To Bollywood and beyond

South Asian Popular Culture
April 22, 2005

Why aren't Asians any good at football?" the joke used to go.

"Because every time they see a corner they open a shop." Of course, this scenario is pretty outmoded in the 21st century. Research shows that the UK's second-generation immigrants are now entering the professions, put off by their parents' thankless toil in the retail trade. Furthermore the term "Asian" was always a geographical inaccuracy, lumping together an entire continent when the British usage of the adjective only really applied to the Indian subcontinent. The more precise "South Asian" as descriptor has emerged only relatively recently, but proof of its acceptance comes in the advent of the journal South Asian Popular Culture .

The content is biased towards film studies, although unsurprisingly the first issue opens with an ambitious mission statement stressing interdisciplinarity. Thus, amid the essays on Asian diasporic film, Hindi films post-1990 and musical film comes a call for papers on - wait for it - Bollywood audiences, and a declaration that Bollywood "has become itself a global cinema, often positing itself against the hegemony of Hollywood, providing the idiom of South Asian, and diasporic identity in the 21st century."

The editorial board is largely composed of US academics, although two of the three editors are from the UK. The journal seems to concern itself more with South Asians in Asia rather than the fusion (confusion?) products peddled by the diasporic second generation and beyond. There are plenty of non-film phenomena in the UK that could provide rich material for future issues. Cherie Blair's penchant for wearing saris, the television show Goodness Gracious Me , Gary Lineker's Bollywood-style crisp adverts, and those BBC inserts between programmes with twirling Indian dancers that seemed to have lodged themselves in our collective consciousness are all good examples.

British South Asians are addressed in an article with the title "Pakistani Englishness and the containment of the Muslim subaltern in Ayub Khan-Din's tragi-comedy East is East ", by Bretta Collins Klobah of Puerto Rico University. Of the film's central character, Sajid, she claims: "The parka fits him like a protective foreskin, and he often hides out in a womb-like back shed, forcing his parents to speak to him through a vaginal hole in the door." Hmmm.

As for regular features, there is a "Working notes" section at the back that seems to consist of articles shorter than those in the main body.

Topics so far include Sinhalese cinema, an interview with a documentary film-maker and an intriguing short story titled Computers in the Jungle: A Prologue , which is set in the future and highlights the contradictions of the onward march of modernity in India. Such imaginative and original ventures should be encouraged; they make a change from the traditional line-up of books received and books reviewed.

In terms of forging a distinct identity, it seems the journal is still finding its feet, but this is only to be expected. There seems to have been something of a proliferation of niche cultural studies in recent years. The advent of South Asian Popular Culture is timely, as it comes when interest in its subject matter is at an all-time high. If it broadens its scope from preoccupation with the silver screen to the consideration of other art forms, this journal deserves a long and fruitful life.

Rupa Huq is senior lecturer in sociology, Kingston University.

South Asian Popular Culture

Editor - Rajinder Kumar Dudrah, K. Moti Gokulsing and Gitu Rajan
Publisher - Routledge
Price - biannual Institutions £144.00; Individuals £25.00
ISSN - 1474 6689; online 1474 6697

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