“500 & 5” at the Spurlock Museum

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Autorickshaws. Curry. Hijra. Tamil. Bindis. And rupees. Guess that country.

If you guessed India, you were right. This is the country that “500 & 5” highlighted at the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library’s screening on Sunday, December 14th at the Spurlock Museum, organized by South Asian Studies Librarian Mara Thacker. Wanting to take advantage of one of the film creator’s presence in Urbana-Champaign, 40 people gathered to view the Tamil-language piece, which was followed by a question and answer session with Kousalya Jeganathan.

“500 & 5” tells the tale of a 500 rupee note of Indian currency that travels through the hands of five different people in South India. While only valued at about $8 US, the bill’s impact is immeasurable in deciding the fates of many, including those of a gangster, a chauffeur and a woman suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. Filmed in modern-day India, the piece evokes a variety of themes like organized crime, divorce and the illicit use of narcotics. The theme connecting the various stories is the overwhelming influence of money in a variety of social situations. While the rupees solve no problems in the film, they certainly increase the tensions in relationships based on authority and subservience.

The film has had some difficulty finding distribution, Jeganathan mentioned in the talkback afterwards. Some of the tropes reject the conventions of the traditional feature film. For example, the film is split into five shorts as opposed to films with one major story line. Women are featured as prominent characters and are not merely the object of amorous pursuits as is a pattern in many parts of the world, including the East and the West. And, more than anything else, the film is explicitly anti-consumerist and anti-capitalistic, frequently criticizing the power that money represents. Distributors have therefore been reluctant to risk supporting a film they are unsure will succeed at the box office.

The audience’s response to the film was inquisitive and its questions revealed some unique details about the film making process. In order to dedicate themselves fully to the task, Jenganthan and other “500 & 5” creators quit their jobs, truly manifesting the idea that provoking thought was a higher priority than monetary gain. Certain scenes were filmed in Jeganathan’s home. Many of the actors came from a theater background, and the role of the hijra character opened new discussions of a third gender that is widely accepted in Indian culture. Jeganathan shared that envisioning a moneyless culture was new and challenging for many audiences, but was perhaps still a worthy exercise, even if momentary and fleeting.

Calmly accepting the fate of the film, Jeganathan stated that “whenever the universe wants it, it will come out.” “500 & 5” is recommended to audiences interested in the cinematic representation of South Asia. It offers a visually rich tapestry of several socioeconomic classes of Indian society, from the very poor and illiterate to the exaggeratedly rich figures of the entertainment industry. For more information on the film, visit accessiblehorizonfilms.com and be on the lookout for more events from the International and Area Studies Library by liking our Facebook page.

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Bollywood 100 years

Bollywood is the informal, and sometimes controversial, term used for the Hindi-language film industry. The term is controversial because it comes with the implication that the Hindi film industry is a [poor] imitation of Hollywood and also because it is often incorrectly used to refer to the entire Indian film industry. In fact, Hindi cinema has a long history and has its own unique set of aesthetics and conventions.

The Indian film industry started in the early 20th century. The country’s first silent feature full-length film, Raja Harishchandra, was produced in 1913 by film pioneer Dhundiraj Govind Phalke. Modern Bollywood began in 1931 with India’s first sound film, Alam Ara.[i] During the 1930s and 40s, the Indian film industry was suppressed by the Great Depression, but in 1946-1955 Bollywood saw its golden age. As Indian won its independence from British in 1947, film producers were kindled by the passion of a free new nation to build their own film industry. They threw off the restraints of the British studio system to take the reins of their own cinema.[ii]

The expansion of television in the 1980s was a major blow to the Hindi film industry, just like film industries across the world. To survive the spread of television, Hindi cinema focused on producing spectacle that small screens cannot achieve. Entering the new millennium, Bollywood produces an increasing quantity of films. Right now Bollywood is the film base that is producing the largest number of films around the world, ranging from 800-1000. It also sells the largest number of tickets.

Throughout Bollywood’s 100 years’ history, it produced numerous high quality and successful films. Some best known Bollywood films of all time are: Salaam Bombay! (1988), Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Devdas (2002), Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Veer Zaara (2004), 3 Idiots (2009), etc. Among the mainstream films, Lagaan (2002) won the Audience Award at the Locarno International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 74th Academy Awards, while Devdas and Rang De Basanti (2006) were both nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[iii]

lagaan

Lagaan

The best known Bollywood film genres are musicals and dramas. Recent musicals combine traditional Indian dance and singing with some western style dance, including Broadway and MTV’s music videos. The drama films have some preset plots, usually a mixture of star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, sacrifice, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.[iv]

Bollywood’s influence on Indian people’s life cannot be overemphasized. Both its popular music and fashion industry are driven by films, for instance the film Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!(1994) transformed the nation’s wedding attire.[v]

Bollywood films are popular across the South Asian sub-continent, including the countries of Bengal, Nepal, and Pakistan. They are also popular among the Persian Gulf countries, some South African countries, Russia, and gaining increasing popularity in U.S and U.K.

If you want to check out Bollywood movies for yourself, you can browse the Library’s collection of Hindi film (with English subtitles) in the Undergraduate Media Collection. Click here to browse them.

 


[i] Bamzai, Kaveree. Bollywood Today. New Delhi : Lustre Press, Roli Books 2007.

[ii] Bamzai, Kaveree. Bollywood Today. New Delhi : Lustre Press, Roli Books 2007. P15.

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