Bombay provides an insight

All You Want is Money, All you Need is Love
November 3, 2000

Rachel Dwyer's book explores notions of sexuality and romance in the context of current Indian society through analysis of examples of the country's popular cultural production. Particular attention is paid to the output of the Hindi film industry (including Bollywood) but also film-based gossip magazines and popular novels. She argues that such a study can provide valuable insight into the lifestyle and aspirations of the social strata to whose interests they are addressed.

Her study focuses on Bombay and, as someone born and bought up in that city, surrounded by the middle-class culture that she analyses, I found the book particularly interesting. Dwyer raises important issues about changing perceptions of this class and the role of romance in Hindi movies.

She concentrates on the urban middle classes of Bombay, drawing a distinction between "new" and "old". The old middle classes are professional in social background and democratic and secular in ideology. Their values are, she argues, reflected in the sort of "art" cinema (represented for example by the films of Satyajit Ray) appreciated by academics and critics overseas. The new middle classes are non-landed classes, often from business, property or media backgrounds, typified by the more affluent population of Bombay's western suburbs. In Dwyer's view, successful Hindi cinema of the 1990s reflects the dominance of the values of the new middle classes.

Metropolitan Indian middle classes are different from their western equivalents, even though these upwardly mobile groups use English as their language of popular culture in novels, women's magazines, cable and satellite networks and, to a certain extent, in newspapers. Their values have shifted amid social changes in the post-economic reform era affecting developing countries. The metropolitan elite forms a distinctive consumer group with a distinct lifestyle.

Dwyer alludes to the rising Hindu nationalist culture, arguing that the new middle classes are evolving a different ideology from the secular international bourgeoisie and linking its cultural output to this claim. In her words, "the major hitsI revive a form of the feudal romance in a new, stylish yet patriarchal structureI connected to their contribution to the resurgence of the politics of Hindutva". I find this link inaccurate, but on the whole she reflects a good understanding of the emerging middle classes.

Dwyer picks up on the debates in the English language press in India about the elite and the popular forms of culture and tries to bring out the aspirations and fantasies of the new middle classes. The criticism attracted by the style of Hindi films can be seen in the light of an attempt by the economically disadvantaged and declining old middle classes to decry the legitimacy of new cultural capital. Domestic critics condemn such films for their melodrama, lack of realism and lack of psychological development. But melodrama can be justified as a form of "emotional realism", presenting situations where emotions are pushed to extremes. She highlights the modernisation of recent films, simplification of story lines and the simple glamourisation of the middle-class bourgeoisie, especially in films of Yash Chopra, such as Silsila or Kabhi Kabhi.

The book does not only discuss films. Dwyer also examines the successful magazine, Stardust, which relays gossip about Hindi movie stars. The magazine's style of presentation includes a virtually invented language that Dwyer analyses as creating its own imagined community. Its first editor, Shobha De, is herself a successful novelist and Dwyer discusses her output. The Indian novel is seen in intellectual circles as retaining a greater cultural legitimacy than cinema, a legitimacy that is challenged by the perceived vulgarity of De's work. This, too, is discussed in the light of divisions within the urban middle classes, particularly as they affect women.

Women are central both to De's novels and to some of the films Dwyer uses as case studies. While in some ways she is ambitious, she misses a chance to show the transition in women's outlook from upholding izzat (honour) to that of the more mature, bourgeois individuals that they are today. Tensions and conflicts between conservatism and modernism remain evident, with the family and marriage still upheld in the bourgeois romance.

This is a thoughtful book, but little consideration is given to theatre, cinema and literature in Marathi, the native language of the state, which has a rich history.

Vandana Desai is a lecturer in development geography, Royal Holloway, University of London.

All You Want is Money, All you Need is Love: Sex and Romance in Modern India

Author - Rachel Dwyer
ISBN - 0 304 70321 4/70320 6
Publisher - Cassell
Price - £45.00/£15.99

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