Nationalism is an evocative concept with multiple philosophies around its meanings, purposes and contentions. Symbols, imagery, and spectacle play an important role in cultural expressions of nationalism that sustain an emotional response. The paper argues that imaginative constructs of nationalism in India are primarily constructed around women’s bodily metaphors, sexual norms, and their maternal roles in families. Popular culture, particularly cinema, tends to reinforce power hierarchies in which women symbolizing the nation are in need of protection by men or the state as a masculine authority. Hindi cinema has been an integral part of the socio-cultural lives of people in India, and this paper traces a common equation of women with motherhood and the nation, beginning with the film Mother India (1957), which etched gendered ideas of nationhood on the national consciousness. This paper has two objectives: first, to establish, through a brief review of literature, that the foundational edifice of nationalist discourse in India is embedded in hegemonic masculinity. Further, imagined landscapes of nationalism enforce sexual norms and gender roles, played out on the terrain of women’s bodies. The second objective is to offer a survey of Hindi films responding to different moments in the historical trajectory of nationalist discourse in India, through their portrayals of women characters, their sexual moralities, and normative roles of motherhood. The paper takes a feminist approach to analyze prominent Hindi movies that have reinforced and consolidated gendered constructions of nationalism. By looking at how women’s bodies have become sites of symbolism and sites for discursive constructions of sexuality and motherhood, the paper shows how Hindi cinema’s body politics are embedded in hegemonic masculinity. The paper also recognizes moments of rupture and erosion of these tropes in Hindi films that challenge this hegemony and transform female bodies from sites of coercion and hegemonic nationalism to sites of transformational agency, resistance, and freedom.

Author Biography

Nupur Ray is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi. Her areas of academic interest and teaching include Political Philosophy, Gender Studies, Human Rights and Human Development. She has published widely in reputed journals, most recently in Indian Journal of Public Health and Indian Journal of Gender Studies. Her recent publications also include a jointly edited book ‘Discourse on Rights in India: Debates and Dilemmas’ (Routledge, 2019). She has contributed chapters to edited volumes and presented papers at various national and international conferences, such as the Human Development and Capability Association. Email id: hope.nupur@gmail.com