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Gunda and Loha

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A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Media and Cultural Studies

School of Media and Cultural Studies
Tata Institute of Social Sciences



I, Kshitij Pipaleshwar, hereby declare that this dissertation entitled ‘ ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ : A
Study of Cult Film Cultures’ is the outcome of my own study undertaken under the guidance of Assistant Professor K.V.Nagesh Babu, Centre for Critical Media Praxis, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. It has not previously formed the basis for the award of any degree, diploma, or certificate of this Institute or of any other institute or university. I have duly acknowledged all the sources used by me in the preparation of this dissertation.

3rd March 2013

Kshitij Pipaleshwar


This is to certify that the dissertation entitled ‘‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ : A Study of Cult Film
Cultures’ is the record of the original work done by Kshitij Pipaleshwar under my guidance and supervision. The results of the research presented in this dissertation/thesis have not previously formed the basis for the award of any degree, diploma, or certificate of this Institute or any other institute or university.

4th March 2013

K.V.Nagesh Babu
Assistant Professor
Centre for Critical Media Praxis
School of Media and Cultural



1. Attractions of Cinema…………………………………………………………………….1-9
2. Understanding Cult Film……………………………………………………………….10-18
3. Looking Beyond Bollywood…………………………………………………………..19-23
4. Being and Becoming Gunda…………………………………………………………...24-39
5. More than Gunda and Loha……………………………………………………………40-43
6. List of Illustrations………………………………………………………………………...44
7. Appendix 1………………………………………………………………………………....45




This research would not have been possible without the help of a lot of people. Firstly, I would like to thank my supervisor, Mr. K.V Nagesh Babu, who was convinced that this phenomenon is worth studying. He helped me over two years with the readings, had a lot of patience and was always very encouraging. At times, when I lost confidence in the subject or felt too overwhelmed, he was always there to support and lend a patient ear.
Secondly I would like to thank P. Niranjana. She was the first person whom I rushed to when we were told that we would be doing research. She was very helpful and always had a kind word to say every time I was too bogged down with the research.
I would also like to thank Nikhil Titus who was the first person I approached for an informal talk once
I was quite sure that I would be working on this particular topic. His willingness to converse and his knowledge on this particular subject made things clearer.
This research would not have happened if Anthony Padayachi did not make me watch ‘Gunda’!
Thank you Anthony! I was lucky enough to have really sweet respondents. Thank you so much for your prompt replies!
I gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Members of School of Media and Cultural Studies: Dr
Anjali Monteiro, Dr. K.P. Jayasankar, Dr. Shilpa Phadke, Faiz Ullah, Vrushali Mohite, Barsha Dey,
Vijay Kale, Sonal, Mangesh Gudekar, Bharat Ahire, Mukund Sawant, Prajakta, Darshana without whom last two years would not have been the same.
I am most thankful to my mother (Manju Rani) who has always been there for me supporting me morally. It would not have been possible without her love and patience.
There were times when I was stuck and really thought I would not be able to go ahead with this research. During these times, my awesome brothers – Akhilesh and Abhay and friends – Epti,
Roshma, Laya, Raju,Ruby,Likokba, Hardeek, Jyotsna, Namrata, Piyush, Nimisha, Archana, Prabhu,
John and Onasis, cheered me up and made me get back to work rejuvenated. Thank you so much
Grainneog, Sandrine, Laurent and Chitai for all your love and messages over internet. It would not have been possible without your messages!
Many Thanks to Fareeda and Anurag who were really sweet! I would also like to thank all the people on Facebook who constantly liked and commented on my statuses.


As Hindi cinema continues to see itself as ‘Bollywood’ new cultures around the consumption of films occurs which the industry produces but may not acknowledge. Often missing from the public relations exercises of this film industry these low budget films attract more than the low fare paying audiences.
This study is an attempt to understand the popularity of the supposed ‘B-grade’ films and their elevation to the status of cult among students of premiere engineering and management colleges. This cult status is conferred by a group that is identifiably different from its ‘intended audience’. An attempt is also made to explore how the change in the content of Hindi Films has resulted in the production of a new subculture of cult. It would also try to explore the changing role of internet and neoliberal policies in bringing such films back in circulation




A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Media and Cultural Studies

School of Media and Cultural Studies
Tata Institute of Social Sciences



I, Kshitij Pipaleshwar, hereby declare that this dissertation entitled ‘ ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ : A
Study of Cult Film Cultures’ is the outcome of my own study undertaken under the guidance of Assistant Professor K.V.Nagesh Babu, Centre for Critical Media Praxis, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. It has not previously formed the basis for the award of any degree, diploma, or certificate of this Institute or of any other institute or university. I have duly acknowledged all the sources used by me in the preparation of this dissertation.

3rd March 2013

Kshitij Pipaleshwar


This is to certify that the dissertation entitled ‘‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ : A Study of Cult Film
Cultures’ is the record of the original work done by Kshitij Pipaleshwar under my guidance and supervision. The results of the research presented in this dissertation/thesis have not previously formed the basis for the award of any degree, diploma, or certificate of this Institute or any other institute or university.

4th March 2013

K.V.Nagesh Babu
Assistant Professor
Centre for Critical Media Praxis
School of Media and Cultural



1. Attractions of Cinema…………………………………………………………………….1-9
2. Understanding Cult Film……………………………………………………………….10-18
3. Looking Beyond Bollywood…………………………………………………………..19-23
4. Being and Becoming Gunda…………………………………………………………...24-39
5. More than Gunda and Loha……………………………………………………………40-43
6. List of Illustrations………………………………………………………………………...44
7. Appendix 1………………………………………………………………………………....45




This research would not have been possible without the help of a lot of people. Firstly, I would like to thank my supervisor, Mr. K.V Nagesh Babu, who was convinced that this phenomenon is worth studying. He helped me over two years with the readings, had a lot of patience and was always very encouraging. At times, when I lost confidence in the subject or felt too overwhelmed, he was always there to support and lend a patient ear.
Secondly I would like to thank P. Niranjana. She was the first person whom I rushed to when we were told that we would be doing research. She was very helpful and always had a kind word to say every time I was too bogged down with the research.
I would also like to thank Nikhil Titus who was the first person I approached for an informal talk once
I was quite sure that I would be working on this particular topic. His willingness to converse and his knowledge on this particular subject made things clearer.
This research would not have happened if Anthony Padayachi did not make me watch ‘Gunda’!
Thank you Anthony! I was lucky enough to have really sweet respondents. Thank you so much for your prompt replies!
I gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Members of School of Media and Cultural Studies: Dr
Anjali Monteiro, Dr. K.P. Jayasankar, Dr. Shilpa Phadke, Faiz Ullah, Vrushali Mohite, Barsha Dey,
Vijay Kale, Sonal, Mangesh Gudekar, Bharat Ahire, Mukund Sawant, Prajakta, Darshana without whom last two years would not have been the same.
I am most thankful to my mother (Manju Rani) who has always been there for me supporting me morally. It would not have been possible without her love and patience.
There were times when I was stuck and really thought I would not be able to go ahead with this research. During these times, my awesome brothers – Akhilesh and Abhay and friends – Epti,
Roshma, Laya, Raju,Ruby,Likokba, Hardeek, Jyotsna, Namrata, Piyush, Nimisha, Archana, Prabhu,
John and Onasis, cheered me up and made me get back to work rejuvenated. Thank you so much
Grainneog, Sandrine, Laurent and Chitai for all your love and messages over internet. It would not have been possible without your messages!
Many Thanks to Fareeda and Anurag who were really sweet! I would also like to thank all the people on Facebook who constantly liked and commented on my statuses.


As Hindi cinema continues to see itself as ‘Bollywood’ new cultures around the consumption of films occurs which the industry produces but may not acknowledge. Often missing from the public relations exercises of this film industry these low budget films attract more than the low fare paying audiences.
This study is an attempt to understand the popularity of the supposed ‘B-grade’ films and their elevation to the status of cult among students of premiere engineering and management colleges. This cult status is conferred by a group that is identifiably different from its ‘intended audience’. An attempt is also made to explore how the change in the content of Hindi Films has resulted in the production of a new subculture of cult. It would also try to explore the changing role of internet and neoliberal policies in bringing such films back in circulation


A cult movie is the proof that, as literature comes from literature, cinema also comes from cinema. -

Umberto Eco

Films were not looked at as they are looked upon as now at their very beginnings. The “cinema of attractions” was thought to be a medium of mass entertainment for the people of low labour class.
Cinema’s rise in prominence is traditionally linked to the working class’s preference for it as a source of entertainment. In India, it flourished due to the transformation of agrarian economy and therefore the mutation of labour into industrial labour. The need for an inexpensive mass-produced source of entertainment for the workers in industrial cities helped the growth of cinema. This did however lead to cinema by and large being seen as a source of cheap thrills. In the early era of cinema, the higher form of art and entertainment was theatre.
It took several decades for this form condemned by the elites to achieve respectability. The source of this new found respectability was the adaption of novels and theatrical forms in films. This is very similar to the path taken by theatre to be considered as a serious art form by the elite class.
Interestingly this ‘borrowing of elements of an existing form by the new form to attain acceptance and respectability’ has been looked in detail by Marshall McLuhan (1964). One of the many ideas that he presented is that the present content of media is always influenced by the already existing content.
The first films to be made are based on novels. Also he postulated that we can never fully realise what a particular form of media is capable of. This shortcoming becomes a yardstick of measuring a new media is in terms of “what-the-previous-media-is-capable-of-doing”.
Radner (2011) feels that in the American context, films were not only seen as agents of entertainment but also an acculturation source which could teach the new migrants to America the values of being an American and culture of consumption. According to her, some film scholars and critics like Hugo
Munsterberg and Vachel Lindsay saw it as a site of empowerment for the audience, especially the working class, as the audience did not have to be literate to comprehend it. It was seen a tool for mass literacy and enlightenment. For the other economists and theorists such as Karl Marx, Friedrich
Engels and Siegfried Kraucer it was a medium to be suspicious about. They were afraid of it causing social and cultural decay. Frankfurt schools scholars, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer classified it as being a part of culture industry and compared it with the folk art.


