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Hybrid Heritage on Screen provides a long overdue thorough analysis of the 1980s 'Raj Revival'. It examines imperial nostalgia and troubled ethnic, gender and class relations during the Thatcher Era as represented in cinema and television.




Conflicts in terms of cultural and ethnic identities characterise the increasingly multicultural and globalised societies of our time. In the United Kingdom in particular, the so-called ‘Thatcher decade’ marked a watershed in British society, bringing about important changes in the political, economic, social and cultural reality of the country which still resonate today. During the 1980s, cultural identities were incessantly reconstructed as the terms ‘national’, ‘imperial’ and ‘postcolonial’ were questioned and redefined. The interrelated categories of gender, ethnicity and class were also transformed and adapted to the new context: old identity boundaries were eroded, new limits were built up, and unexplored hybrid spaces were unveiled. However, what does it mean to talk about ‘hybrid spaces’ — namely Homi Bhabha’s ‘third space’ or Avtar Brah’s ‘diaspora space’? The introductory quotation by Werbner succinctly expresses the main concerns that underlie the cultural and filmic study carried out in this book.
Elena Oliete-Aldea

1. The Porosity of Identity Boundaries

The question of cultural identity is an important issue of debate in contemporary societies all around the world, and even more so in Great Britain, given the profound changes in the constitution of British society over recent decades. Stuart Hall argues that a sense of identity entails demarcations of inclusion and exclusion: ‘identities can function as points of identification and attachment only because of their capacity to exclude, to render “outside”, abjected’ (1997: 5; italics in original).
Elena Oliete-Aldea

2. Britain in the 1980s: The Thatcher Decade

The paradoxical nature of contemporary globalising forces — promoting both the permeability of frontiers and hybridity, while fuelling ethnonationalist passions — had an indigenous version in Britain throughout the so-called ‘Thatcher decade’. From the mid-twentieth century onwards, Britain had to undergo the ‘trauma of decolonisation’ and its gradual, often painful, adaptation to a new postcolonial and globalised world, which resulted in several economic, political and ideological crises.
Elena Oliete-Aldea

3. British Cinema and the Raj Revival

The proliferation of films set in the past, or ‘heritage films’, in the decade of the 1980s in Britain is closely linked to the Thatcherite project, which combined forward-looking economic policies with a backward-looking ideology. In Kevin Robins’ view, the revival of interest in the past is not an exclusive feature of British society, but something which has to do with the nature of globalisation itself (2001: 29). Accordingly, Robins indicates how the globalising spread of ‘late capitalism’ and market societies is fast converting indigenous cultural products into standardised commodities that appeal to a world-wide consumer, on the one hand, while, on the other, the same economic trends are activating the exploitation of local differences and particularities as ways of breaking out of the homogenisation trend and fomenting cultural enterprise (2001: 31). This circumstance would explain the urge to recover and revive autochthonous traditions that could then be commodified on a global scale.
Elena Oliete-Aldea

4. ‘On Heroes’: Bapu Goes West

Released on 30 November in India and 3 December in the UK, it could be said that Attenborough’s Gandhi inaugurated the 1980s Raj revival cycle. Although it shares some formal and narrative characteristics with subsequent Raj films of the decade, Gandhi presents significant variants. The most obvious feature that distinguishes Attenborough’s film from the other Raj productions is that it is based on actual historical events, not on literary fictions. While, as discussed in Chapter 3, Black Narcissus inaugurated a tendency towards the feminisation of the empire film, Gandhi still relied on the biopic formula, with the portrayal of the public deeds of a great man as the driving force in a linear conception of history.
Elena Oliete-Aldea

5. History in Literary Adaptations

As signalled in Chapter 4, written and visual histories are different modes of approaching the past. Robert Rosenstone maintains that the main difference lies in the fact that academic history makes abstractions, and labels certain events or periods — for instance, ‘The Renaissance’, ‘the French Revolution’. Such tags and categorisations, he argues, tend to conceal as much as they reveal about the past: ‘Unlike the word, the filmic image cannot abstract or generalize’. Accordingly, ‘in this large gap between the abstract idea and the specific instance, the historical film finds the space to contest history, to interrogate either the metanarratives that structure historical knowledge, or smaller historical truths, received notions, conventional images’ (1995: 8; italics in original).
Elena Oliete-Aldea

6. The Raj on TV

If 1982 marked the beginning of the Raj revival phenomenon with the release of Attenborough’s Gandhi, 1984 could be regarded as the year of the empire striking back on British screens. Not only was A Passage to India being shown in cinemas, but the box-office hit, Spielberg’s US American production Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, set in India, was released in June the very same year. Lean’s extremely successful portrayal of India was paralleled by no less thriving literary adaptations of the imperial past on television. Not only were two serials on the British Raj broadcast at virtually the same time, but The Jewel in the Crown was broadcast first on ITV and immediately repeated a few days later on Channel 4 (Dyer, 1997: 187). In his article ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’, published in Broadcast on 20 January 1984, Patrick Stoddart complained about the ‘Raj indigestion’ caused by its omnipresence on television. As he says:
This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy The Far Pavilions or that I have already set my heart against Jewel — only that I wish we’d been given time to recover from one before having to cope with the next. ‘She should marry Ben Cross’, I hear myself muttering as Susan Wooldridge rejects Tim Piggot-Smith for the 15th time.
(1984: 20)
Elena Oliete-Aldea

Conclusion: Cohabiting in Hybridity?

By concentrating on British Raj films produced and released in the 1980s, this book has attempted to prove the importance of the visual media as a cultural and ideological apparatus that both reproduces and constructs — or ‘refracts’ — social realities. Special attention has therefore been paid to representational practices and how meanings are articulated in the process of communication. That is, not only the way events and images are depicted and framed on the screen, but the fact that the many gaps and silences also have significant value. It is from this perspective that the present book has attempted to explore how the competing views at stake in British society during the 1980s were reflected in Raj films in their re-vision of the country’s imperial past. The relationship between form and content in this film genre has proved relevant, since the main concern of this analysis has been to focus on presences and absences and the way certain groups were (mis)represented.
Elena Oliete-Aldea


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