Bolly-would you?


By Amy Sutton /// Staff Writer

Exploration & Discovery is something that nearly all Lewis & Clark students are familiar with. The excessive readings and research papers act as a rite of passage for first years. However, from the routine sometimes comes something more out of the ordinary, such as Professor JM Fritzman’s Bollywood-themed class, “Bollywood ImagiNation and ImpersoNation: Constructions of Indian Identity in Hindi Cinema.”

Wednesday, March 12, freshmen enrolled in Fritzman’s class gathered together as they always do on Wednesday evenings to watch a Bollywood film. This week’s viewing was of “Khalnayak,” a story about a political dissident and the police officer intent on hunting him and his gang down. While students may enjoy these films for their song and dance and often romantic themes, they also search for deeper meaning embedded within them, mainly having to do with personal and national identity.

Fritzman chose to focus on Bollywood films not only because he enjoys them, but because they, sometimes unwittingly, reveal much about Indian identity; how Indians see themselves and how they choose to represent themselves through film. In the class following the Wednesday evening showing, students discuss what they observed during the films.

This Exploration & Discovery class differs from others because it requires students to attend the movie showings outside of class. The additional time spent doesn’t deter student from signing up, however, even though some of the movies, such as “Khalnayak,” run as long as three hours. Students don’t mind devoting a little extra time to movie watching, and enjoy the added element of film to their class discussions. Reagan Rodriguez (’17) believes that the added time is worth it.

Amber Cooney (’17) said she signed up for this particular class because she is interested in Indian culture and the idea of “learning through film.” In addition, learning through Hindi movies allows students to understand “what an Indian audience wants to see,” Cooney stated.

Many of the films are largely unknown in the United States, with the exception of “Slumdog Millionaire.”Most Bollywood movies are filmed in Hindi, so the students watch them with English subtitles. When asked what her favorite movie so far was, Rodriguez answered “Zanjeer” without missing a beat, adding that she enjoyed it because it was an “action film sprinkled with romance.” “Zanjeer” tells the story of a just police officer trying to right wrongs in a corrupt world.

The films pair with the class’s Bollywood reader, which helps to contextualize the movies and Indian culture. Class readings look into how Bollywood represents India on a global scale, as well as how things like women and family are represented. Fritzman says it’s a challenge for students to read the films as cultural indicators, because they aren’t meant to be read that way. In India, Bollywood movies are meant to entertain, but their educational value is imbedded within the entertainment. Rodriguez says these films have showed her that “things aren’t necessarily so black and white.”

Exploration & Discovery is meant to challenge new Lewis & Clark students’ perceptions and opinions. This class does that, in addition to learning about new cultures. By looking at Bollywood cinema as a representation of Indian identity, students are better able to understand their own national identity. Not only that, they can be entertained while they learn. “I love these films,” Fritzman said. “They’re great fun.”

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