In India, films came barely two years later than they did in France and interestingly they were met with the similar attitude. Booth (1995) writes,
The Hindi cinema is one of the oldest non- Euro- American cinematic traditions in the world- the first
Indian – produced feature film, Raja Harishchandra [King Harischandra] was released in 1913, and
Indian sound films appeared in 1927, just four years after the premier of the world’s first sound feature
(Booth 1995)

The Indian Cinematograph Committee (1928) actually called them “…Generally crude in comparison with Western pictures…defective in composition, acting and in every respect…” (Armes, cited in
Booth 1995). It is common knowledge that Gandhi in fact was troubled by their corrupting nature and put them on par with vices like theft
Post 1947 (the year that India got Independence) films assumed the role of giving a morale boost to people; the central idea was that of development. It was the time to think and depict people coming together irrespective of their caste and class locations and contributing to nation building. They were seen as a medium to manufacture a concept “Indian- ness” which could be used as an adhesive to make the people from different princely states through the length and breadth of the country feel as part of a country called India.
Nayar (2007) remarks,
In the films of newly independent India, during the 1950s, the call was to unity and nation - building.
Dedication to hard work was going to assure the rise of the nation, and simultaneously distance the country from its former colonial power. City life, modern life, was corrupt, evil, jaded, and always in jeopardy of crippling the essence of Indianness, which of course was marked by and adherence to tradition and a rejection of the seductions of the West - often represented by the cigarette - smoking, promiscuous Vamp.

If the post-Independence phase was marked by films trying to forge national bonds among the citizens, the failure of several development schemes, wide spread corruption, slow growth of progress and persistence of inequality shaped the films of the 60s- 80s. The discontent prevailing among the citizens was channelled into the idea of Amitabh Bachchan playing the ‘Angry Young Man’ in films like ‘Deewar’(Yash Chopra 1975) and ‘Zanjeer’(Prakash Mehra 1973). An interesting thing about films of these times was the depiction of alternative ways to move up the class ladder; ways that included illegal ones smuggling and being a part of the underworld.
It would not be wrong to talk of the development of our country pre and post 1991. Adoption of
Neoliberal policies of privatisation and deregulation meant an increase in foreign direct investment at one hand and abandoning the protectionist policies at the other. While one can always debate that globalisation is not exactly a new phenomenon for the purpose of this study, let us stick to the neoliberal policies ushering in globalisation in 1990s.


While the most visible effect of liberalisation on the economy was the increase in the number of goods and services, prices of goods coming down, the invisible effect was the gradual modification of the cultural and popular artefacts. The films in this period were different due to the discovery of an eager diasporic population and change in the film consumption practices. Both these changes would be explained later in detail. Combination of these changes resulted in the films being made for a certain imagined audience, primarily middle class, with certain markers of upward mobility – foreign locations, exotic holidays, fancy cars etc.
While it was a common understanding that all this while, Hindi films were made for masses, the classes always thought of them as an inferior way of entertainment. The changes in the film content post 90s however made them more appealing and accessible to a certain class now, who could either identify with them or afford watching them in a theatre. Having said that, it was also the age of availability of films in the video cassette format, which meant the presence of an apparatus used to play and watch the film. The change in technology of viewing, themes and the rise of multiplex culture lead to a feeling of alienation among certain sections of population whose representation was restricted to stereotypical characters or completely forgotten.
This alienation was also mirroring other changes taking place in society where only educated, skilled labour commanded respect, and was accompanied by a general disdain towards the poor and their context. Incidentally it is the poor who were in the construction labour building the cities of many of which were shifted to the outskirts of the city for beautification drives in the cities. Spaces like slums were seen as an eyesore and a source of embarrassment, as anything poor and dirty was seen as tainting the India Shining phase that India was in. It is as if a sort of a ‘gentrification’ of cinema was taking place. (Ganti 2012)
The peculiar thing about Hindi Film Industry is that, in spite of releasing hundreds of films per year, there are very few which get classified as hit based on the box office revenues. Films are classified based on their production values as A, B, C or D grade films. This study is an attempt to understand the popularity of, ‘Loha’ (Kanti Shah 1997)’ and ‘Gunda’ (Kanti Shah 1998)’, both termed as Bgrade films. One of them (‘Gunda’) even pulled down from theatres because of its excessive violence, sex and obscenity (Indian Express, 24 September 1998) actually came back in circulation and went on to make 30.6 crores (Source: IBOS Network - Box Office Collections, as on 14 April 2011) have achieved a cult status. The above information was sought by me after a small incident that made me very curious and eventually take up this research.
“I am going to show you the best movie of all times”, said my friend before he actually played it for a group of us on YouTube. He also declared that the movie has a rating of 8.4 on IMDB (Internet
Movie Database, a source that is relied on the internet among young online film enthusiasts. The current rating for ‘Gunda’ is 7.7).My initial guess was that he would show us a ‘classic’ Media

students like me would imagine. I was surprised to see ‘Gunda’ instead. Ten minutes in to the film, I could not fathom why would this movie be rated as 8.4 or even called the best movie of all time. What was more mystical was my friends’ knowledge of this film. As a technology geek who has very little patience with frivolous stories his choice made little sense.

(Photo 1: IMDB Rating of ‘Gunda’)
This very surprising behaviour of his, not only made me look up on ‘Gunda’ once I reached home, but also made me talk to my friends about it. Honestly, I had seen absolutely nothing like ‘Gunda’ before.
Having been brought up in a township and in a very protected environment my parents acted as gatekeepers for the films I watched. Care was taken to expose us to family dramas, comedies and supposedly clean films.

The very first reaction after seeing ‘Gunda’ was to turn it off. The

denigrating portrayal of women and the usage of foul language caught me off guard. I could not get myself to watch it in spite of reading rave reviews about it. It was only a month later after I had read enough on internet on how I could see and understand such a film that I could get myself to watch it completely. I was intrigued that the people who found this film so ‘awesome’ were the ones quite dismissive of other films which are ‘trashy’. This was the population which was not likely to be aware of the existence of such films. This made me talk to more people and discover that it was well in circulation in some circles and widely appreciated too. In fact, further enquiry revealed that it had achieved a cult status among students of engineering and management colleges. This made me really curious and compelled to understand why the students of these colleges were interested in watching these films.

This fan base consisted not of the average, expected ‘B– grade’ film viewer, but was made up of people who have access to internet, who express opinion through blogs and micro-blogging websites, and who create groups and communities on social networking sites.
These viewers belong to prestigious engineering and management colleges in India. There are almost
14 groups on a social networking website for the movie ‘Gunda’ by the students of premiere engineering colleges in the country. If Ganti’s ‘gentrification’ idea is to explain the production and consumption of a cinema which tended to move away from the trashiness how does one explain the popularity of films like ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’.
This study has been an attempt on my part to understand the popularity of the above films and their cult status among students of engineering and management colleges. I would also try to understand how its popularity is linked to the larger discourse of taste, culture, and the effects of neo-liberal policy. According to one of the students I interviewed for this study, ‘There are three types of people in the world: those who have seen ‘Gunda’, those have not and those who are reborn after seeing it.’ The comment above illustrates the nature of the status of the film text.
This study of understanding the processes which have helped ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ achieve their cult status drive us towards defining the category ‘cult’. More importantly I realised that I would need to understand the connections between this ‘lowly’ text and ‘inappropriate’ audience. For me this study begins with the incongruity of the audience-text relationship. The appropriation of the above films by groups which are ‘unintended’ perhaps is another point of discussion. It is the exploration of this subculture that is attempted in this study.
Given the time frame in a study such as this, I had to remember my limitations. This was on several levels. My level of comfort in talking to people about B- grade films, usually synonymous with vulgarity, my openness to visit places where it might be screened for its ‘intended audience’. Neither could be my intentions for this study be too ambitious or too unchallenging. The objectives that I felt would help me achieve my aim better and at the same time be practical were,
1. To explore at the phenomenon of cult films and their popularity.
2. To understand at the politics of taste in the context of cult films.
3. To understand the relationship of audiences of Hindi Cinema and newer technologies.
These objectives were framed hoping to achieve a balance between theoretical knowledge that reading up on related topics would supplement to the data obtained through personal interviews and focus group discussion.


