Cosmopolitanism, Remediation, and the Ghost World of Bollywood

Abstract

This essay considers the process of remediation in two North American reproductions of the song-and-dance sequence Jaan Pehechaan Ho from the 1965 “Bollywood” film Gumnaam. The song was used in the opening sequence of the 2001 U.S. independent film Ghost World as a familiar-but-strange object of ironic bewilderment and fantasy for its alienated teenage protagonist Enid. But a decade before Ghost World's release, Jaan Pehechaan Ho had already become the lynchpin of a complex debate about cultural appropriation and multicultural identity for an “alternative” audience in the United States. I illustrate this through an ethnographic analysis of a 1994 videotape of the Heavenly Ten Stems, an experimental rock band in San Francisco, whose performance of the song was disrupted by a group of activists who perceived their reproduction as a mockery. How is Bollywood film song, often itself a kitschy send-up of American popular culture, remediated differently for different projects of reception? How do these cycles of appropriation create overlapping conditions for new identities—whether national, diasporic, or “alternative”—within the context of transcultural media consumption? In drawing out the “ghost world” of Bollywood's juxtapositions, I argue that the process of remediation produces more than just new forms and meanings of media, but is constitutive of the cosmopolitan subjects formed in its global circulations.

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Gumnaam, "Jaan Pehechaan Ho." February 2010 via rediff.com.

Editorial Overview

In the February 2010 issue of Cultural Anthropology, David Novak examines how the process of remediation – "the repurposing of media for new contexts, the repurposing of one medium in another" – of Asian media creates contemporary cosmopolitan subjects. Novak traces the trajectory and transformation of one Indian song-and-dance routine, Jaan Pehechaan Ho, from 1960s Bollywood, to a live performance of the Indie group Heavenly Ten Stems in 1990s San Francisco, to the 2001 film Ghost World. Through this itinerary, he demonstrates how cultural remediation involves "multi-directional overflows of media resources shaped by cultural differences, globalist desires, and cross-cutting aesthetic affinities." Where previous literature focused on the conflicts and losses created by cultural appropriations, Novak argues that looking at the process of remediation highlights the conditions that lead to the creation of new subjects. Though this process is marked by "ambivalence, distance, confusion, and the contingencies of globalism," the circulation and remediation of Asian media demonstrates how cultures and identities are made and remade "even as they spiral away from a singular politics of cultural identity."

Editoral Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published many essays on media, remediation, and new forms of circulation; see in particular "Very Bombay: Contending with the Global in an Indian Advertising Agency" by William Mazzarella (2003); "Coincidence and Consequence: Marianism and the Mass Media in the Global Philippines" by Dierdre de la Cruz (2009);" and "Dislocating Sound: The Deterritorialization of Indonesian Indie Pop," by Brent Luvaas (2009). For a fuller list of essays in Cultural Anthropology on media, see http://culanth.org/?q=node/19.

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"Ghost World." November 11, 2011 via Front Room Cinema.

About the Author

David Novak is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Music at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Multimedia


Jaan Pehechaan Ho in opening credits of Ghost World (restored and digitally pitch-shifted)  

Full Jaan Pehechaan Ho sequence from Gumnaam (original length and pitch)  


Live version of Jaan Pehechaan Ho by the Heavenly Ten Stems  


Confrontation between Heavenly Ten Stems and protesters 

Jaan Pehechaan Ho remediated again in 2011 Heineken commercial "The Date"


Jaan Pehechaan Ho remediated for Heineken's "Serenade" Facebook app in 2012.

A second remediation of Jaan Pehechaan Ho for Heineken's "Serenade" Facebook app in 2012.

Relevant Links

Gumnaam (IMDB)

Ghost World (IMDB)

Interview with Brandan Kearney of Heavenly Ten Stems (2002)

Karthik Srinivasan's Chronicles of Plagiarism in Indian Film

Music Wayneandwax: Where Do I Begin (To Tell the Story?) 

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. How are the effects of remediation shaped by unequal positions of power? Consider the political consequences in a particular instance of remediation. Does the remediation of a media object benefit certain people more than others?

2. How do different objects of media circulation enter into your everyday talk and interactions with other people?

3. What does remediation have to do with the way we think about globalization? Give examples of cases in which the circulation of media changes the interactions between global cultures. Does the process of remediation look different from a local perspective?

4. What is the role of embodiment in remediation? How do dance, movement, costuming and other bodily performances change our cultural interpretations of media? Are these corporeal aspects more important for the circulation of some forms of media than others?

5. How does remediation create opportunities for new social identifications and exchanges? Describe some recent cultural discourses that have developed through creative projects of remediation.

Recent and Forthcoming Publications by the Author

Novak, David. "The Sublime Frequencies of New Old Media." Public Culture 23.3(2011): 603-634.

__________. "Playing Off Site: The Untranslation of Onkyô." Asian Music 41.1(2010): 36-59.

__________. "2.5 by 6 Metres of Space: Japanese Music Coffeehouses and Experimental Practices of Listening." Popular Music 27.1(2008): 15-34.

Further Reading

Ahuja, Akshay. "Death Metal and the Indian Identity." Guernica, April 2008. http://www.guernicamag.com/features/525/death_metal_and_the_indian_ide_1/.

Arnold, Alison. "Popular Film Song in India: A Case of Mass-Market Musical Eclecticism." Popular Music 7.2(1988): 177-188.

Bolter, Jay, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999.

Ganti, Tejaswini. Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema. New York, NY: Routledge, 2004.

Gaonkar, Dilip. Alternative Modernities. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

Ortner, Sherry B. "Generation X: Anthropology in a Media-Saturated World." Cultural Anthropology 13.3(1998): 414–440.

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish. "The 'Bollywoodization' of Indian Cinema: Cultural Nationalism in a Global Arena." In Kaarsholm, P, ed. City Flicks: Indian Cinema and the Urban Experience. London, UK: Seagull Books, 2007: 111-137.

Sarkar, Bhaskar. "Tracking 'Global Media' in the Outposts of Globalization." In Durovicova, N, and K Newman, eds. World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010.

Shankar, Shalini. Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

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