Chandni kuch kaha/raat ne kuch suna. [The moon said something, which the night heard]. Soft blue moonlight enters a room awaft in billowing curtains, the full moon’s face gently pushes aside a sheer covering of clouds, and the camera cuts to a mid-level close-up shot of Pooja (Madhuri Dixit) looking dreamily, knowingly at the moon. A wistful girl, she just knows that “someone is made for her” and that “the full moon on a Valentine’s Day” will lead her to her “true” love, which it does (Amazon Prime, 36:38-51)1. At the same moment in another place, that full moon arrives as a stage spotlight at a Valentine’s Day party, shining on Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan), a love-skeptic who nevertheless urges (via playback singer Udit Narayan) his audience to “pyar kar [fall in love]” (Amazon Prime, 40:45). The musical refrain seduces spectators to root for the oncoming love between the central characters, who unknowingly speak to each other that night. It is a scene of complete ethereality, wrapped in a soft white glow that Pooja seems to come alive within. She dances in the performance space of her backyard to the excitement of her own actualizing love fantasies, a delicate, lovely vision for the viewer2

Coated in a gentle glow of luminescent pastels and crafted around a sensibility regarding the process and practice of filmmaking, storied Indian auteur Yash Raj Chopra’s (1932-2012) esteemed film Dil to Pagal Hai (1997) centers on Pooja, a dancer and hopeful romantic who materializes as the ultimate “dreamy” girl for Rahul, a playwright who “makes love stories” of lavish proportions for the stage (Amazon Prime, 24:10). Appearing firstly through flashback and imagination, Pooja initially exists only as fantasy. Mused upon as material for his next show, she is abstraction and “feeling”, only a vague “Maya ” that can be felt on the wind (Amazon Prime, 14:37). Her emergence from his desire into flesh makes her the competitive love interest to (and winner over) Rahul’s best friend, Nisha (Karisma Kapoor), in Bollywood’s classic love triangle formula, a narrative arrangement for which Chopra was particularly known, and which threatens the intimate bonds of a cascade of relationships in the film3.  

 A review of Chopra’s romance films, with their meditations on the state of the heart, or on the meanings and consequences of an affair, and even on the melancholy beauty of moonlight itself, leads one to the women, the heroines of his films, variously embodied by actresses who might be thought of his “material” for filmmaking: Dixit, as well as Rekha, Sridevi, Juhi Chawla, and Preity Zinta, among others. His love stories in particular often take on grand proportions, contemplative, pensive, and poetic in their devastation. Chopra’s distinct directorial style, with its careful elemental lacing of the visuals of moonlight, wafting breezes, flowing saris or other long materials, and the call of distant bird-like song voices, creates an atmospheric cinematic experience dependent on the eventual arrival of an ethereal feminine, the dream girl who might be likened to the full moon. 

Like the “beloved” in an Urdu ghazal,4 the Indian woman in film might be, and often is, compared to the moon5. Encased within an incandescent imagery of perfected piety (or male-sanctioned, coyish, winking sensuality) she is tasked to emulate what is, for many Urdu-Hindi poets, the zenith of beauty6. Usually playing sweet, angelic roles, a woman in a Chopra film embodies a classic love(liness), and yet something more, a melancholic beyond. A template for his cinematic poetry, she is loaded with political meaning as a vessel of transcendence.  


