The film was realised at a time where globalisation was transforming the face of India. Scriptwriter Anjum Rajabali says “Basic questions came up. What is India? Who is Indian?,” Anupama Chopra suggests that a definition to what is India and who is Indian was offered in DDLJ. DDLJ told Indians that an Indian is a hybrid who easily enjoys the material comforts of the West and the spiritual comforts of the East. [8] 

DDLJ was significant in terms of the history of Hindi cinema due to the fact that it was one of the first films to signify and portray the diasporic subjects as Indian nationals as compared to the earlier much popularised notion of the diasporic subject as corrupted Westerners. The film largely argues that “the Indian and his family” can and have remained intact despite behind outside the parameters of India. [9] The film’s main message suggests that despite the diaspora being subject to Westernisation, normatives can exist. The narrative of belonging, ever-present in the film, proved to be relatable to the mass audience, as can be seen through the mass popularity of the film.

The film opens with the actor Amrish Puri’s character Chaudhary Baldev Singh feeding pigeons in London’s famous Trafalgar Square. While feeding the pigeons on an early grey morning, Baldev compares the pigeon’s search for provisions to his own experiences of migration. His monologue emphasises his alienation in London, a foreign place where only the pigeons know who he is because like him, they too are homeless.

Where have you come from, why have you come here? Half a life has gone by, and yet this land is so strange to me and I to it. Like me, these pigeons too have no home, but when will I be able to fly? But someday, surely, I too will return. To my India, to my Punjab.

In this passage, it is clear that “home” is not in reference to a particular place or state or community but rather a feeling associated with a particular time, corresponding to a particular place i.e. Punjab. [10] There is an overwhelming desire and dream to return to India, particularly Punjab which brings the important notion of nostalgia to the fore. A concept perhaps most central to diasporic films – the theme that keeps producing narratives and films that draw the mass audience.

The visual contrasts between London and Punjab (the cold, lonely and alienated London compared to the busy, sunny and array of colours in the Punjab) are striking and do form the object of nostalgia, yet more important is perhaps the dialogue as it places the subject of the nostalgia i.e. Baldev at the centre of the story. It is his nostalgia that we see, visualise and experience. Hence, the film strikes an association between nostalgia and the desire to return to one’s homeland strongly with the displaced and disenfranchised male migrant. [11] This too, in comparison to the character of Lajjo (played by Farida Jalal), who is presented as being cheerful and content in her role as a mother and wife. It appears as though she is satisfied with her life in London. She has no immediate desire to return to India and the longing and alienation felt with the presence of Baldev is truly absent with Lajjo.

Also inherent within this sequence is the idea that there is always a need to move away from India, never a want or desire. For Baldev, it was financial restraints that forced him to take up residency in a foreign land. “I am shacked to my bread,” he states while feeding the pigeons. This nostalgia is what the audience experiences from the outset, Baldev’s longing and desire to return sets out the precedent for the entire film. The audience are unaware of the specifics of what is about to happen but can make logical guesses as to what is to come.

Further nostalgia is experienced by the audience as Chopra states “DDLJ fills us with a nostalgia for a possible present in which Baldev and Raj and Simran and Lajjo can exist together without anyone’s feeling being irretrievable being hurt.” [12] This is important in that in overcoming the obstacles in front of them, they undoubtedly and unintentionally hurt many people. While love may conquer all in the end, there is still bound to be some unease and pain in the family.

Furthermore, an important aspect of DDLJ is the generational difference, specifically in terms of identifying the homeland. The patriarch is the character that finds the West threatening in terms of contamination and corruption; it is he who longs for the homeland. In contrast, the diaspora is home for Baldev’s daughters Simran and Rajeshwari. Hence, in the film the men are the subjects of nostalgia while the women embody it. In many ways, this desire for the homeland due to displacement and disembodiment shapes the way in which the patriarch chooses to act, behave, dress and control his family. Evidently, Simran and Rajeshwari do not experience nostalgia. Yet, their upbringing is shaped by their father’s longing for home and the maintenance of his traditions. This is particularly true for Simran. He says after the announcement of his daughter’s marriage to his best friend’s son back in India;

I am not a failure. In the heart of London, I’ve kept India alive.

