First off, if you don’t know what Bollywood is – take a look at its Wikipedia article.
As a person who spends almost every waking hour on his laptop, I have interesting pastimes, one of which is checking out events.stanford.edu once a day.
On a plain Monday afternoon last week, I decided to distract myself from Perl/MySQL and steered over to events.stanford. And what I saw was something very interesting — an event called exactly the title of this blog post. I was sort of stunned by the classification chosen — so did they mean that most of the Bollywood women were either Prostitutes or Courtesans?! Well, I didn’t know and since the description was not really descriptive, I thought I might as well check it out.
It turns out that this was a student initiated course in the Cultural and Social Anthropology Department – “CASA13SI – Running Around Trees: Exploring the Bollywood Song” whose theme for Tuesday was “Courtesans and Prostitute Dances.” I was in luck! I actually thought of calling a few of my pals over for a good time — they also had authentic Indian snacks! — but later decided against it.
The way the course works is that Stuti and Sanah (the course initiators/organizers/teachers) screen bollywood dance numbers on the theme of the day which is followed by discussion on the topics related to the theme brought about in the song. I have been watching bollywood movies ever since I can remember but I actually never thought much about the roles of courtesans and prostitutes. So it was interesting when Sanah and Stuti described how the courtesans actually had a sense of independence and power over men and how the image of the courtesans in South Asia changed over the course of time, especially after the British arrived. They played songs from a whole range of movies made between the 60s and early part of the 21st century. Below is a sample:
The discussions were well-moderated with really enthusiastic participation from the people in the class, mostly desis (people from South Asia or South Asian decent). At the end I was left with a feeling that it is here in California, thousands of miles from home, that I get to actually know about things that I have lived with all my life without bothering to fully understand. Sometimes it may be that, to understand a system, you need to look at it from the outside. I recommend a visit to their class – Tuesdays, 7:15 to 9pm in Building 360 — if not for the songs (and the women in those songs) then at least for the samosas. They might not be hot but at least they taste good!
PS: The class started with Sanah and Stuti asking the students whom they associated with the most and least. Choices were: mother, wife, vamp or prostitute; all was good until I had to answer (I didnt think that men would have to answer these questions but I guess they did). My answer: wife for most and vamp for least!