Chopra’s engagement of the dream girl trope is distinct from and more careful than that of other Hindi filmmakers, who reference the moon primarily as a visual-linguistic reference with which to establish their heroine’s beauty, or where the commercial success of a film mainly depends on the quantity of pleasure taken from a woman’s picture/body.  Part of a larger trope in Bollywood cinema, dream or “dreamy” girls often take shape within various planes of the unconscious, i.e., visions, daydreams, or hallucinations. Sighting his love interest, the hero uses her image as material with which to construct his fantasies. Often a non-diegetic song and dance sequence ensues, where she appears, amorous, compliant, and completely enchanting, through song. Another of Dixit’s performances, in Indra Kumar’s Beta (1992), is an example of this standard archetype, with her classic performance “Dhak Dhak Karne Laga” representing the orchestral, choreographic power of the male gaze in structuring Indian women’s representations onscreen. In the film, Raju (Anil Kapoor) harbors a picture of Saraswati (Dixit), having fallen in love with her gentle face, though she does not yet reciprocate his ardor at this early point in the movie. Caressing the photo in a longing gesture, transfixed by her picture, he suddenly hears the girlish giggle of her laughter, sliding his fingers over her static image to pull up the sound of a heaving heartbeat.  His titillation appears to explain the excited thumping, but his lustful gazing also seems to animate her inanimate, pixelated body. It might be her heart, beating for him, one of many instances of Indian women’s regulation through sound. The classic, quick tinkling intro of the song cues, signal his escalating lust, and Raju (as well as the viewer) is taken to another place. 

After Raju “pierces” her image, Dixit’s animated voice (via Anuradha Paudwal’s) exclaims “Ouch!”

 A long distance, circling shot in a dark, other-worldly landscape of exotic palm trees and flowing waterfalls ushers the viewer into the next scene, within which Saraswati can be seen at a voyeuristic distance, spinning gayly in an alluring orange sari ensemble.  Fuel for the male gaze/imagination, her image is one of total accessibility, allowing the male protagonist/hero to possess, through dream, the pleasure of her soft, pliant, heaving body, where she moves to the rhythm of his desire.  One of Dixit’s most popular, and erotic, performances, the spectacle of her fragmented body, with thumping breasts, exposed back, and rotating hips, gives definition to his sexual landscape, mostly left unmapped in his oedipal quest to please his distant, amoral, and unloving (step)mother. In the song, she is a kind of moon that offers him his own private dance, her body being a composite of light-skinned, twinkling rounded parts that set alight the expanse and texture of his desires.

Chopra’s girls seem to take on a different kind of literalness than the typical Bollywood heroines, who operate primarily as pedagogical emblems of femininity for the audience. Modest maidens, prayerful, watery-eyed mothers, or one of many doting aunties, the Hindu woman (as opposed to the Muslim courtesan, who receives limited representation), is instructive to the gendered, reproductive roles that Indian women are encouraged to enact alongside and underneath India’s hyper-masculinist postcolonial ambition. All these archetypes, various kinds of “Mother Indias” 7 are connected through their dreaminess, or their deeply felt spirituality, responsible to their “faith” in operating as the moral centers of the nation and uplifting a mono-religious image of the country. However, the dream girl’s dewiness in Chopra’s films is more than a reflection of her saintliness, simplicity, and/or potential reproductive capacity (which Saraswati8, in Kumar’s film, comes to represent such for her “othered” husband Raju, who suffers under the rulership of his castrating, duplicitous stepmother).  Rather, she reflects a subtextually articulated gendered desire for an alternate world/India. Beyond a mere nurturing figure, though that certainly compounds her characterization, in which she succors and soothes, she is a curated nostalgia. More than a non-threatening figure that helps restore the castrated phallus/manhood, as Saraswati aids Raju with, she represents the reconstitution of a different “loss.” She bears the weight of historical memory, a wish for and extension of another time and place, suturing the memory of an India that once shared a moon with Pakistan. 

Chopra’s films are (logically) chronologically set after Partition, the rift already having happened. He deals with its aftermath, the reverberations of which are aesthetically conducted and felt through the woman, who comes to embody an “elsewhere.” His meta-commentaries on filmmaking think deeply about this “elsewhere.” Far from an apolitical figure whose stylistic encasements would seem to be divorced from more overtly political (and less visually pleasing) aims, the feminine frivolity the dream girl embodies, her prettiness, in fact records a deep aesthetic negotiation with history, with Chopra thinking through her body about beauty, creation, and remembering. In this review, I look at the implications of this dream girl figure as Chopra invokes her, theorizing about its varied gendered implications as it plays across social, political, and affective divisions. 

