Narratives from the Margins: Changing Aesthetics in Indian Cinema

Haritha. R

Palavras-chave: Contemporary Indian cinema; South India; Narrative techniques; Image making the marginalised; Aspiration

Participação: presencial

Post – independent India supported the use of the medium of cinema for the propagation of anti-colonial and nationalist sentiments among its people. It was an attempt to expand and consolidate a national audience and a national cinema, by adopting ‘socials’ as a favourable narrative genre. Using a narrative that juxtaposed realism and melodrama, the socials placed the upper caste-middle class intelligentsia at centre of their narratives given their intermediate position in the social structure of modern societies and discussed social issues in a pedagogical format by keeping the subalterns at the receiving end. Issues of a welfare state including poverty, deprivation, unemployment, economic exploitation and social oppression were discussed in these films in which the overarching thematic horizon was the emancipation of the oppressed.

After the economic liberalisation of the Indian economy in the 1990s, expanded markets and flourished distribution and production sectors changed the film industry in India. The emergence of identity, community and gender based movements transformed the political and social context of the state and that reflected in the cinemas produced in India in various regional languages, aesthetically and thematically. There is today an emerging tendency to narrate the issues of social oppression and caste, gender and community based discriminations in cinema from the perspectives of the oppressed which is different from the pedagogical narrative structure of the socials of the post-colonial era where the oppressed were the subjects of emancipation. Contemporary cinema indicates a trend towards a narrative discourse that deals with aspiration rather than emancipation (Prasad 2020). Aspiration, which was solely a subjective orientation earlier ascribed to the middle class has become universalised in a neo- liberal context.

This paper attempts to understand the aesthetic and formal changes in the contemporary cinemas in India when it is narrated from the perspective of the oppressed. The paper focuses on the films produced in the regional language industries in South India. These films, I argue, produces a counter narrative by bringing together caste critique combined with an ideology of individualism which is different from the narrative language that portray those who are from the marginalised communities as the subjects of empowerment and emancipation. Through a close reading of the camera angles, editing techniques and framing used, the paper attempts to discuss how the images produced by these films orient towards a discourse of individualism and aspiration by placing the marginalised at the center of the narrative. The paper further identifies the mode of image making in these films as different from that of the films of the earlier era.


Prasad, M. Madhava. 2020. “Cinema in a Capitalist Republic (In the Making).” Indian Cinema: Today and Tomorrow 47 (3 and 4): 8–19.


Haritha. R is a PhD scholar from the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad, India. Her areas of interest includes Film and Media studies, Cultural studies and Gender Studies.