Samhita Sunya, "Sirens of Modernity: World Cinema Via Bombay" (U California Press, 2022)


Hello, world! This is the Global Media & Communication podcast series.

In this inaugural episode, our host Aswin Punathambekar speaks with Samhita Sunya, the author of the book Sirens of Modernity: World Cinema via Bombay (U California Press, 2022).

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Dr. Sunya’s intellectual trajectory in studying South Asian cinema from Houston to Bangalore, Bombay, and beyond;
  • How the periodization of the “long” 1960s – bookended by the 1955 Bandung Afro-Asian Conference and the 1975 Indian Emergency – comes into view through the author’s interdisciplinary approach;
  • How Dr. Sunya works her way through and out of a popular binary misunderstanding of Indian cinema - a familiar opposition between an auteurist world cinema and song-and-dance driven popular cinema;
  • Why the author chooses what would be considered oddball or off-beat media artifacts, what kinds of sources she gathers in relation to these materials, and where she looks for them in creative ways;
  • Reflection upon the pedagogy of world cinema in the classroom;
  • A discussion of the notion of “excess” and how it is weaved into the three central themes – love, desire, and gender – that emerge throughout the book;
  • How Dr. Sunya’s cross-industry and trans-regional perspective counter the spatial biases that are deeply ingrained into the disciplinary boundaries;
  • A reflection on the nature of academic work through the lens of “love” on topics like world cinema and South Asia.

About the Book

By the 1960s, Hindi-language films from Bombay were in high demand not only for domestic and diasporic audiences but also for sizable non-diasporic audiences across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian Ocean world. Often confounding critics who painted the song-dance films as noisy and nonsensical. if not dangerously seductive and utterly vulgar, Bombay films attracted fervent worldwide viewers precisely for their elements of romance, music, and spectacle. In this richly documented history of Hindi cinema during the long 1960s, Samhita Sunya historicizes the emergence of world cinema as a category of cinematic diplomacy that formed in the crucible of the Cold War. Interwoven with this history is an account of the prolific transnational circuits of popular Hindi films alongside the efflorescence of European art cinema and Cold War–era forays of Hollywood abroad. By following archival leads and threads of argumentation within commercial Hindi films that seem to be odd cases—flops, remakes, low-budget comedies, and prestige productions—this book offers a novel map for excavating the historical and ethical stakes of world cinema and world-making via Bombay.

You can find the open access version of Dr. Sunya’s book through at the University of California Press website.

Author Bio: Samhita Sunya is Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Sirens of Modernity: World Cinema via Bombay (2022) and guest co-editor of a “South by South/West Asia” special issue of Film History (2020). Her published work, on Hindi film/songs in the world, includes contributions to positions, Jump Cut, Film History, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, and Jadaliyya. She is Director of Programming for the Shenandoah Film Collaborative and a guest programmer for the Virginia Film Festival.

Host Bio: Aswin Punathambekar is a Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. He is a co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Media, Culture and Society and the Critical Cultural Communication book series at NYU Press. He also serves on the Board of Jurors for the Peabody Awards.

Editor & Producer Bio: Jing Wang. She is Senior Research Manager at CARGC at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include: Anthropology of Islam and Muslim Societies; Feminist Theories and Politics; Sound and Podcast Studies; Race & Ethnicity; Mobility, Diaspora & Memory; Translation Practices and Theories; Multimodal Ethnography; Public Scholarship.

Original Background Music by Mengyang Zoe Zhao. She is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her interdisciplinary research centers on digital labor, platform economy, and social movements in a global context, with a particular focus on new forms of work, technology, and labor activism under the platform and venture capitalism.


#cinema #film #1960s #SouthAsia #HindiFilm #Bombay #Love #Gender

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