Chandni’s moon, a distant witness

 A man born and grown up in the “romance” of a religiously diverse Lahore in 1932, a home for Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians, and more, Chopra was 17 years old at the time of Partition9. His first films, Dhool Ka Phool (1959) and Dharmputra (1961), co-directed with his “pro-Urdu” successful filmmaker brother B.R. Chopra (1914-2008), were social-issue dramas concerning Hindu-Muslim relations and are noted for being some of the first Indian films to deal with the trauma of Partition10. Veer-Zaara (2004), his later career blockbuster, also revisits the devastating historical moment, revealing its violent memory as one that maintained a presence across the span of his work. The first film, Dhool Ka Phool, revolves around a Muslim woman raising an “illegitimate” Hindu child, and his second-to-last directorial feature Veer-Zaara returns, via Preity Zinta11, to the figure of the Muslim woman, a rare subject in his works. 

His movement from participation in the cultivation of explicitly connoted commentary on India’s social relations to that of covert denoted symbolism permits a contradictorily active, more nuanced memory of Partition, as opposed to Indian films that gesture to that moment, or reference societal collapses that precede or deal with its long aftermath, such as Vinu Vinhod Chopra’s 1942: A Love Story (1994) or Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995). Departing from explicit national agendas which rely on Hindu nationalist and/or centrist sentiment to determine and recast the memory, making it bearable through a comforting, underlying narrative about the nation’s apparent progress or potential for such, Chopra relies on the visually pleasing as it is borne by his muses’/actresses’ faces  to raise the specter of subconscious intimacies and supposedly renounced alliances, troubling the social customs around and through which a severed India bounds its sense of tradition, such as arranged marriage, to comment on an ambiguously surviving present. Through an emphasis on dreamy flowy lighting which contours around the faces of his actresses/muses, he politicizes the moon, tethering it as a presence within his films through their bodies as something forever liminal or severed, yet distantly attached to the earth/nation, an abject abstraction. It is a motif that borders his imaginings of romance, limning around his ruminations on love as it survives against tensions, disillusionments, and idealisms. 

Rekha’s/Chandni’s sheer, material face, likened to the moon

His obsession with the moon as a border symbol long predates Dil To Pagal Hai. For instance, the love scenes of Silsila (1973) exemplify the visual language with which Chopra contemplates the uncertain through the beautiful. In the film, the spectacle of a real-life affair between Rekha (Chandni) and Amitabh Bachchan (Amit Malhotra), with Bachchan’s real-life wife Jaya Bachchan (Shobha) playing the role of wronged spouse, is attended by another subtext interested in the “breaking of barriers” (2:02:53). Amit was Chandni’s first love, until sudden disaster required an obligatory union between him and Shobha, his brother’s fiancé (Shekhar Malhotra, played by Shashi Kapoor), who became pregnant out of wedlock. That tragedy forced her into her own unhappy and arranged marriage12. A nighttime love scene depicts the two thwarted lovers, having begun an affair after their marriages, strolling through a moonlit park. The moon witnesses their midnight traipse, a distant, elusive intercessor for the fulfillment of their desires, giving them a sense of hope and poetry, an alternately indulgent and indifferent governor of time lost.

Literally named after the moon, Chandni, though not quite “chaste” in her affair, and thus liminal in her social position and in her relationship to her lover, is at least partially recuperated through Amit’s love of her image. She is his muse, his own moon like Madhuri/Saraswati, material for him to meditate on, and for which to move through, via the sheerness of her superimposed image, his own feelings of ambivalence regarding his marriage. The way Chopra’s camera lingers on Rekha’s face brings out its gentle melancholic soulfulness; it is a template which gives a slate to lyricize his own “tornness”, or his inability to possess this object of an elusive wholesomeness. Torn between metaphor herself, she represents a host of meaningful questions for Amit, a playwright and writer of love stories whose poetic ambition takes on the weighty philosophical chasms between the “god and the human” (Amazon, 2:46:49).  He muses on whether “[it is] the night? Or the shadow of your tresses?… the moonlight? Or do your eyes light up my night? Is this the moon, or the bracelet on your arm? The stars, or the wonder of your scarf? … I think this and am forever sad” (Amazon, 1:58:52).  Like the moon’s extendibility as a metaphor for love and loss, conjuring shifting images of “happiness, tanhaai (loneliness), and arzoo (longing)”, her face is a site for image-making, structured around Amit’s/Chopra’s gendered desire for a medium through which to work out their “inconstant” sense of completion13.   After lingering on Chandni’s face, the camera shoots up to the model she emulates, its movement emphasizing the contemplation of something whole and beautiful and which Amit can only possess through stolen moments of reverie. 