A study like this which involves both film text and an anomalous relationship with its audience is quite interesting because it offers not only an opportunity of critically viewing the concept of audiences but also deconstructing the politics of taste. The phenomenon around the popularity of the texts described above puts into question our common sense notions of high culture and low culture. It also brings into focus the question of power. In this case the power that can be ascribed to the text and the power that the audiences can claim. This phenomenon also presents us with a unique opportunity to deal with the fact that the ‘text’ here lives on beyond its original function in the confines of a theatre. The film is ‘screened’ by its audiences thereby invoking the idea of cult.
On a theoretical level I have attempted to grapple with the understanding on concepts of cult, change in Hindi cinema and read up extensively on film studies, globalisation, audience studies and taste to relate it to the context at hand.
Only the content analysis of the film would be quite misleading because the film does not exist in a vacuum. The popularity or non – popularity of it depends on its time of release and its reception by audiences. The content analysis sans the understanding of the reasons of the films appropriation by the audience would tend to paint the film with a broad brush of, ‘it is a badly made movie’.
Without doubt, for this research, qualitative orientation was preferred as qualitative methods are best put to use to understand behaviour, faith, belief systems, explain the existence of social codes etc.
One of the ways to go about this research is to identify the audiences, get a basic understanding of their interest and reasons for liking the film and then base it against the existing understanding of cult films and their reasons of rise to the mentioned status.
Identification of such audiences could be either done by joining the exclusive groups on social networking sites for the discussion of such trashy films or by personally going to colleges and trying to locate fan groups appreciating such films.
Once identified, the interaction could take place either by meeting them personally and discussing the film or conversations over the internet. I could also initiate a focus group discussion among the members of the fan club in the colleges and note down the reasons for their liking of the film.
The majority of data collection for this research was carried out by qualitative means of interviews and focus group discussion.
This research was divided in two phases, in the first phase a pilot study was conducted to see if the research is feasible or not and if people would be willing to be a part of it. The pilot study comprised two sample groups. One group consisted of respondents who were approached through informal means, via friends and the other group of people were the ones who volunteered to be a part of the


research and who belonged to fan clubs for trashy movies on various social networking sites and several discussion forums. I became a part of several such communities after I zeroed in my topic for research. After being a part of such communities for over a month and observing the interactions among group members, their discussions and activities, I made a note of the ones who were most active. I picked up ten such members each, from two most active groups on a social networking site whose names were – I love Trashy Films and ‘Gunda’ and sent them a message asking if they would be willing to be a part of a small research that I was conducting. I made a conscious effort to include women and out of the twenty respondents that I messaged, six were women. Considering there are very few women in such fan groups and fewer are active, I tried my best to include them and their responses in my study. While selecting the members, I also took care to visit their profiles and send messages to students of only either engineering or management colleges. Most of the members that I sent messages to belonged to well-known colleges.
Out of the twenty respondents that I sent mail to only eleven replied, with only three of them being women. I must admit that it was around the time that the social networking site made changes in their setting of “personal messages” that one received in their account after logging in. The change in the setting was the addition of a folder called “other” which was meant for messages that were sent by people unfamiliar to you. Sadly not many people knew of this change immediately and it is quite possible that one of the reasons of low level of replies might be people not being aware that my message landed in the “other” box and hence never bothered checking up or checked it quite late. I felt it is important to highlight this because, after almost a month of my sending messages to people, I got replies from them, expressing their willingness to be a part of the research or wanting to know more about it.
The eleven who replied were sent a small questionnaire created on Google documents. The responses were recorded automatically by the programme. Responses of people who could not fill the Google
Documents questionnaire were filled manually.
The other set consisted of friends and friends of friends that I knew were interested in such films. This group had five members all of whom were willing to fill the questionnaire. For this group, some questionnaires were sent by mails, while the others were administered personally. All of them were located in Mumbai and were engineering students at reputed colleges.
The questionnaire had few questions designed to gauge their interest and level of engagement with the film. It also tried to know their understanding of entertainment and cult films. Additionally they were asked of the other such supposed low-brow films or foreign films they patronise. Based on their answers, the number of films they watched, whether they have seen ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ both and most importantly their willingness to be a part of this research ten respondents were chosen for future involvement with the research. Sadly, none of them was a woman.

The chosen respondents were then kept in regular contact via mail, messages and face-to-face meetings. The majority of the interviews however happened as conversations over chat and instant messaging. The biggest barrier during interviews was the hesitance on the part of the respondents to talk to me about the film. My efforts of trying to break ice and get them comfortable, by telling them what I liked about the film initially only led to embarrassment. It took one more meeting and presence of another friend who tried acting as moderator and who was non- hesitant in voicing his opinions
(thus giving confidence to the respondent) for the respondent to be forthcoming with his ideas.
In the interviews/conversations that happened over instant messaging the respondents were quite open and verbose of their opinions. This might also have to do with the fact that there is some anonymity when a conversation is taking place over internet as it is totally up to the people involved to actually meet up and once there is no mutual friend or connection involved, there is usually no fear of being judged. Another exercise I carried out was to organise a screening of ‘Gunda’ in a reputed educational institution. This was done to facilitate a discussion post the screening and to observe and understand the viewing of such a film. Observations I made during the screening were recorded. Observations recorded were regarding the response of the audience to specific parts of the film. The posters that were put up informing the screening of the film had a disclaimer that it might be offensive to some and it is screened as a part of student research project. Contrary to my expectations, the crowd turnout was not very high. But interestingly the turnout consisted of both boys and girls. The discussion that followed the screening was recorded with the permission of the group present. Of the 35 students who attended the screening, 15 students were present during the discussion although all of them did not speak. 8

(Photo 2: Poster notifying the screening of ‘Gunda’ in a reputed educational Institution)
In addition to these data collection methods, efforts were made to extensively look up on internet for blogs, articles, news pieces, reviews, fan pages related to ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’.
In the coming chapters I explore the concept of cult films, Hindi Films and trashy films.


A very good point to begin the discussion would be to think of films as audio-visual texts and to understand that they have social life. The context in which a film is released is equally responsible for the audience to make sense of it, as is the content in the film. One can effectively think that films have to be understood in a context in which they are made, circulated and not only on their content. It would be wrong to ignore the audiences, the historical conditions when the film was released and then subsequently brought back in circulation. (Rose 2007)
This concept of social life is very important because most of the theorists argue that a film becomes a cult film only in retrospect. ‘Gunda’ which was released in 1998 had to be taken off the theatres due to wide spread protests by women groups against the misogyny in the film. Interestingly ‘Gunda’ was re-released on digital format and only after did it achieve the cult status it enjoys today.
“Weird as this may seem, this scene makes a very powerful case for class empowerment, and is a prophetic indication of how cheap airfares would be in 21st century India. It takes amazing vision, and a deep understanding of aviation economics to be able to portray something that would have been totally ridiculous back then (really… what’s a coolie doing at an airport? This movie came out in the late 90s.) and makes perfect sense now.” , writes Tapan who has a blog dedicated to ‘Gunda’, ‘Loha’ and Mithun and praises ‘Gunda’ in an eloquent language.
Social life of a film is a very interesting concept as it lays emphasis not only on the content of the film but also on other environmental factors. Meaning making thus doesn’t remain an inherent property of the text, but rather a function of production, distribution, reception and interpretation process. Then the onus of a film being liked or not is not dependent on the story of the film, but also on how did the audiences receive it. Text is thus a function of both content and audience reception environment.
Not only are cult audiences produced through the differential distribution of economic and cultural capital in which these institutions operate and which they act to regulate, but these institutions also provide the very mechanisms, spaces and systems of communication through which a sense of community is produced and maintained (Jancovich 2002) .
As emphasised earlier, time plays a crucial role in deciding a films fate. What was once considered banal could become fantastic with the passage of time (Sontag, 1964). The best of films are labelled flops because they were released at a particular time in history. Thus we have Sanjay Leela Bhansali lamenting that ‘Khamoshi’ flopped because it was too path breaking and ahead of its times in a bid to certify the merits of his film.

