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

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The Popular Aesthetics of Social Mobility

Reflecting on the aesthetic trajectory of the idea of social mobility in Hindi cinema and situating such film texts within the long history of the optical relation between cinema and the city, this article argues that the film Gully Boy’s (2019) quest is anchored within neo-liberal freedoms, albeit topped with a laudable linguistic experiment. In comparison with the social mobility films of the last three decades, the film is marked by certain key departures and new blind spots, which occasion a rethinking of popular culture, particularly due to its increasing over-reliance on the attention economy of social media.

The author is grateful to Sreedeep Bhattacharya and the anonymous peer-reviewer for the comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Social mobility as a thematic axis around which various “pleasures” could be mounted, has been a long-standing kernel of Hindi cinema, particularly of the relatively big-budget star vehicles aimed towards attracting a mass audience. One could distinctly recall the films of 1970s–1980s featuring Amitabh Bachchan, for the manner in which they showcased a cross section of the city while narrating a tale of the protagonist’s rapid ascent. In the years to follow, numerous films would deploy the social-mobility text to profile the city as a stack of identifiable tiers, segmented by infrastructural barriers and communal bonds of solidarity.

Indeed, rapid social mobility was nearly always projected as driven by an inner evil that would be duly punished via a self-confessional account—one of the last instances of which was witnessed in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1992). In the last three decades, however, such narratives have undergone a rapid decline. It may be a good idea to investigate the popular aesthetics of social mobility, which have shifted from the mainstream of film-going habitus to the margins of the cinema-city organism, for which the promise of social mobility constitutes its inner vitality.

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Updated On : 4th Aug, 2020
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