Chandni weathers through her material extension as metaphor some of the complexity that Chopra might have felt towards the event, disastrous and excessive and the happening of which now only allows for slippery grasping of a desirable “before.” Her face against the faded land, like a filmy material of time, she represents for Amit something too impossible to possess as a reality, and he does eventually (re)sacrifice her to responsibility/duty, relegating her to moonlit dream, the transcendence she embodies merely fleeting, a fraught memory that must be left behind, even a “lie” (Amazon, 2:59:01). Chopra materializes the border through Chandni, casting her between the real and unreal, the pious and less pious, burdening her with intense choices and daunting moral ambiguities, as glyphs of the scarring of a formerly more expansive India, a nation still negotiating its rifts.  His representation of an India that is irrevocably less of itself in some way takes shape through the burdened woman’s image, and Amit’s questions try to ascertain “what [exactly] she is.” What can his relationship be to her, this precarious object, now that they live in the aftermath of their separation? Is his art one of eternal melancholy? Chopra, like many auteurs, writes to himself, the woman’s body his frame, script, the inspiration behind his images, the delight and the failure. Silsila’s final tone, its approaches to these questions, is more austere, but a progression through his oeuvre uncovers other imaginings on the possibilities for an ideal transcendence. 

Chandni as if in a Abdur Rahman Chughtai painting, with the full moon “freezing in mid-orbit to gaze at her beauty”

Similarly, chandni is personified once again as a woman in Chopra’s critically acclaimed 1989 film of the same name, with Sridevi’s round, picturesque face emulating the moon’s soft extension of light. Her lover, Rohit (Rishi Kapoor) is a photographer. His infatuation with her, often taking the shape of pictures, also makes him into a poet. In a letter to her, he wonders “how to describe [her]”, soliloquizing as to whether she is “a waft of breeze, or desire?” Just as the body of Rekha’s Chandni became a blazon for the entire night, so does Sridevi’s Chandni bear the same metaphors. She is “[a child], pretty as a moonbeam” (2:52). Seemingly caught in a still of melancholy, as if once part of an animated world where the painter Abdur Rahman Chughtai’s women moved within their canvases, she sits in as if “frozen” in a painting by the Lahore-born, Pakistani artist. There are layers of gazing in the image, on the part of the moon as well as Chopra’s camera. Chandni is the focalization of so much “desire”, courted by love, rushed by responsibility. Marriage will change her playful girlhood, but it is her beauty that aids in the forgiving of her class status, with Rohit struggling against the expectations of his family to be with her. She is Amit’s poetry, the face that makes Rohit’s images come to life, “the beloved that has arrived”, like a soft “breeze”, carrying memories and cool yearnings14

Sridevi’s/Chandni’s extended face, a beckoning dream

Again, as demonstrated in the above stills, her face is made to extend into many, the memory of a severance remembered, returned to, and collaged with/through Chopra’s/Rohit’s camera, cut into many little frames that permit daily, repetitive, minute (re)showings of a romanticized past. Rohit, not dissimilar to Amit and Raju, captures her in time via image-taking/making, locking her into a permanent gallery curated around sentiment and dream. Snapped at a voyeuristic distance, he captured many of the photos pictured above when he saw Chandni for the first time at a wedding, performing in a sangeet (a space for women to gather, dance, sing to, and play with the bride-to-be). Her real-life performance is pictured on the left, where she clinks her bangles together to open up her arms in a smile. During the performance, in which Rohit circles the enclosed space with his camera, Chopra’s camera also captures her, zooming in on her coyish smirks, her playful, theatrical expressions, and her winking eyes through several close-ups. The director’s familiar soft lighting casts her in a perpetual moonlight, emphasized by the sparkling threads in her sari. She sings through Lata Mangeshkar, Chopra’s favorite choice for all his heroines, and her high, girlish, tinkling voice brings to life a moon that is far away, endowed with so much character, desire, and mystery. Typical in her idealized Hindu femininity, she is childlike and sweet, innocent even to daydreams of marriage, the inevitability of such haunting her and the thwarting of which, again due to sudden tragedy, casts her into her own limbo, where she is torn between men and families as something to discard or as an object in urgent need of possession. Her infantilization locks her in time, and, captured in a similar pose from that night is her enlarged photo placed on the wall. 

