This past April, the Michigan Theater screened a Bollywood movie for the first time. There was about a seventy-person turnout for Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota (The Man Who Feels No Pain), a 2019 action-comedy about a boy whose congenital insensitivity to pain advances his promise in martial arts.
Among the audience members were professionals from different sectors of the media industry, including academics, filmmakers, and Bollywood producers. The screening was part of a day-long conference organized by the Global Media Studies Initiative (GMSI)—“Portals and Platforms: Cultures of Entertainment in Digital India.”
A Postdoctoral Research Fellow in GMSI, Tupur Chatterjee played a pivotal role in organizing the conference, along with several GMSI graduate students and Founding Director Aswin Punathambekar. The Initiative, Chatterjee explained, hosts one event per semester.
“Past events have included conferences, film screenings, and book workshops,” Chatterjee said. “We try to mix it up.”
The focus of April’s conference, Chatterjee explained, was to promote collaboration between media studies academics and industry practitioners. Collaborations like these, she said, are crucial to progress in the field.
“Our work shouldn’t exist in a vacuum,” she said. “The research we do as academics is often about the work these practitioners do. They know the internal dynamics of media industries better than we do.”
“As academics, we study trends, patterns, and larger conceptual ideas—that’s the pervasive focus. But the practitioners make everything concrete, relevant, and materially grounded.”
As the global media industry continues to grow and change, India-specific media conferences like GMSI’s will become all the more salient. It’s no surprise that India is a focal point for media research—after all, it’s home to Bollywood, one of the most economically and culturally successful media industries in the Global South.
“There’s a lot of commingling that happens between major media industries in the Global South,” Chatterjee said. “In addition to Bollywood, you have Korean and Chinese cinema industries that are really popular and successful globally.”
Chatterjee’s research centers these media industry transitions and their effects on an increasingly globalized subcontinent. Specifically, she’s interested in the dynamic relationship between gender and space.
“I’m looking at how the exhibition industry in India has made a big switch from single-screen theaters to multiplexes, and what that means for changing notions of gender, space, and public leisure in India,” said Chatterjee.
“Historically speaking, public space in India has been a predominantly male domain, and the presence of women in public has always caused anxiety. With the rise of malls and multiplexes and the change in the texture of the Indian city, that relationship with gender is also changing, because there is never a time of day when a woman can’t be in a multiplex.”
This research topic was the foundation for Chatterjee’s Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Texas, which she plans to convert to a book. She’s already written the proposal, which she’ll begin sending to presses in the coming months.
It seems fitting, then, that GMSI’s next event is a December book proposal workshop called “First Books in Global Media Studies.” This is the second time the Initiative has hosted the workshop; eight-to-nine early-career academics in global media studies will attend and offer advice.
Chatterjee, however, will be moving on after next semester. A young academic with professional experiences at media organizations like Breakthrough and Sesame Street India, she’s excited for what comes next.
“I just got a job as Assistant Professor of Global Film and Media Studies at University College Dublin’s School of English, Drama, and Film,” she said, smiling. “So it looks like I’m moving to Dublin.”