In her famous essay, Notes on Camp, Susan Sontag writes,
Time has a great deal to do with it. Time may enhance what seems simply dogged or lacking in fantasy now because we are too close to it, because it resembles too closely our own fantasies, the fantastic nature of which we don’t perceive….This is why so many of the objects prized by Camp taste are oldfashioned, out-of-date, démodé. It is not a love of the old as such. It’ simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides the necessary detachment – or arouses a necessary sympathy…Time liberates the work of art from moral relevance, delivering it over to the Camp sensibility (Sontag 1964)

It then becomes really interesting to know if it is the time that allows us to be more forgiving to a film. Or why is it only in retrospect that films are hailed path-breaking and celebrated? It has been really hard for people to settle down on the criteria on what actually makes a film cult film, because some are praised for their actors, others for their directors, some for the accidents that happen while production, and so on, most of the theorists agree that a majority of films develop a cult like status only when they are old and forgotten.
It is very interesting that the concept of “cult films” so popular in film studies, has its origin in sociology. According to Mathijs and Mendik (2007) it was first used by the French sociologist Emile
Durkheim, in his exploration of the elementary forms of religious life. Durkheim saw cults play an essential role in the ritual conduct associated with religion.
They also add that cult is not only a property of the film but also of audiences, who participate, both in, trying to popularise the film but also safeguarding it from becoming it too popular. They add, In most modern views, cults are seen as situated outside the mainstream – at odds with the dominant, ruling systems of belief or worldviews.
Mathijs and Mendik also indicate how we can approach cult films from two philosophical locations.
One way, they say, is to approach them ontologically, which according to them is an essentialist view, as it tries to determine what makes "cult cinema" a certain type of movie. They say that attempts to do so typically try to describe cult cinema through formal features like a genre or a style, or through recurrent themes embedded in the use of metaphors, tropes and motives. Cult films according to them rely heavily on the form generated out of certain conventions but also ‘closely linked to genres that depend on the illogical transgression between story world and real world’
Ontological approaches stress how these features connect to each other, offering a coherent (or in the case of cult cinema a typically incoherent) whole. In terms of methodology, ontological approaches are objectivist: they are likely to rely upon formalism and semiotics to generate evidence of how what is present inside the text regulates its meaning. (Mathjis and Mendik, ibid.)

The other approach to cult films given by them is the Phenomenological approach. This looks at environmental elements that go in making a film, a cult film. It approaches the cult cinema through the ideas of cultural studies, media studies, sociology, philosophy, literary studies, anthropology and other disciplines


The cult films again, according to them, can be films of high cult. These are different from the conventional films and require advanced ideas to produce and appreciate them. The other category of cult films are the one that appeal to the lowest common denominator and hence become popular. The second category of films acquires popularity because of their mass appeal. They also locate exploitation films under this category giving it a separate space.
Interestingly, studying popular cult, especially the kind of cult that we are examining here: very Bgradish, camp-ish, was not much in vogue till the 1960s. It is only around 1960s/70s that parallel movements took place in America and Europe. Hawkins (2000) writes in his book Cutting Edge: Art
Horror and the Horrific Avant- garde, ‘Godard was not the only French filmmaker in 1950s and 1960s
Paris who was interested in American “B” and “poverty row” film culture.’ Attempts were made to come to terms with the bourgeois notion of quality as well as reference their American productions in their works.
This point of view receives impetus from Mathijs and Mendik who assert,
By the end of the 1970s, and at the beginning of the 1980s, the theorization of cult in film studies received a big boost from two angles. The increasing interest in the study of the horror film (many of which counted as cult films) provided the study of cult cinema with techniques and tools for analysing its generic (and extrageneric) features, and allowed it be framed in terms of its representations of gender, race, ideology and intertextuality. Simultaneously, an increase in the study of the reception of popular arts and aesthetic subcultures and ‘art worlds’ in the sociology of the arts and in the developing fields of communication and cultural studies, especially in the wake of Pierre Bourdieu’s monumental distinction, offered tools for researching cult cinema’s audiences and exceptional appeals. (Matjis and
Mendik ibid.)

To become a cult, a movie should not display a central idea but many….It must live on in and because of its glorious incoherence (Eco 1985).Very central to understanding the concept of cult, is to understand the concept of inter-textuality. It is the inter- textuality that makes it possible for the viewers to see a film in different light, every time they see it. Inter- textuality facilitates multiple meanings and readings of the film possible. A successful film is like the “Room of Requirement” in
Harry Potter, which has something for everyone. While a respondent admitted having shown ‘Gunda’ to his cousin on his cousin’s wedding eve and claimed to have brought down the grooms level of stress [I remember showing this movie to my cousin on his wedding eve (you can imagine the amount of stress he must be in), and the ‘Gunda’ magic worked!, he said in the interview], another remembers having the most intellectual discussion with his friends on the Indian Economy based on the same movie! Umberto Eco sums it up for us when he elaborates on the possibility of a text becoming a cult text. He writes, “It must provide a completely furnished world, so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were part of the beliefs of a sect, a private world of their own, a world about which one can play puzzle games and trivia contests, and whose adepts recognize each other through a


common competence. Of course all these elements (characters and episodes) must have some archetypal appeal.”
The excesses shown in the films whether in form of poetic, rhyming dialogues or garish transformations increase the inter-textuality of the text. It gives the viewer more than on perspective to watch the film. Every time the viewer watches it, he is able to take something new from it. Mark
Jancovich (2002) also writes, “Even within a single publication, the films are not read in one coherent way, but through a number of different and contradictory strategies that are constantly slipping into one another. Excess prevents illusionism and foregrounds the formal features of the text.”
If a cult film is about viewers developing a world of their own based on the film, then ‘Gunda’ and
‘Loha’ ace the criteria. The fans swear by them and treat them almost sacred, “I am sorry Mr. Bhagat you have just drawn my Prophet. And insulted the religious feelings of many others for whom
“‘Gunda’” is our only contact with a higher being.” writes Arnab Ray in his blog (Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind) in the post titled: Losing My Religion (dated 26 September 2010). This was written against Chetan Bhagat’s (termed a writer of mediocre talent) statement in his article in the
Times of India, where he wrote that ‘Gunda’ was bad movie made in 1980s. This post drew 120 comments, one of which said, “Dada, sorry, being a IIT-IIM graduate myself, I can say with certainty that ‘Gunda’ is our religion – not any Bhagat …can ever alter that. And please, let me inform you, within the boundaries of IIT-IIM’s walls, those who read his books are a miniscule minority, and that too, they don’t show up in public that they actually read his books.” Kaushik Saha (September 27,

(Photo 3: Random Thoughts of Demented Mind, blog by Arnab Ray, The post, ‘Losing my
Religion’ drawing 120 comments)
Films like ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ are without doubt classified as B- films. Classification of a film as a B film has little to with its quality or stars but rather the production value. Low production value meant


grainy film reels, relatively new actors, makeshift equipment and few people on sets trying to do everything from production to acting to editing.
The studio system of making films consolidated in Hollywood (America) around early 1900.The studio system and distribution system resulted in classification of films as “A” or “B” films depending on the budget and the place of release. Theatres were classified by Hollywood “according to their location and the population they served, and were on this basis assigned a ‘run’ and a minimum ticket price, and thereby a place in distribution hierarchy (Lea Jacobs, 1997 as cited by Grant, 2007). The first theatres where a new film was released were designated as first run. It had the highest rate for ticket and was situated in a large metropolitan area. Second run houses were located in neighbourhoods and charged a lesser fare. Third run houses were the ones in outlying communities which charged still less. The films released in the theatres which were at the fringes of the city catered to a different audience which did not want the extreme black and white stance taken by a typical
Hollywood film (Grant, 2007).
Around 1930’s the big studios decided to make low budget films as the theatres were forced to have double features – show two films at the price of one. It was the time of Great Depression and the cinema viewership was gradually reducing. The costs of making an “A” film were also going up with the incorporation of sound. Thus studios started making “B” films which were shorter and less expensive than an average “A” film. These “B” films also gave the viewer a justification for the price he paid for an “A” film.
Brian Taves (1995 as cited by Grant 2007) developed a taxonomy for “B” films that includes: majorstudio programmers, major studio Bs, smaller company Bs, and Poverty Row quickies. Major-studio programmers were Big Five (MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., Twentieth Century Fox, and RKO), little three (United Artists, Columbia, Universal) and Poverty Row (Grand National, Republic,
Monogram). There was also a difference of the running length and some of the poverty row films were called quickies as they ran for as less as sixty minutes.
Not only did the “B” grade films serve as a way to recover the cost for studios but they also acted as an important training ground for actors, directors, writers, and technicians in the years before television. They explored the topics “A” grade movies were reluctant to broach. ‘Indeed the essence of camp is its love of the unnatural: or artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric - something of a private code, a badge of identity’, asserts Sontag (1964).
The movies that can’t be ignored and have to discussed before we move to anything else are the midnight horror, drive in movies and the movies showed at grind houses, these are films which popularised the cult of “badness”. They were the ones which attracted huge number of devoted fans and were the forerunners in the category of combination of cult and bad movies. These films were

