"The face that launched a thousand ships": Helen and public femininity in Hindi film

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It is well-known that a large part of the discourse on Indian modernity has centered itself upon the idealized figure of the woman as the prime cultural civilizational product. That is, on the theme of a principled Indian femininity as an artwork of national-spiritual interiorities—a home for the enduring spirit of the nation—unsullied by the external realities of colonialism. Yet, within the auspices of an English educated elite nationalism, the woman had to be “recast” in order to equip her with powers for the ideological reproduction of a new class. She had to be educated and enlightened, but also made the lynchpin of an entire discourse of Hindu reform that involved itself with questions about class economic realities, caste, custom, tradition, and jurisprudence. One had to deliver her from the evils of Sati, perhaps allow her to remarry if she is a widow, ponder over her age of consent or her rights to property and inheritance, and ultimately bestow her with some modern conjugal rights by the proscription of Hindu polygamy. The figure of the woman had to be continually reinvented in an elemental battleground that ranged between liberal measures of birth control and absolutist practices of female infanticide. This terrain of patrimonial thinking on the woman, one that wavers between the worldly pragmatics of liberalism and absolute stipulations of an imagined Victorian-Indological “tradition,” spans two centuries and continues to unfold to this day. Her figure remains an odd gravitational site, in which the specter of the modern both emerges from and is, in turn, engulfed by the vortex of tradition.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFigurations in Indian Film
EditorsMeheli Sen, Anustup Basu
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781137349781
ISBN (Print)9780230291799
StatePublished - Oct 21 2013


  • Indian Film
  • Cultural Nationalism
  • Good Woman
  • Female Infanticide
  • Historical Space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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