A Bollywood Affair: A Digital Autoethnography

Ellis et al. describe autoethnography as “retrospectively and selectively writ[ing] about epiphanies” (2011, p. 4). As such, ‘A Bollywood Affair’ is a pastiche of digital media which outlines the respective experiences of a cultural insider, and cultural outsider as they experience Bollywood cinema. View the project below.

Digital Artifacts

Vlog: Bollywood for Dummies
Digi Reviews

CONTEXTUAL ESSAY

Central to the autoethnographic process is reflexive thinking, which Pitard (2017, pp. 9-10) categorises as either personal or epistemological:

Moreover, Guillemin and Gillam (2004) propose that autoethnographers need to engage with reflexive thinking consider “ethically important moments” throughout their research. This methodology became incorporated into my ethnographic process wherein I reflected on my projects impact on research participant(s) (Sehel) as well as avoiding “ethical tensions” (Guillemin and Gillam 2004, p. 278). Primarily, this meant acknowledging epistemological constraints and reframing the research question to remove “East” and “West”, thus, detaching my work from contributing to Orientalism.

My autoethnographic process was drawn from the framework presented by Ellis et al. (2011):

First, I identified my cultural frame using Pitard’s personal reflexivity questions (2017, p. 10). Therefore, revealing why I chose to study this topic:

Next, I enacted “audience participation” (Ellis et al. 2011) by watching Bollywood films, writing reviews of them, and discussing opinions with a cultural insider, Sehel. Then, I engaged in “reflexive investigation” (Ellis et al. 2011) during the second half of my vlog (below).

Next, I conducted independent academic research to examine my epiphanies (below).

Foremost, to my shock, I had misconceived what Bollywood was. Bollywood refers to Hindi cinema, NOT ‘Indian’ cinema. Also, Bollywood is not a ‘genre’ but a diverse industry.

Furthermore, my experience of the films was through subtitles and dubbing. The translations mediated my knowledge of the movies, meaning I may have lost critical elements of the original dialogue. Hence, Sehel acted as my guide, filling me in on the cultural knowledge, context, and inside jokes that I would not understand as an outsider.

But, perhaps the greatest epiphany was how the movies reflected a changing Indian society. A significant issue which arose was the gender roles of women within the Indian community. The issue arose in reaction to the thematic concerns of Pink (2016), which alerted me to the “increasing violence against women in India” (Khan and Taylor 2018, p. 3641). As Manzar and Aravind remark, all Bollywood films “se[t] norms to define the ideal Indian Woman” (2019, p. 2).

As I observed, Bollywood films have developed over time, due to the changing socio-economic context of Hindi cinema (Schaefer and Karan 2011, p. 700). And, Bollywood movies are featuring “increasingly independent and strong” women (Khan and Taylor 2018, p. 3642). But, the films still typically feature “prescriptive gender roles” which exhibits that although Indian society has become more progressive, complete deviations from constructed roles of women are lacking (Khan and Taylor 2018, p. 3652; Manzar and Aravind 2019, p. 10).

Sehel and I experienced this societal problem differently.

As a cultural insider, Sehel was accustomed to the norms of Indian society and more knowledgeable about the existence of the issue. As an outsider, I felt more detached from the dilemma, as I initially experienced it through the medium of film. Thus, our shared film experience enabled me to understand this facet of Indian culture from an insider’s perspective.

Ultimately, through the autoethnographic process and by thinking reflexively, I have ascertained that Bollywood reflects a changing Indian society. And, “informal conversations” (Delamont 2009, p. 53) were vital to gaining insider cultural understanding because much of the meaning in Bollywood films are drawn from India’s cultural, geographic, political and religious context.

References

Delamont S 2009, ‘The only honest thing: autoethnography, reflexivity and small crises in fieldwork’, Ethnography and Education, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 51-63.

Ellis et al. 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 1-11.

Guillemin M and Gillam L 2004, ‘Ethics, Reflexivity and “Ethically Important Moments” in Research’, Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 261-280.

Khan S and Taylor LD 2018, ‘Gender Policing in mainstream Hindi cinema: A decade of central female characters in top-grossing Bollywood movies’, International Journal of Communication, vol.  12, pp. 3641-3662.

Manzar B and Aravind A 2019, ‘(Re) Thinking women in cinema: The changing narrative structure in Bollywood’, South Asian Popular Culture, vol. 17, no. 1, pp.1-13.

Pitard J 2017, ‘A Journey to the Centre of Self: Positioning the Researcher in Autoethnography’, Qualitative Social Research, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 1-21.

Schaefer DJ and Karan K 2011, ‘Bollywood Cinema at the Crossroads: Tracking Dimensions of Globalization in Postcolonial Popular Hindi Cinema’, Mass Communication and Society, vol. 14, pp. 700-719.

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