Instructor: Anaar Desai-Stephens

Office: Lincoln 142

Office Hours: Tues/Thurs 2-3:30



Course Description:

This course focuses on Bollywood, the largest film industry in the world, and explores the world of Hindi film songs: the entertaining song-and-dance sequences that mark it. How have Hindi film songs and musical styles changed over the last half-century? What is the social life of filmi songs, both as they relate to and are independent from the films for which they are composed? Taking Hindi film songs as a celebratory yet critical guide to South Asian history and culture, we will examine issues such as gender, nationalism, and globalization. Combining literature on South Asian history, society, and music with numerous film viewings and close analysis of songs, we will develop a culturally grounded and musically sophisticated understanding of why these songs hold such meaning and appeal, both within South Asia and abroad.


Course Organization:

We will begin with an overview of the historical trajectory of Hindi film (1930s-present) in order to ground ourselves in its sonic and visual aesthetic, production process, stylistic changes, and major social themes (Unit 1). We will then focus on three important social issues: Gender and Erotics (Unit 2), Nationalism and Belonging (Unit 3), and Globalization and Circulation (Unit 4). Linking analytical and contextual readings with close analysis of film songs, we will consider the social and cultural work that Hindi film songs perform in each of these topic areas. How do these songs, as sonic and visual objects, carry, convey, and create social meaning?

This course is guided by several key questions:

  • What is the relationship between Hindi films and Hindi film songs?
  • How do we engage Hindi film songs as both aesthetic and social objects?
  • How do we grapple with the nature of Hindi film songs as simultaneously global and resolutely “Indian”?

We will encounter and tackle these questions through our readings, discussion, writing, film viewing, song analysis, and creative practice. In so doing, we will gain a deeper understanding of Hindi film songs as musical, cultural, social, and political “objects”.


Course Learning Objectives:

By the end of this course, having participated with good faith effort, you will be able to:

  • Listen carefully to Hindi film songs and knowledgeably discuss their sonic content
  • Analyze Hindi film songs for the political and social meanings they carry
  • Synthesize and apply scholarly literature and theoretical concepts to create persuasive analyses of Hindi film songs, in both written and multimedia formats
  • Sing the mukhra-antara (refrain and verse) of at least one Hindi film song


Course Materials:

We will be drawing on a range of texts, including full books, book chapters, articles, songs, YouTube videos, and movies.


The books listed below are required; you can buy them on Amazon or access them as a course reserve in the Music Library. All other readings will be posted on our class site by the Thursday night before they are due.

  • Beaster-Jones, Jayson. 2015. Bollywood Sounds: The Cosmopolitan Mediations of Hindi Film Song. London, England: Oxford University Press.
  • Ganti, Tejaswini. 2013 (2nd ed.). Bollywood. Routledge Film Guidebooks. London, England: Routledge.

On reading: Know yourself and your abilities – how do you best absorb information? How do you take notes? If you go digital, make sure you use a good program for reading and annotating (such as Adobe, IAnnotate, Skim). Whether you opt to access the readings in hard copy or digital, I expect that you will read carefully and thoroughly, taking notes and annotating, and always have a copy of the readings with you in class.



We will be watching one movie per week for most of the semester, as listed in the syllabus. I will try to arrange a screening time that is most convenient for the majority of us. Please try to attend the class screenings (there will be masala popcorn!) If you are unable to attend, you are responsible for watching the film on your own that week. A DVD will be placed on reserve; many movies are also available on Netflix and Amazon (for a fee) or on YouTube (free).


Other Media: Songs and videos will be posted on or linked to from the class site.



Full prompts and further details will be posted under “Assignments” 3-4 weeks before the due dates.

Weekly Responses and Annotations: Unless there is another assignment due, every week you will either:

  • Post a short (300+ word) response to a question I ask about that week’s film/article(s) on the course discussion board. Unless you are the first person to post, I expect you to engage with your peers’ responses.
  • Add 4-5 annotations to one or more film song sequences on the course site. I will give a demonstration on adding annotations to video in class. You should aim to have at least 1 annotation that responds to a classmate’s observation; at least 1 that focuses on sonic content; and at least 1 that connects to social themes. (*Update: At least 1 annotation should reference the reading). I expect the annotations to provide as many substantive observations as your short responses, just in a more concise manner.

I will specify which to complete each week and post the prompt by the previous Thursday. These short assignments are designed to help you synthesize what you’ve watched and read, think about key issues in preparation for class discussion, and develop concise writing skills. They will be graded with a check rubric (+/-).

Class Discussion Inspiration:

In order to inspire lively discussion, you will develop at least one, and no more than three, thought-provoking discussion questions for each seminar meeting. You will post your question(s) on the class site (at the bottom of your weekly response) by 7pm the night before class AND bring your questions to class. Your questions will be part of your participation assessment.


