Bollywood and Industrial Electronic Punk in End-of-Term University Exams

I used to think that the contemplation about youtube videos was “nonsense” that only could be undertaken by people with way too much time on their hands. Now I know that the comparative analysis of video clips in fact is a serious academic discipline that is pursued at such illustrous institutions as the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

“Why Song and Dance in Bollywood?” is an academic research question well-suited for the youtube-methodology, as the promising scholar Syed Haider demonstrated convincingly last week in the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre of the SOAS with a clip-brimmed lecture.

Thankfully, Bollywood can be “explained” by an endless list of possible reasons ranging from the musical interludes of the historical Farsi theatre to the introduction of subversity via singing/dancing in an otherwise conservative Indian society. (I have to admit that I was quite pleased about the academic merit awarded to this last hypothesis, since I believed to be reminded of the line “Thus, while dancing, they achieve the remarkable feat of breaking out of the tightly-knit societal conventions of India while firmly remaining at the very center-stage of that same society” found here:

In any normal university lecture, bleary-eyed students in desperate need of coffee would presumably sub-consciously disgruntle in realization of the large amount of facts and reasoning that they would be required to memorize to get that “Distinction” grade, which is absolutely necessary for personal and professional happiness. Thus, the mood would droop no matter how exciting the insights of the lecturer were.

Not so, when every explanation is followed up by a well-selected bollywood-clip, so that the need for coffee mysteriously vanishes in anticipation of being whisked away into yet another colorful-vibrant song-and-dance-filled world after every fact-filled paragraph of the spoken lecture.

For example, the hypothesis that Bollywood movies use traditional Hindu religious elements in dance sequences in order to accentuate plot elements was supported bythis impressive scene from the 1989 movie ChaalBaaz, where Sridevi dances her interpretation of the Tandava dance of Lord Shiva:

It is hard to imagine a more convincing way to portray the impact of family oppression upon the heroine than via her breath-taking psychedelic dance. Stunning are also the extensive phases of pure-drum accompaniments to her dancing outburst. Initially, she only dances upon request by her parents, yet by overindulging into her dance (and thus, in a way over-fulfilling her parents request), she unwittingly maneuvers herself into a renegade position.

While I never would have thought that there is any connection whatsoever between Indian classical music and Western rebellious industrial electronic music with punk attitude, all the academic enquiries into the nature of popular music in societies raised my awareness that in the the ideas of ChaalBaaz were echoed in the 1996 song “The Firestarter” by The Prodigy:

Both songs make heavy use of drums. In ChaalBaaz, the startling drum-ryhthms are elaborated over long time-periods, completely detached from melodies and harmonies, thus becoming an art of their own, developing along with the transformation of the dancer. The ponderous break-beats of the firestarter, however, reinforce the rebel-without-a-cause attitude laid out plainly in the title of the piece by repeating a similar drum pattern over and over again with only minor variations. Also, the lead singer’s movements are more a series of rebellious poses rather than a real dance, and thus makes use of a much reduced range of the expressive possibilities available to Sridevi.

Despite being less elaborated than ChaalBaaz, the Prodigy nevertheless offer an interesting alternate view on the situation faced by Sridevi’s character (and that of countless other teenage fellow sufferers throughout the world), for example via the famous title of their album preceding the firestarter: “Music for the jilted generation” – to oppress and to jilt somebody counter-intuitively appear to sometimes share similar features.

Oh, how I wish that I could have resorted to youtube-videos during my university studies. Not only would I have saved myself from many hours of sleep in the hard and cramped wooden chairs of the lecture halls during lectures, but also preparing for exams would have been much more fun. If only.

As to whether youtube videos are the future of academic teaching, the answer is an emphatic yes – However, only under the condition that students are not required to memorize those cryptic 11-digit codes following the “” when referencing video-clips in answers to exam questions.

Have an academically enlightening week,