Has Bollywood Become “Death-Denying”?

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  • Title: Has Bollywood Become “Death-Denying”?: Cinematic Deaths of Terminally-ill Protagonists in Hindi Films before and after Liberalisation in India
  • Author(s): Souvik Mondal
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: New Directions in the Humanities
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Literary Humanities
  • Keywords: Death-Denying, Cinematic Death, Indian Cinema, Bollywood, Liberalisation
  • Volume: 16
  • Issue: 1
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 2327-7912 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-8676 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2327-7912/CGP/v16i01/13-21
  • Citation: Mondal, Souvik. 2018. "Has Bollywood Become “Death-Denying”?: Cinematic Deaths of Terminally-ill Protagonists in Hindi Films before and after Liberalisation in India." The International Journal of Literary Humanities 16 (1): 13-21. doi:10.18848/2327-7912/CGP/v16i01/13-21.
  • Extent: 9 pages


During the 1950s-60s when the “Denial of Death” thesis emerged in the works of Gorer and Ariès, it was perceived that death had become the “final taboo,” which suggested that modern Western societies are “death-denying.” Concomitantly, with the rise of modern medical science, death has turned into a disease with the unending expectation of getting cured and death and dying have become “hidden” within hospital settings. Cinematic deaths have a symbolic function different from deaths in real life, but the cultural significance of death and dying rests in the symbolic context in which representations of death and dying are embedded. Though, according to Gorer, media is obsessed with the unrealistic portrayal of violent death, which he termed “pornographic” death, cinema in general avoids representation of deaths of terminally-ill patients. This, according to Baudrillard, is the outcome of high modernity, which makes dying and death non-existent and barred from symbolic circulation. The process of Westernisation of Indian values took an unprecedented leap during the 1990s, influenced by the economic liberalisation initiated by the Indian Government. Cinematic deaths of terminally-ill patients in India were not hidden or taboo before the liberalisation process had begun. In contrast, in post-liberalised India, the representation of on-screen deaths has been symbolically modified by turning it into an individually managed hidden event. In this paper, three Hindi films, one from the pre-liberalisation period and two from post-liberal years, will be analysed to understand the values associated with death in India during these decades. Because Hindi films dominate the sphere of popular culture in India, this research will reveal the traditional values surrounding death in India in general and their conflict and adjustment with the emergence of modernity.