held as different and loved because of their being different and kitschy. They were the forerunners of what were later known as trashy films. Additionally they were popular in some particular locations.
Thus we could look at them as ‘Niche films with niche audiences at niche theatres.’
Diffrient (2013) writes, “That was a period in American film history when a few exhibition spaces in
Manhattan (primarily in the East Village),…began programming “underground” works—challenging avant-garde and experimental films, as well as gay “physique” films and same-sex erotica—that were often paired with examples of classical Hollywood cinema.”
Mathijs and Sexton (2011) writing about the phenomenon of midnight movies which began in the
1950s on television and in their film form took to the screens in the 1970s. These movies were low budget films with a tacky presentation and look. They point out that,
… the midnight movie highlights the key characteristics of a cult reception trajectory: films lumped together in a lively and "countercultural" exhibition context by their capacity to commit, through outrageously weird and explicit imagery, subcultural audience collectives, and to elicit performances of fandom and obsessions with the interconnectedness of elusive details intrinsic as well as alien to the films that enables allegorical and political interpretations that position themselves outside the realm of normalcy. A word that kept propping up in the cult film discussion is grind houses. It is defined as cinema showing a variety of films in continuous succession, usually with low admission fees and frequently concentrating on material regarded as of poor quality or little merit (Church, 2011). Interestingly, in
Indian context, several make shift theatres (consisting of a small roof usually with temporary tin shade serving as roof) serve as grind houses, where such low budget, supposed B-grade films are consumed by the working class. They are an interesting space because it not only they function as small viewing place but they also attract people for a variety of other reasons like whiling away time when going back home is not the most feasible idea. Low admission price makes them a very attractive place to take a nap, come and pass away time when there is no place else to go.
“Koi film chhoti ya badi nahin hoti (No film is big or small), whether its budget is Rs 100 crore or Rs
1 lakh. When I make a film, all I am thinking about is making that film. I work from 7 am to 10 pm non-stop. I will make films as long as there are people to watch them.” - Kanti Shah (A renowned Bgrade film director, 2012) .In India, the B- grade scene of films is thriving, but sadly not much of scholarly work has been done on tracing them or looking at the dynamics of their popularity. One can at best look at a few articles to have an idea of how the people associated with them and their trajectory. Filmmakers like the Ramsays, Kanti Shah, Mohan Bhakri, NA Ansari, Harinam Singh,
Vinod Talwar, Gyanendra Choudhary and SR Pratap are the ones who come to mind when one thinks of B films. Interestingly, in most of the articles there is no demarcation between B and C grade films and these gradings are used inter changeably and sometimes films are even clubbed together.


Ayaz (2012) writes about B and C grade films mentioning,
…they are characterised by Relentless hamming, cringe-worthy direction, cheap thrills, continuity glitches, assistant directors ambling in and out of the frame on occasion are some of their obvious markers, though they span genres ranging from sex and erotica to violence and horror (often unwittingly). Unlike Western B-movies, science fiction tends to get a miss. These films are mostly shot on budgets—some as low as Rs 5 lakh—that make ‘shoestring’ sound like extravagance, and make use of stock situations, non-actors and inept writers. What this guarantees is flaws that the cognoscenti enjoy, with much entertainment to be derived from films such as ‘Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche’,
‘Gunda’, ‘Daku Ramkali’, ‘Insaan Bana Shaitan’ and ‘Shaitani Badla’ whose titles are a tickle in themselves.” “Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character” “, writes Susan Sontag in her essay Notes on Camp (1964).
This section is devoted to the understanding the connection between Cult and Taste. Cult films, in a way, attempt to contest the so-thought “good taste”. Concept of taste has been explained clearly by
Bourdieu (1984) who also proposed another concept of cultural capital. Taste is a factor that distinguishes one class from another. Taste also acts as the gatekeeper allowing interactions members of the same community and preventing new members from joining the ranks. It is also quite interesting that acquired taste is always considered inferior to the inherent taste.
Mathijs and Mendik write,
In the study of aesthetics, of the beauty, meaning, and judgement of art, taste is a faculty of the perceiver of good art. When one is able to discern between false and true art, one has taste... It also requires a moral basis: taste is not just a judgement of the object of art, it is also a judgement of one’s self – a positioning within culture of one’s capability to succeed in such tests of distinction between
‘good’ and ‘bad’, or of one’s decision to refute compliance (deviance). This means that taste is a social construct, and can be ‘faked’ (snobbery, faddism, hypes, ‘cool’, ‘hip’, ‘hot’). (Mathijs and Mendik

There is a conscious attempt to invert the understanding what is deemed as “high brow”. Mark
Jancovich (2002) in his paper has looked at the work of Thornton, Scones and Bourdieu and how their concepts can be used to look at the cult films audiences. He writes,
At least as often as they challenge legitimate culture, these audiences also attempt to raise the value of their own tastes by demonstrating their comparability with it. Cult movie audiences are less an internally coherent ‘taste culture’ than a series of frequently opposed and contradictory reading strategies that are defined through a sense of their difference to an equally incoherently imagined
‘normality’, a loose conglomeration of corporate power, lower middle class conformity and prudishness, academic elitism and political conspiracy. (Jancovich 2002)

The theory of cultural capital proposed by Bourdieu explains how taste or cultural capital is acquired through the presence of social and economic capital. What Mark Jancovich borrows from Bourdieu’s extension of the idea of cultural capital. He writes,
Bourdieu has shown, the concept of defamiliarization in its various guises underpins bourgeois aesthetics. It both privileges and legitimates a concentration on form over function, a tactic that clearly asserts the superiority of distanced aesthetic contemplation of form over the supposedly naive acceptance of illusionist mass culture (Bourdieu, 1984).


Thus, the cult film audiences can be presumed to have reasons different from the “normal audience” to like a certain film thought to be “bad”.
Is it then the concept of taste that makes these films popular in the unusual circles? How is a cult film read or perceived in such circles? Do the people who find them popular read them in ways different from the usual audiences? Hawkins (2000) cites Scone in while discussing the reading strategies of cult films by the audiences,
Viewing/reading the films themselves—even the trashiest films— demands a set of sophisticated strategies that, Scone argues, are remarkably similar to the strategies employed by the cultural elite.
Paracinematic taste involves a reading strategy that renders the bad into the sublime, the deviant into the defamiliarized and in so doing, calls attention to the aesthetic aberrance and stylistic variety evident but routinely dismissed in the many subgenres of trash cinema. (Scone in Hawkins 2000)

Cult films challenge traditional means of watching films – either because they are weird, or because they evoke certain responses. According to Matjis and Mendik, we must train attention on the perception of cinema in order to investigate its working. They say
Cult cinema can be seen to evoke certain responses, to have effects on the audiences. It is also seen as a series of puzzles that require focused, directed activity from the audience in order to enjoy it. For such a perspective, a cognitive theory of perception is useful: it sees the viewer as a puzzle-solver of the mysteries posed by the text, one whose awareness of cues, clues and references (all present in the film) can lead to enjoyment (Mathijs and Mendik 2007).

Beyond their connections to counter-culture movements and cinematic accomplishments, films achieving the tag of cult have not necessarily gone down well with the audiences in the traditional theatres. Keeping in tradition with the dismal performance of trashy cult films, when ‘Gunda’ was released it was not accepted. Similarly ‘Loha’ was called just another run of mill film which surprisingly include stars who were then popular.
Similarly the time that ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ were made is also very important. They truly depict that confusing times the country was going through. The nineties were symbolised by a cold social unrest among the labour class as they were the least benefitting group in the liberalisation process.
Interestingly one of the blogs by on ‘Gunda’ written by a very dedicated fan in the form of a fictitious interview with Kanti Shah nails it by describing the environment in which these films were made,
The mid 90s were marked by great intellectual ferment and socio-political change in India. With unbridled economic liberalisation strengthening the unholy cabal of politicians and moneyed ruffians (I refer to this in ‘Gunda’ as “aaj ‘Gunda’giri aur netagiri dono eki baap ke do harami aulaad hain) , the nation witnessed fundamental transformations —a fact that was being systematically overlooked by popular escapist entertainment which minted money through vacuous NRI romances, forgetting its solemn duty to be the mirror of its times. (Ray A 2007)

The textual reception of these films is happening in an era that is not being referred to or attempting to address. Yet the fan is bound in a perception of understanding it way beyond the author and in the above case replacing the author. One is reminded of both ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ and the tradition of it


being screened from one generation to another in hostel spaces. It is well received even now and quite independent of the time it was made for or released in.
Devotion to such films by self-professed fans can also be seen as an opposition to existing industry standards and conventions. ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ essentially criticise the mainstream cinema and its way of filmmaking. Some ‘fans’ claim that the logic behind the rhyming dialogues is to make fun of the way everything is rosy, melodramatic and irrational in Hindi Films. ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ are seen as being agnostic to the whole industry set up; the love for film making supersedes the love for profits. In spite of all odds – low budget, limited space, same locations the film was made and it is endearing to all the people who love it for the exact reasons.
Anupama Chopra (2007) asserts,
Bollywood was, generally speaking, a large cottage industry. It was hugely disorganized and chaotic, and run by a handful of powerful and independent film dynasties. Stars were power centres, but they were filming two to three pictures at a time and running from one studio to another (back then, a studio meant only “a space in which to shoot,” not a film-making entity). Filmmakers raised money from varied sources — which sometimes included shady men with mafia connections. The mainstream press rarely covered the industry; urban, educated, affluent India saw it largely as an anarchic space, run by crass people making low-brow fare for the masses.” (Anupama Chopra 2007)

Matt Hills (cited by Sperb 2010) noted that, ‘without the emotional attachments and passions of fans, fan cultures would not exist, but fans and academicians often take these [affective] attachments for granted…In some cases, fans are not thinking, but instead are engaging on an affective level. Does it then mean that the fans of ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ like it because they just accept it for the bad movie it is. Does the unquestionable acceptance by the audience bind them stronger to the movie?
The next chapter tries to trace the changing trends in Hindi Films and their effect on the audience and film viewing practises.


