This article examines the construction of and contestation over the idea of the nation through contemporary popular cinema in India. Building on his experience of discussing the Bollywood spy thriller Raazi (2018) in an English class, the author proposes that “reading” the film in terms of gender and genre can not only help students apply modes of textual analysis to narratives in other media but also alert them to the location of such narratives within larger discursive frameworks of defining national identities. Raazi presents a critical and ideological counterpoint to the generic conventions of the spy thriller within the increasingly polarized sociopolitical context of the Indian subcontinent. The film presents an unlikely female protagonist as both the physical agent and the psychological subject of the violence integral to the “action” of an espionage film. It also interrogates the oppositional relation between the patriotic “self” and the foreign “other” that lies at the basis of the militaristic conception of the nation and ultimately reveals the shared human vulnerability of both to the traumatic effects of pursuing the idea(l) of nationalism at the expense of individual moral integrity. Thus a close reading of the film's narrative structure and conventions, as well as a critical engagement with the historical context of its production and reception, can be pedagogically fruitful ways of understanding and critiquing the processes through which a nation is collectively imagined into being.

You do not currently have access to this content.