Atypical in the amount of meaning she bears, her visual reproduction secures a pleasing memory for Rohit that can forever be replayed via his gaze. Later in the film, flashes of scenes from that moment beckon to him when he looks at her images, saying “Come, my love” (Amazon, 1:10:48).  These pictures come to “symbolize their love”, more-so (and again) his love of her image, his pleasure at possessing something so whole, innocent, sweet, unruptured (Amazon, 1:24:47). They also represent a past resented and cast off for its seeming ability never to be grasped again, when Rohit’s body suffers its own devastation from an accident which makes these images a site of stasis, a remembrance of a past gone, and a memory of seemingly irrevocable bodily rupture (Amazon, 1:23:59). The literal recycling of women’s images within Chopra’s films, even articulated as an oedipal loop in his commercially unsuccessful Lamhe (1991), with Sridevi playing a double role of mother and daughter, is a subtly morose one, a reproduction of particular memories that engage the dream girl’s body as a receptacle for unresolved attachments and desires, for unrealized dreams.

The interplay of Chandni’s infantilization alongside Chopra’s interest in rupture and mortality might set the stage for a reading of a younger India, before its irrevocable trauma. However, despite the objection of Rohit’s family to her immaturity and low-class status, as well as Rohit’s own dismissal of her, she still achieves a happy ending, unlike Silsila’s Chandni. Perhaps, if women in Bollywood films tend to operate primarily as reproductive figures, then allowing Chandni her happy ending articulates a wish for India somehow (like in Veer-Zaara), through some kind of reunion, to attain a relationship or reconciliation with the one that one was severed from. Her meta-performance might be a restaging of events, an eternal performance, and film as a medium symbolically recasts the supposedly defined about that moment, where women come to embody the uncertainty.  And it is important that in the universe of Chopra’s films, the rift has already happened, understated and referenced in the world as an undercurrent historical backdrop, a consciousness, presence, and hushed memory, but which nevertheless still reverberates aftershocks of rupture in the family, upon the woman, sifting through the mess of right and wrong. She represents the past, rehearsals, performances that are unsatisfactory, rooted in an ancestral tension that collapses upon several other customs and relationships. Therefore, the moonlight of his films might double as a picture flash, capturing her brilliance, illuminating it, while simultaneously making clear her perishability, her conditional nature, and the precariousness of his quiet, understated, decorative desire. Like a photograph, she orbits through various histories, feelings, ambivalent sentiments within the film. The brighter tone of the ending, where love is still achieved with/through the memory of a hard past, is a reckoning that Chopra works out in Dil to Pagal Hai.

Nisha who dances for “others”, and Pooja who dances for “herself.”

