Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Two film courses: Hindi-movie song sequences and Val Lewton’s psychological horror

Spreading the word about two film-appreciation modules I have lined up, each of which is the starting point for a larger series of courses around Indian and non-Indian cinema. If you are interested, contact me at jaiarjun@gmail.com for details of the courses. And please spread the word to anyone else who might want to sign up for one or both of these.

Module 1: Celebrating the song sequence, and its place in the Hindi-film narrative

Though music and dance have been among the defining elements of popular Hindi cinema, the song sequence as it used to be – with its disruption of narrative and apparent lack of logic – has sometimes invited derision from those who don’t care for “loud” or “melodramatic” forms of expression. However, such sequences often work within the context of a movie to deepen our attitudes to the characters and situations, and help us understand the film better.

We will look at a number of song sequences from Hindi films across the decades, and examine their visual language as well as the functions they serve: the revelation of character and relationship, the use of space, commentaries on the star system, the shifting of registers between comedy, pathos and other moods. The scenes in question will be from films by major directors like Bimal Roy, Vijay Anand, Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, as well as more recent approaches in the works of Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and others. There will be some room for whimsy as well.

This will also be the starting point for a larger course about specific sequences (not just musical sequences) in Indian cinema. Without being rigid about this, my preference would be for students who, even if they don’t know much about old Hindi cinema, are extremely open-minded about what they are willing to watch and think about. (These classes will not only focus on sequences that have obvious and easily identifiable artistic merit; I will look at scenes that some of us instinctively think of as cheesy/technically shoddy/outdated but which are inventive and unusual in their own ways.)

Module 2: Val Lewton and the workings of understated horror

Thanks to the recent surge in Indian horror films (including “social-message horror films”) and web series, there have been many conversations around the genre – including the difference between “psychological”/”restrained” horror and jump-scare/monster horror. Predictably, such discussions tend to extol the former and denigrate the latter, and this goes with the implication that subtle psychological horror is something relatively new in cinema. But very few movie-buffs these days talk about – or even know much about – the Val Lewton-produced B-movies of the 1940s, which include such distinctive works as The Seventh Victim, I Walked with a Zombie, and Cat People.

Most of these films are only around 65 to 75 minutes long, and are characterised by their storytelling economy and directness, as well as the building of a very identifiable mood – they are creepy, but with a pervasive sense of sadness, and centred around people who are lonely or haunted in some way.

The format for these classes will follow the film-noir discussions I have been hosting: that is, I will upload some of Lewton’s films and make them available to those who are interested in the classes; this will be followed by a two-hour discussion about the films in particular, as well as the workings of the genre.

Please do get in touch for course details, and spread the word to other movie buffs and students.


  1. Hi, who can we contact to find out more about this course?

    1. Hi Ritika, my mail ID is given in the first paragraph of the post. Please mail there. Alternately, leave you email ID here and I will add you to the mailing list.

  2. Hi, I can't seem to find your email around here. How can I sign-up for this?

    1. Hi Cassandra, my mail ID is given in the first paragraph of the post. Please mail there. Alternately, leave you email ID here and I will add you to the mailing list.