What role has Indian cinema played in the history of Indian cultural and political transformations? How have Indian films addressed notions of nationhood, ideas about nation and region, matters of social difference, and conflicts over caste and religion? What cultural visions can be traced through the history of Indian cinema, and how have their co-ordinates changed? What new vistas have emerged—of national territory, new lifestyles, and urban cultures—as India has moved from the early days of state formation, through the unravelling of national consensus, down to contemporary globalization?
The Melodramatic Public explores these issues as they play out in different historical moments, and in response to larger theoretical formulations—for example, vis-à-vis the place of film in discourses of secularism and citizenship. At the same time, it deploys the category of melodrama to navigate this variegated field. Drawing on debates in film studies, it reveals how melodrama relates the public and the private, as well as modes of aesthetic expression, in different historical and cultural settings. Vasudevan explores significant crossovers and comparative registers in Indian and American cinema, as well as changes in the nature of Indian cinema and melodramatic form, especially between the ‘classical’ 1950s and the contemporary period.
Several features make this a work of seminal importance in film studies. First, it moves away from generalities about the ways in which film represents or contributes to large political and cultural issues: it does so by attending to the specifics of cultural address, film style, and film technology. Second, it analyses the transformation of the film industry since the 1990s in terms of the changing location of cinema in a new globalized environment. Third, it considers the impact of digitization, both in terms of film form and audience engagement, and through the new circuits of distribution and delivery.
Vasudevan lays great emphasis on film analysis to explore significant practices and changes in the realm of cinema and the world around it. While primarily focused on popular cinema, his book also devotes attention to the work of Satyajit Ray, as well as to the practices of art cinema and documentarists in present times.
Ravi Vasudevan is a fellow of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, and co-initiator of ‘Sarai’, the centre's research programme on media experience and urban history. He has taught film studies in India and the USA, including at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Princeton University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jadavpur University, the Film and Television Institute of India, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. He was Van Zelst Professor at Northwestern University’s School of Radio Television Film in 1998. He is on the editorial advisory board of the British film studies journal Screen. His articles have been widely published and anthologized, and he has edited Making Meaning in Indian Cinema (2000)