In this section I would try to map how film critics, social scientists and people in film industry have understood cult films and their popularity. The most central concepts to such discussions are the concepts of taste and perception. I would try to link it to the existing commentary on cult films discussion and try understanding the popularity of the films under consideration (‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’) in light of these theories. It is very interesting to note that some respondents of my study were actually quite well read on films and the phenomena of cult and tried suggesting articles that they felt would be relevant to the study. A good place to start would be look at how Hindi Films have been both witness and a part of changing times, how film viewing experiences have changed due to arrival of new technology, how our association with spaces of film consumption has changed over years.
If films all over the world were considered as a part of popular corrupting culture, Hindi films also bore a burnt of it and doubly because they were seen even inferior to their occidental counterparts.
Reputation enjoyed by Hindi Films has been quite succinctly summarised by Nayar (2007) as, “They have been called everything from garish, vulgar and populist, or tasteless, lacking in scrutiny, and a charade pandering to the lumpen masses; or, as The Film Encyclopedia prefers, "long, glossy, semiliterate, replete with stock situations and moralistic clichés…escapist entertainment".
Hindi Films have historically received a lot of flak for dumbing down the content for their imagined audiences. The Hindi cinema began its career presenting stories that were explicitly or implicitly religious, and there is a historically significant subgenre, the ‘mythological’ films, that recount tales of the gods (Booth 1995). Booth also adds, “from their very start Hindi sound films have consistently displayed a distinctly formulaic quality….By the late 1940s an explicitly stated formula had developed centering on two stars, six songs and three dances.”
The Hindi films have always been accused of being based on a “formula” to get success. The most successful movies at the box office were supposed to have it all- hero, dance, songs, heroine, villain, extended family, crisis, humour and a suitable happy ending. Combination of all these factors actually resulted in the films being called as Masala Movies, as they were a blend of all genres and no specific genre seemed to be pleasing audience, except this kitsch. Ray (2012) tries to categorise films made between post- independence to pre- liberalisation broadly ass Romantic and action films. Both were quite predictable. While the romantic films showed story of impossible love, with one of the partners in the relationship being from the lower strata or children of feuding families falling in love with another. The opposition from parents served the angle of violence and villainy in the film. She asserts that around Bmid-seventies and early nineties the trend in Bollywood films was to make films based

on action being revenge being the most important element. It should be noted that even in such films it was quite important to show happy endings. The romance angle was bit side lined and the importance was on revenge and violence formula.
As the events unfolded in the history of the country films kept changing their themes to keep up with the changing times but the biggest change came with a shift in the economic structure. The three major changes that took place around the time of adoption of neo liberal policies were, change in the content of the films, change in the imagined audience and change in the places of consumption of these films.
Nayar (1997) writes about these changing times and the adaption of film themes to keep up with it ,
The substance of formula changes simple because the decades do. Though certain themes and archetypes and sub textual elements may appear omnipresent, often the defining ingredients live a more protean existence. The very notion of Indianness thus finds itself in a constant state of transition, dually combating and appropriating outside forces - whether they be cultural or technological, political, or economic - and simultaneously working both to retain and resist links to its traditional sense of self
(Nayar 1997)

A good understanding of the context in which the wheels of change were set in motion has been presented by Kvetko (2004), in their paper, Can the Indian Tune Go Global?, TDR: The Drama
Review In 1991. The understanding is that a new lifestyle was sold to people post liberalisation. This lifestyle was a part of growing capitalism all over the world and included eagerness to consume famous brands, shop is malls , tune to MTV etc. Interestingly it coincided with STAR (Satellite
Television for the Asian Region) bringing international programming to India. The two happiest set of people with this change were the advertisers and the upper middle class. For advertisers it meant profit but for the upper middle class it served as a way to feel on par with other people in the world who might be of the same social status. STAR’s entry was soon followed by other international media giants who along with foreign programming ushered in the concept of consumption. This was not only a one way flow as explained by Kvetko,
In addition to the globalization of the electronic media, the Indian community itself became more aware of the globalized nature of its diaspora. Asians from the UK were making waves with their disco-bhangra music, and later Apache Indian and Bally Sagoo reached the mainstream charts and attracted major labels in the West. Indian youth not only gained an awareness of and interacted with the vibrant youth cultures among Asians in the diaspora, but they began to see themselves as participating in a global youth movement that transcends the strictures of local identities (Kvetko 2004).

Ray (2012) writes future on the nature of audience pre and post liberalisation,
The nature of demand and supply of Bollywood films are also affected by liberalization policy. Before, liberalization Bollywood made majority of its movies on two repetitive themes and targeted mainly the audience with no or little education. This scenario started to change slowly but gradually after liberalization. Steady growth of income, literacy rate, percentage and number of young adult with tertiary education, acceptance of gender equality, changed dynamics of intra-family relation start to create a steady demand for diverse socio – political – economic issues in mainstream Bollywood movies. The middle class educated group has the access of internet and the private television channel


like HBO, AXN, Star Movies, which provide them the opportunity of watching Hollywood movies.
The competition with Hollywood movies added with the steady demand for diverse topic creates a new challenge for Bollywood film makers.

There is a new identity of the consumer of the film; the consumer is seen as an educated group in contrast to their earlier identity. The people that Hindi Films were supposed to be attracting were not the educated, nor the elite. The films were always thought of to be for the masses and never for the classes. “The audience of Bollywood film was mostly illiterate working class people. Beside this group, mainstream Bollywood films were successful to attract a small percentage of middle class educated people. In this period India was dealing with post partition trauma, significant level of poverty and expanding unemployment. These unrealistic but dream fulfilling films were one easy escape from every day struggle, frustration and hope for better future”, writes Ray (2012).
Interestingly the attraction towards cinema and films was supposed to be highest amongst the migrant communities. It is very similar to how in the early days of mass media; mass media was looked up on suspiciously by social scientists where industrialisation was responsible for labourers coming to cities and hence breaking the existing traditional bonds. Mass media was seen as filling the lacunae of human interaction and broken webs of relationship. Similarly, the Hindi Films in India were supposed to be entertaining for the people migrating from small towns and villages to cities like Mumbai.
Nayar sums it well for us,
The industry caters to the urban middle and working classes and appeals primarily to individuals who have migrated from rural India to find work in cities. Isolated from their communities, perhaps burdened by a growing sense of insignificance given the alien, rapidly-changing surroundings to which they seem unable to adapt, a trip to the theatre provides adventure, titillation, pathos and bathos, the substitutive thrill of retaliation, the vicarious chance to resolve irresolvable conflicts, perhaps ephemeral power and esteem via instantly mobility, and several hours of escape from the hostile, impersonal world outside (Nayar 1997)

After globalisation, the new audience was the suave consumerist audience based not only in India, but also the Indian Population abroad. According to Dutta (2009) the rise of Hindu right wing controversies and contestations in the domain of identity, culture etc brought about a change from the previous framework of austerity and savings to the new culture of materialism and consumption.
(This) narration of nation in films and their songs can be seen as becoming all the more urgent in the period of economic and media liberalisation, broadly periodisable from the late 80s/early90s through the 2000s. This was also complemented by the desire of the middle class to be a part of the global culture by consuming international products and a new found awareness towards brands. One of the manifestation of this culture was the rise in the in a crop of films set among non-resident Indians in western metropolitan centres, or the so-called ‘multiplex’ films dealing with metropolitan contexts within India (Nayar 1997).
This phenomenon has also been explained by Toor (2000) who asserts that there was growing number of consumers of Indian texts among the Non Resident Indians post liberalisation. The Indian diasporic

population in UK and North America looked towards India to base their identity and their children were increasingly viewing India as a land of opportunity. He adds,
Many young second- or third-generation Indians are moving back to India to join the entertainment industry — particularly the new youth oriented satellite music channels like MTV, and Star TV’s
Channel V-and-even heading towards Bollywood, India’s film capital and home to the world’s largest film industry. Liberalization is at least in part responsible for this increasing presence and influence of
Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) on the urban Indian aesthete. India Today International (henceforth ITI) links the recent increase in Hindi film with urban rather than rural themes with the increasing importance of the overseas market and the urbanity ‘both in looks and opinion’ of the ‘stars, who shape
Bollywood trends’: the overseas market can account for almost 25% of returns on the film (ITI,
December 1, 1997: 54) (Toor 2000).

