Abstract

Meri Awaaz Suno: Women, Vocality, and Nation in Hindi Cinema” analyzes the theme sony of the Bollywood blockbuster Lagaan (2001) to understand how playback singers' voices become sites for the construction of national identity. Lata Mangeshkar monopolized female playback singing for over four decades, and is known as the ideal voice of Indian femininity. The Lagaan theme song juxtaposes a saccharine, ultra-feminine Mangeshkaresque voice with two female choruses—one sensual and aggressive, the other light and airy. These varied female voices embody a range of sexual, national, and racial meanings, evoking an India that seems inclusive and progressive. Yet within Lagaan's utopian nation, and certainly within the film industry and broader social milieu, women with “ethnic” and sexually provocative voices are often deemed dangerous and are disallowed from speaking (or singing) for the nation. The social norms embedded in Lagaan's female singing voices thus reveal the limits that Hindi film music imposes on the voice of the nation, and vice versa.

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