Cinema and the Desire for Modernity
D Madhava Prasad
There is a certain surface obviousness to the idea that cinema is linked to the concepts of desire and modernity by ties of historical origin. Outside of psychoanalysis the theory of desire has found its fullest elaboration and deployment in cinema studies. While the activity of cinematic reception has been shown to centrally engage the subject's desire, Christian Metz, for one, has also argued that it is not just the content of a particular film that activates desire but cinema itself, as an institution. As for modernity, cinema as a medium that is by definition tied to technology and the tendency to organize itself as an industry is a distinctly modem phenomenon. The question of desire too has arisen and acquired centra-lity only in the context of modernization. It is with the rise of individualism as a contingent accompaniment to the expansion of capitalism that psychoanalysis, which could be defined as a science of desire, itself became possible. Further, we may note that consumer culture, a distinctly capitalist phenomenon, is predicated on the mobilization of desires and that in this sense popular cinema finds itself within the field of consumer culture.
It is in the context of western societies that the above points seem obvious. The rise of the film industry goes hand in hand with the expansion of consumer culture in the west in a way that is rarely reduplicated in non-western, especially post-colonial, societies. However it is also the case that in these latter societies, the expansion of capitalism does inaugurate a tendency to the expansion of consumer culture. The most obvious obstacles to such an expansion are of course a combination of technological backwardness, poverty of resources, low incomes and economic dependency. This scenario is itself not unfamiliar in the history of the west: the explosion of consumer culture was preceded there by a period of capitalist expansion that was only marginally dependent on the mass market for consumer goods.
Against this background I propose to take up for discussion a phenomenon integral to the history of post-independence Indian popular cinema, with a view