Bollywood and Beyond: Analyzing the Indian Film Industry through Irfan’s Guftagoo Interviews

By Sudev Sheth, Nitin Rao, and Rachel Hong

Bollywood is one of the world’s largest cinemas, and one of India’s most profitable industries. Yet, remarkably little is known about the world of movie production, including issues related to underworld financing, nepotism, family monopolies, migration, talent development, beauty, skin color, and sexism. One major reason for such secrecy is that the Government of India did not recognize popular cinema as an industry until the year 2000. As a result, we do not have the kind of systematic data expected of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, and one that impacts society in a myriad of ways.

Global consultancies like KPMG and EY have produced reports on the media industry in India. However, these studies focus on the post-2000 period, and offer summary statistics like the number of cinema halls across India and production numbers associated with blockbuster hits.

Much can be learned about Bollywood and regional cinemas from a systematic study of major and minor voices, including veterans from the industry. To this end, we have curated a new dataset that will help researchers analyze key aspects of cinema and allied industries such as theater and music. Our dataset consists of value-added metadata generated by tallying interviews appearing on the Indian television program Guftagoo hosted by noted journalist S.M. Irfan.

Guftagoo means “conversation” in Hindi and Urdu. This program, which ran from 2012 until 2020, was sponsored by Rajya Sabha Television, the media outfit of the Upper House of Indian Parliament. Today, all interviews are available for public viewing on YouTube. The show consists of long-form interviews, sometimes approaching the two-hour mark. In most cases, the setting of the interview is according to the comfort of the interviewee, often their home or personal studio. Guests range from titans of Bollywood like Irrfan Khan and Jaya Bachchan, to lesser-known producers and actors in the regional film industries of India. All conversations take place in Hindi and Urdu, and are touted by scholars, fans, and interviewees themselves as respectful, in-depth, and credible in the range and quality of topics covered.

The purpose of the Bollywood and Beyond: Analyzing the Indian Film Industry through Irfan’s Guftagoo Interviews project at the University of Pennsylvania is three-fold:

1. To provide researchers with a CSV datafile listing out all interviews related to cinema, along with English keywords unique to each entry to help non-native speakers get a sense of topics and themes covered in particular interviews. In addition, we provide additional metrics to help code interviews such as date and place of birth, gender, and information about professional training (See Part I of this article series).

2. To provide readers key visualizations of the metadata, one that provides a bird’s eye view of the Guftagoo archive (See Part II of this article series).

3. As an illustrative example, share a few key quotations in translation to demonstrate the immense value that the long-form interviews in this series provides for understanding aspects of the Indian film industry (See Part III of this article series).

We believe that Irfan’s Guftagoo series and our corresponding dataset will be valuable to researchers as it sheds light on a range of issues such as the business of cinema, migration, training of artistes, the impact of cinema on society, responsibility, development of industry, government, censorship, gender, skin color, life histories, and much more. We invite readers to explore the data and our preliminary analysis, and encourage further use of our materials to explore new research questions.

Jump to:

Part I: The Data

Part II: The Visualizations

Part III: Skin Color & Gender Stereotypes in Bollywood

This article first appeared on Medium.

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