What do Bollywood and French President Emmanuel Macron have in common? The answer is Sciences Po, the university Macron studied in, which also has a programme on Indian society and politics with an introductory course on Bollywood.
Known for its politics and international studies curriculum, Sciences Po Paris was where Macron went at the age of 21 “to lick his wounds,” (according to a Sciences Po source) after he reportedly failed to get admission to the renowned École Normale Supérieure.
Recommended to the institute by professors who found him to be “likeable” and an “enthusiastic and lively personality”, Macron was described by a fellow student as “A Czech student on exchange who hadn’t seen a hairdresser for decades.” He studied philosophy at Paris Nanterre University and completed a master’s of public affairs at Sciences Po before graduating from École Nationale d’administration (ENA), the stepping stone to France’s senior civil service. While completing his Sciences Po degree, he got top scores in advanced economics, political issues and public finance lectures. Though brilliant, his enthusiasm and aptitude for writing occasionally made him a “little too voluble; ‘too long’ appears in red pen on several of his papers.” Another (minor) failing was this “tendency to be too sure of himself,” one of his teachers has said.
Interestingly, the institute’s Le Havre campus, which hosts an Europe-Asia programme and delivers a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, offers a course on Indian society and politics. A part of this course is Bollywood: Seeing India through a Cinematic Lens.
Gayatri Rathore, course designer and teacher, is a PhD candidate in political science at the university. She is also working as graduate teaching assistant, teaching the Hindi language and a course on Indian society and politics through cinema, at the institute’s Le Havre and Paris campus.
As of now, she has been selecting movies that take up current social and political issues and tries to vary the films every year. Films screened include Monsoon Wedding (2001) on family, arranged and love marriages and changing social norms; Fandry (2013) and Aarakshan (2011) on caste, untouchability and reservation; Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003) around the naxalite movement; Fire (1996) on female/alternate sexuality and the place of women in Indian society; Firaaq (2008) on communal riots and Delhi 6 (2009) on urban India and its problems (religion, communal harmony).
Students work in groups. Each group is required to write a critical note after watching a film or excerpts from it before class, which is supplemented with historical knowledge and the reading of a relevant newspaper article and academic text. Class discussions focus on critical theories (eg feminism or nationalism), says Rathore.
Someone who was born in Para village in Rajasthan and spent some years in coaching hub Kota, Rathore likes to say she “escaped” an IT career by “secretly enrolling” in a degree at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, from where she came to Sciences Po for a research masters on an Eiffel Scholarship.
On the Bollywood theme, she explains that Indian society and politics is very difficult for an outsider to comprehend in all its complexity. “I find that cinema can be a good starting point. Also, often people think that Bollywood song and dance formula is the only kind of cinema made in India, through this course I like to dispel that myth by providing a parallel alternative.”
Rathore’s class reflects the diversity of students coming into Le Havre campus both in terms of number and nationality. From 17 in 2014, when the programme started, her class now has 25 students. Their interest in the course is reportedly sparked by travel or prior experience of Bollywood songs, dance and colours. “The current batch had an equal number of French and Japanese students. It is also the most diverse in terms of nationalities, with girls outnumbering the boys,” says Rathore
She loves to teach, but feels teaching can be a challenging profession with some days more difficult than others. ”What makes it all worth the effort is gaining perspective from students with different backgrounds and life experience, ” she adds.