HSTAS 317 A: History by Bollywood: Colonial India through Film

Spring 2022
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm / NAN 181
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
JSIS A 317 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):


Canvas Site: https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1547864

Class meeting times: M/W, 1.30-3.20, NAN 181

Anand A. Yang                                                                                                           SMI 316C

Office hours: M 12-1.30 pm,                                                                                      aay@uw.edu

and by appointment. 

TA: Amaal Akhtar (amlakh@uw.edu)


This class explores the history of colonial South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) through Bollywood films.  That is, it examines the history of British or colonial India from the late eighteenth century until 1947 when the subcontinent gained independence and was partitioned into the new nations of India and Pakistan. Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, emerged later in 1971. 


The course approaches the rich and complex history of colonial India through Bollywood films, the popular Hindi language films produced in the city of Bombay, renamed Mumbai in 1995.  It focuses on the ways in which these films, particularly the box office hits, imagined or represented India’s colonial past and shaped popular understandings of the past and present. Our concern is not so much with evaluating these films as (in)accurate historical accounts but with engaging cinema, to cite one film scholar, “as a repository of imaginaries and imaginary worlds, showing ways in which change is visualized in films, depicted in narratives, images and sounds where meanings are condensed, displaced by star images and intensified by melodrama.”  Bollywood movies, much like those of Hollywood, perhaps even more so, attract mass audiences, profoundly inflect popular perceptions of the past and reflect the hopes and anxieties of their times. 


Readings for this class are drawn from two main texts, both available online through the UW Library. So are many of the films we will be viewing (Odegaard, held on reserve, available for four-hour loans). Additional readings can also be accessed electronically, and most of the films via Amazon, Netflix, and other commercial companies.


The two texts are:

Tejaswini Ganti, Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema



Barbara Metcalf and Thomas Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India




In addition to viewing the weekly film assignment and completing the readings prior to the class meetings, you are expected to write:


5 BLOGS (weeks 3-9): In the week you are not writing a short response paper, you are expected to submit a brief blog entry on the film of the week. Your blogs should be 100 words or so, posted on the class canvas site by 12 noon Wednesday of the appropriate week.  For example, the blog for week 3 is due by 12 noon Wednesday, April 13, 2022).


2 SHORT RESPONSE PAPERS (at least 500 words) about one of the films of the week (weeks 3-9; also due by 12 noon Wednesday of the appropriate week).


In other words, you can choose to submit blogs on weeks 3 and 4, for instance, then a short response paper on week 5, followed by blogs on weeks 6 and 7, another short response paper on week 8, and your fifth and final blog on week 9.  Or some other permutation and combination of this mix as long as your short writing assignments total 5 blogs and 2 short papers. 


In addition, you will be expected to write a FINAL PAPER (at least 2,500 words) due at the end of the term (Monday, June 6, by 5 pm). For the final paper you have to write about the momentous and tragic events relating to independence and partition in 1947 as portrayed in the films listed in the syllabus and as discussed in the scholarly literature. 


GRADES will be based on:

Blog entries (5 total, beginning week 3, none in weeks you are doing short papers, and none in final week): Please post by Monday, 12 noon, prior to the class meeting.   20% of grade


Short response papers (2 papers; 500 words minimum; weeks 3-9).         20% of grade


Final paper/presentation (discussing at least three films plus the readings on independence and partition in 1947; at least 2,500 words, due by June 6, 5 pm:             50% of grade. 

Late papers will be penalized.


Class participation and discussion:                                                             10% of grade




Week 1.  March 28, 30. 


Film and History

Overview of South Asian History


Week 2.  April 4, 6. 

Bollywood’s Visual and Sonic Culture  

Grammar of Bollywood. 

Visual and Verbal Language

Social and Cultural Context


FILM: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)


Ganti, chs. 1, 2, 4, 5

Metcalf & Metcalf, preface, chs. 1, 9




Week 3.  April 11, 13 

The Aftermath of Independence

A Different India?

Images of Newly Independent India

Social Films


FILM: Mother India (1957)



Metcalf & Metcalf, ch. 8

Ramachanda Guha, India After Gandhi, read prologue



Week 4.  April 18, 20

Precolonial India.  Mughal Empire

Visions of Splendor

Indo-Islamic Culture and Civilization


FILM: Mughal-E-Azam (1960)


OR Jodhaa Akbar (2008)




Ganti, ch. 3

Metcalf & Metcalf, ch. 2


Week 5.  April 25, 27 

Colonial India

Structure and Ideology of Rule

Modalities of Power and Dominance


FILM: Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)



Bernard S. Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge, chapter 1, “Introduction,” pp. 3-15



Week 6.  May 2, 4

Colonial Rule: Beginnings and Foundation

Late 18th Century

Establishment and Consolidation of British Rule


FILM: Thugs of Hindostan (2018).  STREAM.

READING: P.J. Marshall, “The Setting for Empire,” ch. 1 in The Cambridge History of India: Bengal: The British Bridgehead, pp. 1-47


Metcalf & Metcalf, ch. 3


Week 7.  May 9, 11 

Anti-Colonial Resistance

Mutiny/Rebellion/Uprising of 1857


FILM: Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005)



Metcalf & Metcalf, ch. 4

Peter Marshall, “India and the Great Rebellion”


Jill Bender, “Introduction,” 1857


Crispin Bates, “Introduction,” to Mutiny at the Margins: New Perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857, ed. C. Bates



Week 8.  May 16, 18

1857: Gender and Resistance

Rani of Jhansi

The Aftermath of Revolt


FILM: Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019) (STREAM) OR The Warrior Queen of Jhansi (2019) OR Jhansi ki Rani (1952) (English version: The Tiger and the Flame)


Pamela Toler, “Who is Manikarnika”


Harleen Singh, “Introduction,” in Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History, and Fable in India


Joyce Lebra, The Rani of Jhansi



Week 9.  May 23, 25

Nationalist Movement.

Mass Mobilization

Gandhi and Nonviolence

Revolutionaries and Violence


FILM:1942: A Love Story (1994)


Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) (Stream)

OR Shaheed (1965)



Metcalf & Metcalf, chs. 5, 6


Week 10.  May 30 (No class), June 1

Independence and Partition

India and Pakistan



FILM: Garm Hava (1973) (Stream) or Chhalia (1960) (Stream) or Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001) (Stream) or Hey Ram (2000)



Metcalf & Metcalf, ch.. 7

David Gilmartin, “The Historiography of India’s Partition,”


William Dalrymple, “The Great Divide”


Complete reading: Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, read timeline, preface to the new edition, maps, and introduction to ch 6, pp. 1-127





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Catalog Description:
Through popular cinema, specifically Hindi-language films produced by Bombay-based film industry for mass market, explores colonial history of South Asia beginning with British takeover of Indian subcontinent in late eighteenth century to emergence of independence and partition in 1947. Focuses specifically on Bollywood films that have shaped popular (mis)understandings of key episodes and developments in history of modern India. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 317.
GE Requirements Met:
Diversity (DIV)
Social Sciences (SSc)
Writing (W)
Last updated:
May 23, 2024 - 6:54 am