Article Title

Consuming Bollywood


Hindi popular cinema, marked with sartorial, visual and material excess, has paradoxically portrayed acquisition of wealth or unregulated consumption as inimical to the Chaturvarga philosophy, or the idea that an individual should seek four goods – Artha (wealth), Kama (pleasure), Dharma (duty) and Moksha (renunciation) - in moderation in order to lead a balanced life. While its visual imagery is largely oriented towards Artha or pleasure, Dharma, in its meaning as duty, has been the prime motivation of Hindi or Bombay cinema’s characters and structures the cinematic conflict and action. However, Hindi cinema appears to have undergone a phase-shift in the new millennium in its new Bollywood avatar in which consumerist pleasure is not viewed as incompatible with altruism, or even ethical values. New millennium Bollywood cinema articulates a new esthetic of pleasure that is inscribed on the eating, drinking, singing, dancing, loving body that appears to be attuned to global consumerism. While pleasure and consumption have always been Bollywood’s signature tunes, never have they been represented as congruent with Hindu family values or social responsibility as they are now. Although Dharma still wins in the end in new millennium Bollywood, it is not viewed as being inconsistent with the pursuit of wealth and pleasure or Artha (pleasure) or even renunciation or Moksha (renunciation). Traditionally, Dana (Pāli, Sanskrit: दान dāna) or generosity or giving, a form of alms as a form of religious act enjoined upon the individual has legitimized pursuit of Artha (wealth) and ensured the individual’s Moksha (spiritual salvation). The new Bollywood film legitimizes the pursuit of Artha and Kama through a form of non-reciprocal giving or Dana through which Hindu philosophy has traditionally balanced the pursuit of wealth. This essay reads the new Bollywood film within the framework of Chaturvarga and Dana to argue that these structuring principles enable a cultural artifact to mediate and resist the neo-liberalist ideology adopted in the economic and political realm. In particular, it will focus on its articulation of the Hindu notion of Dana (charity) in the context of global consumerism.