Prem de Prem Le

Prem de Prem Le

Lyrical Nationalism:
Gender, Friendship, and Excess in 1970s Hindi Cinema

Priya Jha


The Bombay film industry (Bollywood) is usually considered, along with other state-sanctioned institutions, in its role as a force for cultural and political consolidation within the architecture of postindependence Indian identity. 1 The products of the industry and, indeed, the "filmic system" itself project a fantasy of a homogeneous culture that in fact masks the hierarchy of subject positions and belonging divided along the lines of gender, class, ethnicity, and caste. 2 In this essay I examine one particular feature of the films, the song-and-dance sequences, as they draw attention to the fractious nature of the postcolonial nation while simultaneously attempting to construct a space for the articulation of a consolidated national identity.
Songs in pop Indian film, as metanarratives, allow the spectator to create meaning within the larger, scattered, melodramatic filmic space. Consequently, they provide insight into an otherwise incoherent narrative. At the level of the "real world," the popularity of a song from a film often determines the failure or success of the film, since its economic success is largely indebted to the "catchiness" of the tune. 3 If the radio replay of the song is successful, the film audience will repeatedly (sometimes as often as daily for the entire run!) go back to see the movie. Another significant point is that the actors in the films do not perform the songs (although there have been exceptions); rather, voices attributed to the songs are of well-known playback singers. Neepa Majumdar's insightful work on the connections between stardom and song sequences is worth mentioning here. She argues for a connection between the star system in Bollywood and the "song picturizations" that take place on-screen. 4 According to Majumdar, the very definition of the term song picturization renders meaning to the image "in the terms...

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