Chandni asserts to Rohit that “she’s not like these lifeless photos” (Chandni, 1:24:34), and the distinction between the real and unreal comes out again through Pooja’s dreamgirl-hood. Dreamed about with the fervent intensity of prayer, Pooja is a “fantasy” that Rahul literally later basks in (DTPH, 14:37). Her usual sanctification through poem is conveyed through song, with Rahul singing about her “bholi si surat” or “innocent face” (25:46). Not having appeared to him yet, and only “coming in dreams”, she is early on juxtaposed against Nisha, who is “not a nice girl” as compared to Pooja’s own pleasant nature (2:29:26). Pooja is a “girl [that] anyone could fall in love with” (Amazon Prime, 13:52). Chopra also plays with this binary between women, deliberately commenting through the metaphor of artistic production on the right girl to carry the dream/show/nation. Nisha performs (via singer Asha Bhosle) “Le Gayi”, singing suggestively about how a man “took her heart away” in the deep of night. The verses of the song are interspersed with erotic “ayys” during which Nisha arches her back and rolls her head around seductively, the above still captures this. Echoing Saraswati’s arched back and titillating “Ouch!”, she brings an eroticism to the camera, the distinction being that she openly offers herself to the screen, as opposed to the privacy of the male imagination (which are not as mutually exclusive as Chopra constructs them).  Nisha’s characterization more closely approximates that of the “item girl”: indulgent, risqué, sexy, and disposable15. It is likely not a mistake that Asha Bhosle, the voice of Helen and Bindu, is contrasted against that of her sister, Lata Mangeshkar, who voices Pooja’s singing and whose sweet “la la la-ing” is attached as the signature sound to Chopra’s film production brand YRF Films. Before Rahul’s “Maya” need concretely appear, Nisha is emblematic of the kind of Indian feminine one should not be (according to Chopra), she who has has mostly guy friends and gets jealous, whereas Pooja stays at an equilibrium of emotion, calm, dreamy, and generally reserved about dancing in front of Rahul/people.  Where Nisha plays with Rahul, wrestling and joking with him in short dresses and mini-skirts, Pooja laughs lightly with, or quietly resists, him, usually donning an angelic, modest sari. 

Pooja “only dances for herself”, similar to her private dance in “Pyar Kar”, with Rahul/Chopra as her unconscious dream spectator, hoping to father her into existence as their creative vessel to philosophize about how they imagine love, its impenetrability and wholesomeness. Rahul and Pooja’s meeting is dramatic and beautiful, with the tinkling of her payal (anklet) calling his attention to a room where she is dancing by herself, the moonlight channeled into spotlight from an overhead circular window. Even after she has left her performance space, with Rahul voyeuristically watching and naming her, he embraces her light, feminine energy to channel into the fulfillment of his incomplete dream. Rahul’s next show literally depends on her materialization, with Nisha indisposed to sudden injury, and with the logistics of his play left indescribable to those outside of his imagination. He can only tell his friends/co-workers that their next performance will be structured around a certain “Maya”, the epitome of the graceful and the feminine, much like the moon (Amazon Prime, 13:29). 

And maybe she is still only a dream, having been introduced to the viewer through his “imagination” (13:30). In a way that speaks to the blurring of lines, the above still melds with the moon-blue and white of the room into something else, something boundary breaking, a realizable unreality. One might notice the light, clear glaze that covers over Pooja’s face. The glossy glaze of the image, along with her holy-like, drafty white dress, conveys her dreaminess. Here Chopra is even less subtle as he thinks about performance, dreams, drama, social spectacle. The moonlight is a spotlight, her flowy dress, or her flowing curtains from “Pyar Kar”, are theatrical stage curtains. Watching her is like watching a snippet of a drama about morals and desire, and her dreaminess withstands familial obligations to be able to marry the man she loves, Rahul, despite his not being who everyone expected for her (Akshay Kumar as Ajay). The moon does not follow Nisha in the same way, surrounded by contrived, artificial lights, as opposed to the pure, focused concentration of celestial material that swathes Pooja, the moonlight “scarf”/sari that Nisha is never seen in.  

Rahul basking in “Maya”/Pooja

The dream girl must make the dream come true, but what dream? If, to reference Veer-Zaara again, Chopra’s explicit love narrative involving Partition and the border, Preity Zinta is an allegory for Pakistan, then it would seem that an embrace of particular memories, this reach for a breaking of social divisions, is a recuperation that can only be worked out on hesitant and particularly gendered terms. Nisha is a dummy against which the perfect dream girl is projected, and Pooja’s casting as the ideal, aspirational, traditional feminine to Nisha’s own “modern”, unrefined-ness, demonstrates Chopra’s interest in only a certain kind of woman, one which might most clearly channel the nationhood he might have preferred. Like Pooja, the imagining of her sets the stage for a new drama where a different narrative relationship is worked out against the things, people, or places, one was severed from.  However, the show would be a spectacle that did not unpack why it fell apart in the first place, for Chopra’s use of the dream girl trope is uncritical, playing into gendered custom, and the Hindu symbolism is still thick (even Zinta had to be a very modest, Mangeshkar girl to lessen the difficulty of her religion and country onscreen). Chopra’s quietly insistent imagery, the moon-like lighting as aura and tone, fills the screen with the impressiveness of a grand, unidentifiable ruin, in such a way that one hopes for the correction, or reinstated beauty, or retelling of a something. The moonlight, with the woman bowed meekly below it, is setting and mood, an alluring, impossible idea.