Anupama Chopra (2007) also states in her interview that, “At the same time (Post Liberalisation), the overseas market (the 20-million odd non-resident Indians residing outside of India) also became a source of revenue. Now, if a film was successful in urban India and overseas, it made far more money than if it was a success in the Indian heartland, where the ticket prices were still comparatively low.
At the same time, a new generation of younger, slicker filmmakers entered cinema and started to cater to these new, more sophisticated markets. The result was a more polished Bollywood product.”
Thus as the audiences were changing, the content was changing too and was now targeting a different group from before. The newer middle class wanted chic pictures; that reflected their growing demands of consumption and materialism.
Additionally, the Hindi film scenario changed with the arrival of multiplex. The film viewing spaces have been evolving as has been the film watching experience. The single screen theatres did have divisions like Balcony and stall based on the price of the seat, but they were still friendly to the labour class. The cheap price of tickets made theatres quite accessible to everyone. The highest priced tickets here cost only a fraction of the multiplex tickets.
Anupama Chopra supports the view and says, “Prior to that, Hindi cinema usually played in 1000-seat halls, leaving no outlets for smaller, niche films — if you couldn’t fill a hall that large, you were, financially speaking, dead on arrival. Multiplexes offered filmmakers a chance to speak exclusively to educated, urban Indians who, thanks to liberalization and the ensuing affluence, didn’t hesitate before spending 200 rupees ($5) on a movie ticket. The high ticket prices (single-screen theatres, by contrast, only cost 40 to 80 rupees, or $1 to $2) then made smaller films financially viable. This created what we call “The Multiplex Film” (essentially the equivalent of the Hollywood Indie film).”
The change in technology had an unprecedented effect on the way films were watched. Starting with reel, films were projected both in theatres and in community gatherings, usually on a screen. The equipment was cumbersome and expensive and such screening was seen as a symbol of prestige.
Arrival of Video cassettes changed this trend, they arrived just around the time that the television was becoming a part of middle class household. Now the video cassette could be picked up on rent and the

film can be enjoyed in the house and at the pace that the family wanted to enjoy the film. The video cassette was expensive for its time, no doubt, but it afforded the viewers a privacy that a projector could not. The prices of video cassettes did come down and the next big thing was CD’s. With the proliferation of computers and its accessories, starting with floppies, CD’s totally changed the way one watched films. While Video Cassette gave you the privacy to watch films at home, you still had to pay the video parlour owner every time you wanted to watch a film. CD’s and computers meant one could copy the film, store it in their computer and also make more of copies of it while the only charge you paid was the cost of the CD. Internet and torrents further revolutionised the viewing experience. Now one could get a copy of film even before the film was released.
This change in the audience combined with the arrival of newer technologies meant the Hindi Film industry had to change. As an ‘industry’ it definitely wanted to make revenues and discovered that making films for the NRIs is generating more revenue than making films for audiences at home. In this process a certain section of audience back home felt neglected and ignored. It took a long time for
Hindi Films to look at this section and make films to appease them. This change however paved a way for a different way of film making and is still very much in vogue.
The next chapter looks at the phenomenon of rise in the popularity of the films under study.


This section would look at the cultification of films (‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’) and try to understand their popularity among students of engineering and management colleges. As explained earlier, there are many ways to determine the appropriation of the film as a cult film, I would pick a few and try gauging the responses of the respondents to see if there actually exists cult culture of ‘Gunda’ and
‘Loha’ in their colleges or not.
The plot of both the films is quite simple and predictable; the bad guys are the politicians and underworld lords who are also the executioners and murderers. Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty) is honest upright coolie who loves his drink. It is an allusion to the idea of ‘who doesn’t like a drink after a hard day at work.’ He protects the fellow coolies from exploitation, fights and defeats a heavy weight champion in the docks to win money for an old man’s daughters’ wedding and nabs murderers as they are trying to escape from police on the runway. With some songs fetishizing the lead actress and her body along with violence on others we seem to have perfect recipe for a b-grade film. What transforms this b-grade film into a cult film is the presence of ‘unforgettable’ characters with their
‘unforgettable’ dialogues delivered as rhyming couplets and the introductory taglines unique to each character. While for some these dialogues are philosophical, for others they are rather hard hitting on the socio-economic conditions of that time. For some Bulla’s introduction: ‘Mera naam hai bulla rakhta hoon mai khulla’ (My name is Bulla and I keep it open.) might seem as he is talking about his honest behaviour, a writer on a blog feels that Bulla represents the new India of the 1990s which is liberal and ‘open’.
The possibility of simultaneous readings in the text is what makes it possible for this film to be seen as different from the other b-grade films. With exception of one song most of the songs are not very convincingly put in the film, most of them give a feel of being shot randomly and inserted in between.
These films are notoriously famous for being shot at the same locations and being completed over a period of 3 months or less. Keeping with this practice, in most of the shots in ‘Gunda’ are repetitive; with jump cuts seem to be the norm rather than exception. The fight sequences are unbelievably bad and after a point amusing. Most characters seem to represent some ‘existing social evil’ in the society.
For example ‘Chutiya (Shakti Kapoor)’, the effeminate younger brother of the main villain ‘Bulla’ according to the blog writer above ‘represents the confused Indian generation who requires imported goods from London to keep them happy.
Every character has his/ her special quirky social evil story. From the very beginning to the very end, what keeps a viewer hooked are the unpredictable dialogues. The film begins with every character

facing the camera and introducing themselves. These are mid shots and close up of the characters with characters addressing the audience directly. This sequential introduction is in the form of a couple of rhyming lines, thus setting the tone for the rest of the life. This film scores by not trying to be apologetic about including everyone from politicians to policemen as partners in crime and corruption. The language is ribald and the shock introduced in the beginning of the film remains till the very end, with no part of the body left unfetishised in the dialogues.
I believe an example of the introductory sequence with all of the characters making their appearance would do better justice than my words of trying to write about the shock value of the dialogues.
Lambu Atta (Ishrat Ali) – “Deta hoon maut ka chaanta”
(I am Lambu Atta, I will give you slap of death)
Bulla (Mukesh Rishi) – “Sab karta hoon khullam khulla”
(My name is Bulla, I do everything in the ‘open’)
Chutiya –“Acche acchon ki khadi karta hoon khatiya”
(My name is Chutiya, I make sure that your cot is raised)
Pote (Mohan Joshi) – “Jo apne baap ke bhi nahi hote”
(I am Pote. I am not of my own father)
Ibu Hatela (Harish Patel) – “Maa meri chudail ki beti, Baap shaitan ka chela, Kyon? Khaayega Kela?”
(My mother is the daughter of a witch, My father the Satan’s sidekick, Do you want a Banana)

(Photo 4: Screenshot of villains in the film ‘Gunda’)


The film is a story of one man battling against the corrupt nexus of politics, underworld, and the police. What makes it more interesting is its depiction of extreme evil in form of corrupt politicians, policemen and definitely the underworld dons whose sole aim is to either kill people or to rape women. The easiest way to outdo the rival gangs supremacy is to rape the gang lord’s sister.
One of the scenes in which Bulla’s sister is raped by Lambu Atta, to establish his domination, Bulla laments over his sisters’ dead body. (Incidentally the women don’t seem to survive rape in the film.
The women once raped, automatically die in the film.)
'Munni, meri behen Munni. Tu marr gayi?
Lambu ne tujhe lamba kar diya.
Maachis ki teeli ko khambha kar diya?'
(Munni - my sister. Are you dead?
Lambu has flattened you
You were like a matchstick
He made a pole out of you)

(Photo 5: Bulla grieves over his sisters’ dead body)
Lest one think that everyone in the film is bad and sex obsessed, the Good guy Shanker in spite of his personal enmity with the underworld don and adopts his illegitimate child, who is called ‘haseena ka paseena’ The child’s mother is called Haseena and is shown to be don’s favourite. When she announces that she is pregnant, he orders her to abort the child. She refuses and is killed only after giving birth to the child who is handed over to Shankar who promises to bring him up.