Every few weeks, we will dedicate a class session to exploring the topics at hand in a more creative manner. Short readings or preparatory work may be assigned, but the class time will focus on engaging the topics and materials through modes of practice and knowing that go beyond discussion and text. I request that you approach these workshops with an open mind and a willingness to experiment, and I welcome your suggestions for creative ways of exploring the course materials.

 Discussion Facilitation:

You will be assigned one class discussion to facilitate in Unit 4. As facilitator, you will not be expected to lecture on the readings; instead, your job will be to prepare discussion questions and/or activities to engage the class and draw out conversation. Your questions and activities should help to steer class discussion to cover the main ideas in the readings and to connect the assigned readings to other ideas, texts, and conversations that have previously been covered in class.

As you prepare to facilitate your class, I encourage you to come meet with me or email me to discuss your plans.

Listening Quiz – At the end of Unit 1, you will have a listening quiz covering the songs we have listened to and discussed. You will need to name the singer(s), film, music director, and be able to say something about the song.

Unit Papers

At the end of Units 2, 3, and 4, you will be given a prompt for a short (5-6 page) essay or project. This work will allow you to apply and demonstrate the musical, social, and analytical insights you have gained through that unit. I will post the prompt at the beginning of the unit.

Final Project: Podcast

For your final project, you will create a podcast in which you will play and discuss 5-8 songs of your choosing for an uninitiated listener. The podcast should be organized around a central analytical theme or question which you will elucidate through your song choices and oral discussion. The podcast will be accompanied by an essay in which you justify your song choices and provide more in-depth analysis than will be possible in the podcast. I will provide the full prompt by mid-semester; we will also listen to and analyze various Bollywood podcasts. Our podcasts will be posted on the class site and be available to the public, unless you request otherwise.

Participation (including attendance) 20%
Discussion Facilitation 5%
Weekly Responses 20%
Unit 1 Listening Quiz 5%
Unit 2 Paper 10%
Unit 3 Paper 10%
Final Project (including proposal and draft) 30%

Writing Requirements: All written work must follow the same guidelines. If you do not meet these requirements your paper will be returned to you UNGRADED. You may fix the formatting and turn it back in for a LATE grade.

  • File name, last name first. Example: Desai-StephensEssay1.doc
  • Documents should be editable, preferably word (.doc or .docx) files
  • 12 pt font
  • Times New Roman font
  • 1” Margins all four sides (no more or less)
  • Normal Character spacing
  • Double-spaced
  • Name, Title, Page numbers, and Date must be included (these should be single-spaced)
  • Bibliography MUST be included, when relevant

“Late” assignments will not be accepted and will receive a zero (0) unless you have contacted me in advance and made specific arrangements to which we have both agreed


 Class Environment and Course Guidelines:

In this course, we will explore the sounds and social life of Hindi film songs together in a discussion-oriented class. To that end, I’d like to request some ground rules to ensure that class is productive, engaging, and enjoyable for all of us.

  • Participate: Be ready to raise questions, offer thoughts, and constructively engage with your peers’ ideas. Be brave – emergent ideas are welcome.
  • Be Prepared: Please come to class having carefully completed the assigned reading, listening, and viewing. Have your notes and the reading at hand.
  • Be Punctual
  • Be Present: The physical, intellectual, and energetic presence of each of us is essential in ensuring that our class is vibrant and engaging. To that end, please make sure your cell phones and devices are turned off. Laptops are permitted as long as they do not distract you.


Students will be excused from class for illness, religious observance, family illnesses, and official athletic trips. Please contact me as soon as you are aware that you will be absent. Attendance counts as part of your participation grade.

*Extra credit: Over the course of the semester, I will draw your attention to relevant concerts. If you attend a concert and hand in a one-page write up of the concert, you can make up an absence.

 Office Hours:

If you miss a class, I ask that you make every effort to attend my office hours to catch up. I encourage you to stop by at any point for help with assignments, to talk about the course materials, or just to chat about Hindi film and song. If you find it difficult to speak up in class, attending my office hours will count towards your participation grade. If you encounter challenges with the course, please talk with me. All conversations will be kept confidential.

Laptops and Devices:

You are welcome to use a laptop in class, but please don’t hide behind your screen! Laptops are for reading course materials, unless otherwise specified. If they become a distraction, we will re-visit this policy. I encourage you to turn your internet off in class, or use one of these internet site blockers: Productivity Owl, SelfControl, others.


I hope that we will all benefit from a class consisting of individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives and opinions. In order to maintain an atmosphere for learning that respects this diversity, I ask that we all:

  • Listen openly to each others’ ideas, perspectives, values, and beliefs
  • Communicate constructively and respectfully, especially when we disagree
  • Keep confidential any classroom conversations that include personal or sensitive information

Please be in touch via email or in person if you have any concerns at all about the classroom environment.

Academic Integrity:

All the work you submit in this course must have been written for this course and not another, and must originate with you in form and content with all contributory sources fully and specifically acknowledged. Make yourself familiar with Cornell’s Academic Integrity Code, distributed to students in the Policy Notebook and available online at: Failure to follow these guidelines may result in a failing grade in the course.