Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



This essay puts forth an analysis of the recent portrayal of an unwed mother in the Bollywood film, Kya Kehna! (Kundan Shah, 2000, henceforth KK). The title, which is readily translated to the rhetorical, "What can you say?" has additional significance here as a laudatory exclamation directed at the film's young heroine. Targeting a younger audience, the film was hailed as a challenging exploration of female sexuality and women's empowerment. The film in fact reaffirms traditional stereotypes of women in which their behavior is carefully controlled within a patriarchal framework. In spite of the awkward fact that the main character's state of motherhood is the result of pre-marital sex, nationalist mechanisms are put into play to glorify the ideal of Woman-as-Mother. Unwed motherhood is not unheard of as a half-hidden side-plot of Hindi film, but it is very unusual to find it as the main narrative focus. A close textual reading of KK will enable a detailed comparison with an earlier film that apparently served as a template for the later production. Julie (K. S. Sethumadhavan, 1975), is a film that handled the same subject with a sensitivity unmatched in the more recent film. Further, placing KK alongside other contemporaneous releases, will show how-even in a film that does not foreground political, patriotic, or religious storylines-nationalist subtexts can be discerned in its handling of pre-marital sex, religion, and in the staging of its conclusion. The influences of economic liberalization, rising Hindutva sentiment in India (and commensurate communal tensions) as well as the impact of the NRI (Non-Resident Indian) community are all factors that play a part in the shaping of current Bollywood ideology, and their effects are visible in this film. Finally, viewer response and the concept of women's "uplift" will be addressed.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Susan E. Ryan