  1. The timings noted throughout this article relate to the films streaming on Amazon Prime.
  2. Kajol, who plays Simran in Aditya Chopra’s classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), similarly dances to the dream of her lover (Shah Rukh Khan as Raj Malhotra) in the song “Mere Khwabon Mein”, sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Aditya Chopra also employs moonlight imagery, either as a symbol which reminds its NRI (Non-Resident Indian) characters of an Indian home, or as reference for a stunning Indian female beauty, with Raj likening Simran to its loveliness.
  3. Tejaswinti Ganti, Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema, second ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), p. 101.
  4. The ghazal is an ancient poetic form, most popular on the Indian subcontinent. Ghazals typically meditate on the beauty of love or on the pain of loss and separation, structuring poetic sentiment around a mood of melancholy.
  5. See “Ghoongta Mein Chanda”, sung by Udit Narayan, performed by Shah Rukh Khan (and also starring Madhuri Dixit), from Rakesh Roshan’s Koyla (1997).
  6. Nawaid Anjum, “The Many Moods of the Moon; Urdu Poetry’s Favorite Muse”, The Indian Express (22 July 2019).
  7. Ironically, Mehboob Khan, a Muslim director, directed Mother India (1957), which narrates the struggle of a self-sacrificing, longsuffering Hindu mother as a metaphor for the resilience of the Indian nation.
  8. Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge. Dixit’s character is indeed a “knowing” feminine figure that detects Raju’s mother Lakshmi’s conniving nature. Named after the goddess of money and financial prosperity, Lakshmi otherwise capitalizes upon her infantile, obsequious stepson Raju’s nature (who lost his mother to childbirth), feigning love for him to trick him out of his inheritance.
  9. Bapsi Sidhwa, “Introduction: City Beloved”, in City of Sin and Splendour: Writings on Lahore, Bapsi Sidhwa, ed., (New Delhi: Penguin, 2005), p. xi.
  10. Amaresh Misra, “Yash Chopra: A Socio-Political Reading“, The Times of India (23 October 2012).
  11. In the film, Preity Zinta is remodeled from her usual roles as a cute, cheeky, westernized Indian (Hindu) girl into a sweet, tradition-abiding Muslim woman, Zaara. The characterization permits Pakistan’s recuperation into a broad-armed, loving, masculine India through its feminization.  Love takes the metaphor of the border here too, with Zaara’s lover, Veer (Shah Rukh Khan) telling her that “across the border, there is someone who is willing to sacrifice his life for you” (1:25:24).
  12. Many of Chopra’s films explore the question of love versus arranged marriage, as do those of his son Aditya. See Kabhie Kabhie (Yash Chopra, 1976), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and Mohabbatein (Aditya Chopra, 2000).
  13. Anjum, “The Many Moods of the Moon”.
  14. Anjum, “The Many Moods of the Moon”.
  15. An “item girl” is another common trope in Bollywood cinema. Generally, a vehicle to insert more overt eroticism into films, she performs suggestive song and dance numbers wearing sexy clothing, her appearance often having little to nothing to do with the main plot. The item girl often takes the form of a cameo from a popular Bollywood actress, but she can also be a foreign actress, racially and culturally ambiguous. Classic “item girls” throughout time have been Helen, Bindu, and Malaika Arora Khan.

About The Author

McKenzie Clarke is a recent graduate from Spelman College. She has her B.A. in English. Her scholarly interests include black literature, black feminist theory, psychoanalysis, cinema, and postcolonial studies. She will be attending Rutgers University in Fall 2022 to begin her PhD in English.

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