Not only is this dialogue important in understanding Baldev’s ideals on what it means to be an Indian living abroad, it also reflects different versions of diasporic experience in light of modernity. The first is Simran’s desire for experience and travel in Europe before she goes back to India to get married. The other being the initial representation of Raj as being an immature and carefree product of a rich father whose material success has blinded him. Raj’s father celebrates the fact that his son has failed his education and has been unable to gain a degree, passing it off as a family tradition. This can evidently be seen in Raj’s fist encounter with Baldev in the shop, when he tries to buy some alcohol after closing time. Baldev initially views Raj a boy who typifies someone corrupt by Westernisation. This bears a striking contrast to Baldev and his maintenance of his family. Baldev’s aim is that of preserving his homeland and particularly Punjab in London. He only wears traditional clothes as does his wife. He partakes in early morning prayers and expects the rest of the family to do so too.

In relation to this, the films’ presentation of material wealth is ambiguous in that wealth appears to be an unexamined given. However, this is perhaps just one part of the glamour that the film industry and particularly the romance genre appreciates. Rachel Dwyer argues for the importance of “a new middle class, emerging from the lower middle classes in metropolitan centres such as Bombay. Of which DDLJ is part.” [13] The film does appreciate a lavish consumption of travel, cars and clothes in its European sections [14] . However, unlike much of the films in recent times the film’s narrative allows for a focus and interest in the meaning of family, romance and place rather than on consumption and upward mobility.

One of the many key moments in the film is when Simran gains permission from her father to travel to Europe with her friends, prior to her engagement and marriage in India. It is this travelling that provides an opportunity, both in terms of space and place for Simran to fall in love with Raj. Vijay Mishra argues that Simran’s temporary mobility away from the domestic and national (English and Indian) with the “grand tour” of pastoral Europe that creates the possibility of romance. [15] While Simran and her mother Lajjo know that going on a month-long trip with friends to Europe is indeed an unlikely prospect, Simran’s speech is what makes Baldev give in. She tactfully and honestly asks to borrow a month out of her own life before “going away to a land I have never seen. The man I’m going to marry is a complete stranger. But I have no complaints.” Implicit in these lines is the fact that Simran knows where her future lies; she knows where she is heading and why and respects this. All she wants and asks for is one chance to “live,” one month to live. The moment is quite emotional, with the family listening in and tearing up with joy once Baldev grants Simran permission. This again is an example of Baldev’s upbringing of Simran and the maintenance of traditional and values. If stereotypes of the diasporic youth are to be believed and accepted, Simran would have easily rejected her arranged marriage and embarked on her European tour with her friends.

Unlike many Hindi films, DDLJ is non-conventional in that Raj and Simran do not fall in love at first sight. One of their first encounters is when Simran is helped onto the train and spills the contents of her luggage. Raj so happens to pull out a bra, asking Simran if it is hers. They are locked in a train compartment with nothing but each other’s company, which Raj sees as the perfect opportunity to be flirtatious. The character that Simran is finds this irritating to say the least and she is quite thankful and relieved when her friend Sheena comes to her rescue, much to Sheena and Raj’s own pleasure.

Despite being different, Raj and Simran’s come to realise that they are similar people; they share the same dreams of falling in love and share the same basic principles and values, while also being able to speak the same language. The audience, through their love and actions learn that what makes a true Indian is what is on the inside, i.e. what is in the heart. This too fits in with Raj Kapoor’s song in Shri 420 (Mr 420 1955).

My shoes are Japanese, These pants are British. The cap on my head is Russian. But my heart is Indian.

An interesting contradiction here with Baldev; while for Baldev, being Indian is represented through physical appearance, maintenance of the family and rituals, for Raj it is simply a matter of what is in his heart. You may be as flamboyant as you desire on the outside, yet you can equally be “Indian.” A thought reiterated by his father Dharam Veer in a later scene in the film whereby he tells Baldev not to judge him by the clothes he wears (as they are Western) but rather what is in his heart, for India is and has always been in his heart.

Character-wise, there are some prominent opposites in the film. While this would lead one to expect tension and conflict, the opposites are constructed in a way that there is no enemy; that two different people can bring out the best in eachother, provide perspective or establish respect or new light on a certain person. Raj’s father Dharam Veer (played by Anupam Kher) is a boisterous and flamboyant character who has made it in London as a successful millionaire through his hard work only. His presence in the film is important, yet typical to the inclusion of a good-hearted Punjabi man who lives life to the full. [16] In a similar scene to Kabhi Kabhie (Sometimes Sometimes 1976), Vijay tells his son:

Be a man. If you love her then pursue her to the ends of the earth.

Similarly Dharam Veer tells Raj:

The bride goes to the man who brings her home. I didn’t give you birth to sit around playing this fiddle... now go and come home only when your bride is with you.

