Rachel Dwyer: Hindi cinema & South Asian studies

Rachel Dwyer outlines her research interests in South Asian Studies: how Hindi cinema offers a fresh way of understanding modern India; and how the study of Sanskrit led her to championing the Asian elephant

In the nearly thirty years since I joined SOAS, I’ve followed a range of research interests, which connect and interweave.

I often find that when I start something new it has implications for my earlier research.

My major area of research and publication is Hindi cinema, my latest work being Bollywood’s India. I’ve worked closely with several of the industry’s key figures, and I write and speak about film beyond the academy in the Indian and global media and at literary festivals such as Edinburgh, Jaipur and Lahore. This long despised but hugely popular form of Indian culture is now recognised as a unique global form and has become an essential part of academic film studies as well as a fresh way of understanding modern India.

Professor Rachel Dwyer researching the Asian elephant in India

Professor Rachel Dwyer outlines her research interests in South Asian Studies, including Hindi cinema and the Asian elephant in India, and what led her to them

Although I’m originally a student of classical languages (mostly Sanskrit and Greek), I’ve published a textbook for learning Gujarati and I research Hindi cinema. Knowledge of these languages has allowed me to study original sources, be they literature or films. I’ve read Sanskrit religious texts, which I’ve then linked to cinema in my work on religion’s depiction on screen (Filming the Gods: Religion and Indian Cinema). Gujarati has also been important for my research on the Indian diaspora. Reading Sanskrit literature has underpinned part of my research on the Asian elephant in India, which in turn has connected to my work on the role of Ganesh in Hinduism, in particular his current status in the city of Bombay/Mumbai. I have also researched elephants in Hindi cinema, closing another circle, and this has led to interactions with scholars of biology, the environment and behaviour, as well as enabling me to meet some famous captive elephants while also viewing the Indian elephant in its natural habitat. This on-going research will, I hope, also benefit the elephant: as people learn more about India’s national heritage animal they are starting to reject their use in circuses and for broader entertainment, their ivory for ornaments and to understand why they belong in the wild.

Rachel Dwyer BA (London) MPhil (Oxon) PhD (London) is Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema, SOAS University of London.

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