Congratulations! How was your PhD defence?
“Thank you! Well, I hoped that we would have a Covid-free ceremony, with all committee members present in person. Unfortunately, one by one, three of them tested positive. Then the same happened with three photographers, the last of whom called in sick the moment my car entered the university couple hours before the defence. I already had accepted there would be no pictures, until I realised I could ask the photographer of EM. Maybe it was meant to happen this way.”
That almost sounds like a movie!
“Yes definitely. My father taught me his philosophy that whatever happens is for the best and whatever doesn’t happen is also for the best.”
What is your dissertation about?
“That is an interesting question to ask, especially after the defence. I’m still having these aftereffects, like thoughts while doing home chores, about how I would answer a certain question. I have to remind myself: it’s over. Looking back my dissertation is about media tourism in the context of Bollywood. Generally, the research on media tourism has been mostly about Western cases, like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter. I attempted to diversify this research field by focusing on Hindi cinema, from different angles. One is for instance the film format itself, with certain routines, like song and dance, and how that mobilises people to go on a trip.”
How do Bollywood songs inspire people to go on a trip?
“Bollywood films have dance- and song sequences, very often, say every 30-40 minutes. They’re used to make a narrative leap or depict a dream sequence and have a fundamental role in the Bollywood movie format. In one of the cases I looked at, the lead couple enter a dream and land up in in Iceland instantaneously. The songs are very popular within the wider Indian media landscape and therefore, they tend to also shape the destination images and potential travel flows. An example of this is the increase in visitors from India to Iceland following 2015, when the song video Gerua (from the movie Dilwale) was released, so much so that there was a direct flight introduced from New Delhi to Reykjavik.”
“Next to that, I looked at a Bollywood theme park in Dubai. And at the Hindustani community in the Netherlands, which is the biggest Indian diasporic community in Europe since Brexit. It was very interesting to see how the community conceived different ideas of India and built a relationship with India by consuming Bollywood cinema.”
How did you come across this community?
“When I moved here six years ago, I had no idea of the local Hindustani community. In that aspect my coming here was a success because it opened my eyes to the diversity of the Indian diaspora. I was living in Rotterdam West and was exploring local supermarkets when I found a store with a lot of products from India. They were playing familiar Bollywood songs, but in a remix with a Caribbean beat. I told the cashier that I knew and liked the song and she told me about her great-grandfather being from India. That opened up a lot of questions for me and when I got home, I started reading about the Hindustani community. They became an important part of my research. From the total of 56 interviews I conducted 18 with the Hindustani community, and I’m grateful for the eye-opening experiences and the contacts I made in the process.”
What was your most important conclusion?
“One of the things I found is how experiencing Bollywood cinema and its narratives outside of India creates a sense of national pride for Indian visitors. They’re proud that their culture is being celebrated in a foreign setting.”
How did you come to write your dissertation on Bollywood tourism?
“I had finished my studies in India when I came across this project from my supervisor Stijn Reijnders, who received the European Research Council’s grant to do a non-western comparative study on film tourism. I really had a strong sense of calling, also because I have a profound interest in Bollywood cinema and saw the potential as a research topic.”
Did you find the PhD process hard?
“Yes it wasn’t a straightforward process. PhD challenges aside, I was away from my family and because of Covid I couldn’t visit them as often as I did before. Luckily halfway my PhD I got married and had a support system here as well. I also had some challenges, also with mental health in trying to process the various challenges of doing a PhD during a pandemic and otherwise. Discussing this with my supervisor really helped, but I often found it hard to keep my motivation and keep going. I often also questioned the relevance of my study during the gory covid phase. But this made me especially mindful about the contribution and relevance of my research. I think in the end it kept me empathic as a researcher and in check with changing circumstances. Media tourism might seem frivolous, but it is quite powerful, because when people travel less, they now increasingly want their trips to have a deeper meaning that mass tourism might not offer.”
I read in your acknowledgements that your supervisor helped you to keep your work-life balance in check? How did he do so?
“Mainly by setting a good example. My supervisor organised these different moments like the spring drinks, or brainstorm weekends for his PhDs. That helped us get these work-free moments as colleagues. He encouraged me to go outside, engage in sports and basically have a life next to the PhD by showing that work is just a part of your life and not all of it. It helped me bring that balance in my own PhD journey.”
So lastly, for those unfamiliar with Bollywood, do you have a few tips to watch and listen?
“My personal favourite is a film from 1995: Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. A romantic story starting in London, about a Eurail trip in Europe. Interestingly, recently Eurail also celebrated the 25 years of the film, and it is telling that the impact of the film lingers even so many years after its initial release.”