There is a stark contrast between the formal and informal parent-child relationship in the film. The formal relationship Simran has with Baldev is epitomised through her respect to her father, the way she behaves around him, the way she dresses in his presence and even down to how she addresses her father with the respectful “Bauji.” While, Raj’s relationship with his father, on the other hand, is signified as a friendship, he affectionately calls him “Pops” and they partake in a witty exchange of “O potchi, O koka, O bobi, O lola.” There is a physical comfort to their relationship, while obedience, respect and distance reins throughout Simran and Baldev. This is captured simply yet beautifully in a scene at the beginning of the film whereby Simran and Rajeshwari are dancing to some rock and roll music but as soon as the doorbell rings, the girls quickly change the music to some class Hindi music and place themselves on the sofa, pretending to read. The daughters know that their dad would not approve of such flamboyance, so construct themselves differently in his presence.

Simran’s resolution to her dilemma of being in love is to elope. Her first words to Raj after they meet in Punjab is “take me away from here.” It seems as though she has decided that this is her only option. The obedience to her father and to her family has changed to the act of a rebel. In reference to earlier heroines in love stories, there is a salient difference in terms of Simran’s resilience. For example, in Sooraj Barjatya’s earlier films, both Suman in Maine Pyar Kiya (I have loved 1989) and Nisha in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun are compliant in their respective situations. [17] 

An inherent problem in the film is the reconciliation between traditional values as encompassed by Baldev and the validity of modernity represented by the love between Raj and Simran. It is here where the family is the key factor and this the mechanism that is capable of change and adaptation, particularly in relation to the demand posed by romance. This is reflected in formal and narrative structures in the film, epitomized through the pivotal parent-child dialogues in the film. [18] In key moments in the film, both Raj’s father and Simran’s mother express views outside of their social and ideological functions. It is Dharam Veer who encourages Raj to stop the wedding. In a similar sense, Simran’s mother criticises the role of the traditional woman in India. She tells Simran

At every step. Sometimes as daughter, sometimes as sister, sometimes as wife... I went on sacrificing my own happiness.

Both characters are important in terms of demonstrating the need for a reformed tradition in light of the times of modernity.

The protest of Simran’s mother is also significant as Uberoi argues that “women (especially older women) articulate the injustice of “tradition”... through such misgivings are discounted in the final resolution.” [19] Uberoi quotes the following dialogue:

As a little girl I heard my grandfather say there’s no difference between a man and woman. They have the same rights. When I grew up I learnt otherwise. My education was stopped, so that my brothers’ could continue; their education was more important than mine. I sacrificed my life as a daughter and then as a daughter-in-law.... But when you were born I vowed you would not make the same sacrifices I did... But Simran I was wrong. I forgot that a woman has no right to make such pledges. Women are born to make sacrifices for men.... I beg you, give up your happiness and forget him. Your father won’t ever allow it.

Uberoi disregards this dialogue and refers to the “patriarchal underpinning of the women as an object managed between her father and husband. It is romance that provides some realm of freedom in the film. Love invokes values and principles that have... an emancipator potential... individualism, self-realisation, affirmation of the individual’s personal qualities and equality between the sexes in the mutual experience of pleasure.” [20] 

A key point of change in the film is Raj’s journey to Punjab. During the first half of the film we are entertained with Raj’s aimless yet entertaining ways in Europe. The one serious moment in the European context and perhaps one of the most pivotal scenes in the film is where Raj pretends that he has slept with Simran after a drunken night. While pretending to have been involved intimately with eachother he later goes on to reassure her that;

I’m not scum.... I’m Hindustani. And I know what honour means for the Hindustani woman.

This declaration of being “Hindustani” is what becomes pivotal in the second half of the film. This is the time when the mischievous teenager becomes a more charming and mature man. The diasporic character becomes a rooted Indian man that gains the respect of all through his actions and words. The diasporic shift occurs in that Raj no longer represents the consumerist Westerner but rather a character who encompasses the traditional values of family and honour (pivotal to the Indian tradition). So when both his father and Simran’s mother propose that he and Simran elope if they wish to be together, all be it breaching tradition, Raj responds with a rejection. This would inevitably end the film, providing an answer to the films’ central dilemma of providing a balance of tradition and modernity.

You can only run from strangers. From the ones we call our own where could we run away to? He insists that he marries Simran in the traditional way. I haven’t come here to steal you he tells her. I might have been born in England. But I am Hindustani. I’ve come back to take you back as my bride.

