Vocal Aesthetics and the Construction of the “Feminine” in Post-independence Hindi Cinema


Indian cinema is deeply connected to India’s identity, with cinematic themes and narratives influencing and reflecting cultural behaviors and expectations. After its Independence in 1947, India entered a nation-building phase, and films placed the nation, society, and family (including romance and marriage) at the center of its narratives. Indian construction of femininity was based on conservative beliefs tempered in Gandhian and Nehruvian visions of a New India. The ideal heroine upheld Indian traditions and was virtuous, self-sacrificing, and pious. In this paper I discuss the female playback singer’s voice and its relationship to the heroine’s onscreen representation. What is the role of music and the voice in representing women’s identity and agency? How have song picturizations advanced or limited women’s characterizations? I use examples from films from three eras of Indian cinema, (Post-Partition), middle (Nation-building or Classic), and contemporary (Post-Liberalization) periods to illustrate the negotiation of Indian female identity and femininity in voice and song. Analyses include song tessituras, vocal ranges, aesthetics and timbres (e.g. light, airy, reedy, lyrical), vocal production (e.g. nasal, chest, throaty), and stylistic elements such as use of classical ornamentation or pop effects (e.g. glottal stops, vocal fry) or technology (e.g. vocoding, autotune). This analysis will help the reader understand India’s national ideals and global aspirations through the female voice.

Author Information
Natalie Sarrazin, The College at Brockport, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ACAS2021
Stream: Indian and South Asian Studies

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon