ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Noir Urbanisms in Post-globalisation Hindi Cinema

Dark Fear, Eerie Cities: New Hindi Cinema in Neoliberal India by Sarunas Paunksnis, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019; pp xx + 172, 895.


This book grapples with the relationship between post-globalisation Hindi cinema and the shifting geography of cities, the rising masculine anxieties and the disappearance of tangible hard differentials. Paunksnis wants to make sense of recent shifts in Hindi cinema and address the rationale behind ‘‘the pessimism and alienation most films are infused with’’ (p xiii). The operative period for his analysis begins in the 2000s when, he claims, ‘‘a period of euphoric joy regarding becoming global’’ turned dark and eerie (p xii), for a “highly diverse rhizomatic film form” to emerge (p 5). Unlike the claims about hatke cinema and New Bollywood, Paunksnis claims to have found a deeper transformation in ‘‘the emergence of new sensibility strongly influenced by noir aesthetics and dirty realist imagination,’’ tethered to ‘‘pessimism, bleakness and in some cases, irony, all focused on the problems of urban dwelling’’ (p 6). However, Paunksnis’s newness is also tied to transformations that he claims are necessarily unnameable, undecidable, and not given to ‘‘academic acrobatics rooted in the structural clarities of the modern age’’ (p 23). Instead, he leaves us with ambivalence, twilight zones, in-between spaces and unexpected cultural formations, all claimed to be symptomatic of ‘‘neoliberal tremors that have been slowly refiguring life itself, giving birth to new sociocultural sensibilities as well as new social class formations’’ (p 23).

Paunksnis’ “New Hindi cinema” is therefore beyond the need for appro­priate definitions, and yet, its slippery character, as identified by the author, is symptomatic of new tremors, new sociocultural sensibilities and formations. Even apart from making a virtue out of his analytical convenience, the ruptures making so-claimed newness are on very slippery grounds here, to put it generously. Chapter 1 inaugurates the author’s understanding of new trends in the period of concern. For this, he compares the angst in social realism of the Indian New Wave with films in the 21st century, where the system itself provides the resolution to what is mounted as an ideological conflict to expose systemic corruption. For him, this irony thus collapses both ‘‘rigid binary oppositions’’ and the demarcations between Bollywood and indie cinema (p 22). Here, Paunksnis overlooks Madhava Prasad’s argument about Indian New Wave’s “statist realism” in Ideology of the Hindi Film, which would have forced him to search for more robust distinctions for the neo-liberal period’s in-­between undecidability. As it stands, the claim, that the cultural transformations under investigation are necessarily rhizomatic and therefore defy control, is hopelessly undercooked, particularly in light of the evidence mobilised.

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Updated On : 21st Jul, 2021
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