The new Raj is an articulator of wisdom to his elders, as well as a figure that discovers traditional identity within his own apparently diasporic condition, a reversal of generational dynamics that yet confirms the structures of family and gender in which those dynamics are formed. [21] 

In her study of sexuality and romance in modern India, Rachel Dwyer reads films like DDLJ as belonging to wider cultural projects to “revive a form of feudal family romance in a new, stylish, yet unmistakably Hindu, patriarchal structure which... is connected to their contribution to the resurgence of the politics of Hindutva in the 1980s and 1990s.” [22] Raj rescues Simran from an arranged marriage (a tradition) and reshapes that tradition to be able to encompass diasporic change with the ability to allow for individuality. This is what Rajadhyaksha and Willeman would term “a feudal patriarchy where young people may aspire to a kind of watered-down version of modern subjectivity represented in consumerist terms before returning to the field” [23] DDLJ presents the younger generation as having a choice, to some extent. The film emphasises choice minimalistically in terms of picking a romantic partner. While this contravenes social conventions, the journey to success is by no means easy as the film highlights too.

While the film is successful in underlying the essence of Indian-ness, some authors have expressed their concern with the film’s conservative nature, in that the film fails to challenge social “prohibitions.” [24] Jyotika Virdi argues that romance films, such as DDLJ, “take up the cause of romantic love.... also important is that in the discursive framework of the romance genre exploring individual and family politics, the antagonistic, vilified figure is always the patriarch. The romance expresses agency, transgression, and transformation – all directed at challenging the “law of the father.”” [25] Although this is true to some extent, the essence of DDLJ lies more in opening up to the idea of a modern India, who encompass the traditional, yet enjoys the modern rather than challenging the patriarch, so to speak. While parental acceptance is importance in the film, it is negotiation rather than challenge that becomes pertinent.

Additionally, Purnima Manekar presents DDLJ as affirming the Indian male’s agency by portraying him as the figure of an NRI investor and the custodian of the Indian woman’s sexual purity. [26] When comparing the film to the earlier mentioned Purab aur Paschim, Manekar finds that the role of male has changed in that previously the male would go to the west for knowledge but now was returning as an investor. Evidently, the two roles fit together paradigmatically in that they both adhere to the material world.

DDLJ recognises and highlights the inequalities between men and women in India and indeed in the diaspora. Having said this, the film does little to challenge such inequalities and overcome them. The film is successful in emphasising the family over the individual. The family is what makes Indian culture unique, and the family – in this telling – is the jagir or property of men. [27] 

The ultimate question in regards to the film is not a question on the conventions of Hindi cinema, nor on patriarchy or feminism, neither is it about the representation of the specific diasporic community. What is most important and significant is the ideal that DDLJ carries throughout its narrative. It portrays what an Indian should be; while one can enjoy the material pleasures and luxuries of the West, they too can possess an innate Indian-ness which when it most matters can take precedence over all else. This Indian-ness is strongly relates to the preservation of valuing traditions particularly through the family. This is the essence of DDLJ and perhaps a strong reason, rather attribute of its continued success to this date.

Filmography

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) Director: Aditya Chopra Producer: Yash Chopra Selected Cast: Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Amrish Puri, Farida Jalal, Anupam Kher Music: Jatin-Lalit Cinematography: Manmohan Singh

Purab Aur Paschim (1970) Director: Manoj Kumar Producer: Manoj Kumar Selected Cast: Ashok Kumar, Saira Banu, Manoj Kumar, Pran, Prem Chopra Music: Kalyanji-Anandji Cinematography: V.N. Reddy

Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994) Director: Sooraj R. Barjatya Producers: Ajit Kumar Barjatya, Kamal Kumar Barjatya, Rajkumar Barjatya Selected Cast: Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Mohnish Behl Music: Raamlaxman Cinematography: Rajan Kinagi

Shri 420 (1955) Director: Raj Kapoor Producer: Raj Kapoor Selected Cast: Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Nadira Music: Shankar-Jaikishan Cinematography: Radhu Karmakar

Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) Director: Sooraj R. Barjatya Producer: Tarachand Barjatya Selected Cast: Salman Khan, Bhagyashree, Alok Nath, Reema Lagoo, Mohnish Behl. Music: Raamlaxman Cinematography: Arvind Laad

Kabhi Kabhie (1976) Director: Yash Chopra Producer: Yash Chopra Selected Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Rakhee, Waheeda Rehman, Neetu Singh, Simi Garewal Music: Khayyam Cinematography: Romesh Bhalla, Kay Gee


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