Friday, 2 December 2016

ASIA MAJOR: Indian-Canadian scholar Dr. Nandi Bhatia on stereotypes, power and Slumdog Millionaire

ORIENTAL PEARL: “There has long been a historical connection between the Caribbean and India,” Dr. Bhatia observes.

The 10th Edward Baugh Distinguished Lecture took place inside UWI Mona’s Neville Hall Lecture Theatre on Sunday morning, with Indian-Canadian scholar Dr. Nandi Bhatia, no stranger to the UWI family, giving an informative and transporting presentation centred on the topic “Dramatic Contests and Colonial Contexts on the Indian Stage.”

Dr. Bhatia, a leading scholar of postcolonial theatre who teaches at the Western University in Ontario, later shared with TALLAWAH her views on the perpetuation of unflattering stereotypes (chiefly the poverty) about her native country in the arts, especially in films like Slumdog Millionaire. “I don’t know why that is, but what it does is that it retains the kind of power imbalance that exists, where the West is celebrated as being in a position of superiority; where the systems are not so bad,” she offered.

But, like the rest of us, she fully enjoyed watching Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. “I think it was a really good film. I personally enjoyed it. It was entertaining,” she confessed. “But I’m also aware of the controversy that it created, because some people in India did not have a favourable response because they say it is always the problems and the poverty that are showcased in the West.”

The Indian community in Jamaica may be ‘quiet’ at the moment, but aspects of their culture – the food, the addictive soap operas – are very much alive. “There has long been a historical connection between the Caribbean and India, with migration from the 19th century,” Dr. Bhatia observes. “What I was impressed by when I came on Friday and was surfing television channels in my hotel room, was that there is a full Hindi channel, and it was advertising a soap opera!” She lets out a hearty laugh. “I was very interested in it,” she continued. “So I think there is a presence here, even if it’s not very strong at the moment.”

Recognized for her vast research (exploring theatre in global and transnational contexts) and her feminist studies, Dr. Bhatia’s work has been supported by major grants from the governments of Canada and India, as well as Western University. 

She is the author of 2010’s Performing Woman/Performing Womanhood: Theatre, Politics and Dissent in North India (Oxford University Press) and Acts of Authority/Acts of Resistance: Theatre and Politics in Colonial and Postcolonial India, released by University of Michigan Press in 2004. Her third book – Local Themes, Transnational Concerns: Theatres of the South Asian Diaspora in Canada, is a work in progress.

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