One of the most loved scene is when to avenge the rape and death of his sister Bulla decides to kill
Lambu Atta. Lambu Atta does not want to be killed and asks for forgiveness. The scene that follows ensues caricatures all such scenes in the history of popular cinema.
“'Bulla. Mere ko mat maar. Mere ko aapna bhadwa bana de. Main ladkiyan supply karte rahoonga aur tu maaze lete rahena. Tere ko AIDS se bachane ke liye nirodh ban jayoonga. Towel banke tere kamad se lapak jayoonga. Mere ko mat maar. Aur agar maarna hi hain to mujhe cheel-chaal ke chakka bana de. Main sari lapet kar tere liye dance karoonga.”
(Bulla! Don't kill me. Make me your pimp. I will supply you with girls. You can enjoy them. I will become a condom for you so that you don't get infected with AIDS. I will become a towel and wrap myself around your waist. Don't kill me. And if you have to kill me - then cut me up make me eunuch.
I will wrap around a Saree and dance for you.
If the villains are introduced with such flair, it is hardly possible for the hero to make a quiet entry in the film. Shanker (played by Mithun who is fondly called Prabhuji by fans) makes an entry by intercepting a murderer fleeing and hands him over to police declaring,
“Main hoon jurm se nafrat karne waala, gareebon ke liye chiraag, goondon ke liye jwaala”.
(I am the one who hates crime. I am the light of hope for the poor. I am a raging fire for the Goondas.)

(Photo 6: Mithun as Shankar in ‘Gunda’ )
To avenge his sisters’ rape and murder, girlfriends’ and fathers’ murder Shanker declares that he would kill Bulla and all his associates in the following manner,
“Ek, do, chaar, chhe, dus. Bus.” (One, Two, Four, Six Ten, that’s all)


He goes on killing all the people and politicos associated with Bulla and underworld in the most unlikely places like a graveyard, brothel, public washroom and even in their own bedrooms. In the final fight which has mysterious almost more than thirty ambassador cars without any drivers,
Shanker actually kills Bulla by declaring, “Tera naam hai Bulla. Maut ke baad bhi reh jaayega tera mooh khulla.” ( Your name is Bulla, After death also you would continue to keep your mouth ‘Open’)
It is possible to keep writing about many more of such interactions and encounters but the above examples might give the reader a feel of the films tempo and structure.
Interestingly, one of the respondents remarked that the film was eerily similar to one of the
Hollywood films called ‘Face Off’ (John Woo 1997). This film starring John Travolta and Nicholas
Cage have startling similarities. ‘Gunda’ was released a year after ‘Faceoff’ and both have an effeminate younger brother, the complexity of villain’s child being raised by the hero and the villain’s girlfriend being killed at the end. Not to mention have in both the films the introductory scene is set on the runway of an airport.
‘Loha’ is also a similar story of rape-corruption-revenge and justice but with a star cast. The film is shot in similar locations and has the trademark dialogues set to rhyme. The actors speak the same language of love and revenge and injustice.

(Photo 7: Film poster of ‘Loha’)


In the beginning of the film, the verbal duel between two underworld dons has been compared to the duel in a Hollywood film, 8 Mile (Curtis Hanson 2002). One respondent has identified the ‘Quentin
Tarantino-esque side plot/story with Govinda, Manisha Koirala and Dinesh Hingoo’ and thinks is a fine example of a particular school of movie making.
When I talk of the similarity between 'Gunda' and 'Loha', the similarity is not only limited to being directed by the same director and between the repetition of characters and locations but also in the rhyming dialogues and the underworld-politicians-corrupt police nexus which is characteristic of
'Gunda'. ‘Loha’ starts with a grim setting, people looking scared and talking softly, deserted streets and everyone talking of the King of the Mumbai crime scene, Lukka Bhai (Mohan Joshi). Lukka Bhai in the very beginning of the film has a verbal duel with Tandya Bhai (Deepak Shirke), some of the excerpts from which read,
Lukka : “Kya hua? Kyon chilla raha hai?”
(Lukka: What happened? Why do you Shout? )
Tandya : “Arre hona kya tha? Kauwe ne cheel ka chumma liya aur cheel ne choohe ka bachcha paida kiya!” (What’s to happen? The crow has kissed the eagle and it gave birth to a baby rat)
Tandya : “Bhool gaya kya woh din, jab tu din ko boot polish, aur raat ko tel maalish kiya karta tha?
Mawaali log tereko chikna chikna bulaake tere pichchwaade pe haath ghumaate the…”
(Have you forgotten? When you polished shoes in the day and massaged people in the night. The goons called you a dandy and ran their hands on your backside.)
Lukka : "Main tera woh bura haalat karoonga, jo deemag ladki ka, aur chhipkali makdi ka karta hai"
(I will worsen your condition in the manner in which brain does to women and the lizard does to the fly.) It is quite obvious that the duel does not go down well with Lukka Bhai and he does not like it a bit that his authority is challenged by Tandya Bhai. Enraged he has Tandyas sister raped and murdered.
Tandya fears for his life and rushes to Lukka to be in his good books. A very interesting conversation follows, Lukka : “Tune mujhe bhadwaa bola, bahut kadwaa bola. Abbe o kadwe karele, teri behen marne ke baad, teri haalat us AIDS lagi randi ki tarah ho gayi hai, jiske paas kabhi koi giraik nahi jaata…”


(You called me a pimp, you said bitter words. Oh You! Bitter bitter gourd, after your sisters’ death your condition is like a prostitute affected by AIDS who no one appraoches)
Tandya: “Ab main woh cinema (ke ticket ka) ka aadha tukdaa hoon, jiski keemat show khatam hone ke baad do kaudi ki bhi nahi hai”
(Now I have become the other half of the cinema ticket which no one bothers about after the show gets over)
Tandya: "Ab maar daal mujhe, main bina petrol ki gaadi aur bin nashe ki taadi hoon, main woh fateli saadi hoon, jise koi hijdaa bhi nahi pehenta…"
(Kill me now, I have become like a car without petrol and an alcoholic beverage without any intoxicating power. I have become a torn piece of rag which even an eunuch refuses to wear )
Shanker in this film is Dharmendra. Shanker was a good cop but had to suffer humiliation due to other corrupt cops. Shanker still tries to protest against the little injustices that happen in society but is very conscious of his disgraced reputation and swears to remove his blot on his character.
Arjun, played by Mithun, makes his entry with powerful ‘Dikhne mein bevda, bhaagne mein ghoda, aur maarne mein hathoda’. (Looks like a drunk, Runs like a horse and hits like a hammer) When
Arjun is not bashing up wrong doers and giving poetic lessons on justice, we get to know that he served in military but lost his lady love and military post to a goon. Overcome by despair and sadness he looks at an alcohol to survive.
Lukka takes care that Shankars sister is raped because Shankar protested against a goon. To avenge her rape and death, Shanker and Arjun come together with Mustafabhai (Shakti Kapoor) who turned a new leaf after realising his erroneous ways (also after Lukka chopped off his hands).
Shankar is unfortunately imprisoned and is later released. Doubly angered now, Shankar keeps breaking down the support that Lukka enjoys and ultimately kills him too.
One of the interesting ways to determine the cult quotient of the movie is to look at its intertextuality.
‘To become a cult film, a film doesn’t have to be one movie, it has to be several movies at the same time and each movie has to be as interesting as the other’ (Eco 1985). Inter-textuality means the ability of the text to be interpreted in more than one way. Intertextuality is important in a cult film because, the film is supposed be embedded with meanings that go beyond the obvious ones or the ones that immediately meet the eye. Intertextuality guarantees multiple interpretations and also allows associations to be made with other films. The idea of intertextuality finds it roots in post structuralism, especially in semiotics, in the work of Roland Barthes, who declared in his essay, “the death of the


Author”, thus predicting the “Birth of the Reader”. In this concept, the language is supposed to be speaking for itself and there is nothing behind or before the text.
As a result, there can be no supreme, final or scientific('authorised') reading of a film because it is 'a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash', always marked by its 'intertextuality'. If there is a place where meaning temporarily inheres, it is not in its origins, but in the texts destination (its reader), and in the 'disentanglement', not 'decipherment' of the text (Stoddart in Joanne Hollows and Mark Jancovich 1993)

The addressee must suspect that it is not true that works are created by their authors. Works are created by works, texts are created by texts, and all together they speak to and with one another independently of the intentions of their authors (Eco 1985).
Intertextuality in case of ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ according to the respondents lies in its unconscious attempt at integrating various philosophies and creating a space of identification. While one of the respondents could see streaks of Dadaism in the film, the other talked of the surrealism and how it is comparable to the surreal appeal of Fellini’s La Strada. While it is not expected from a typical movie goer to bring in Dadaism and Fellini in the discussion on films, especially the category of films under study, the respondents mentioning them do point out that they have been exposed to both international cinema and film theories. The cultural capital accumulated by reading up on films, film theories, and watching world cinema, translates to this audience appreciating bad film by seeing excesses in it.
All the respondents admitted to being interested in world cinema. Though they could not recollect the films comparable to ‘Gunda’ or ‘Loha’ in the terms of content, all of them do agree on watching films that were not mainstream. One of the respondents said,
“Hollywood movies have a genre of spoof; Scary movie series, Naked gun series, harold and kumar and so on. But some of the movies were so bad that they made me laugh even today are 10,000BC and perhaps predator 5.But I am not sure they compare to ‘Gunda’.”
Some of the respondents also held that Quentin Tarantino films were the ones that came closest to
‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ in the manner of film making. Others listed popular and oft watched “films on
Tokyogore police, Terror Firmer, The Toxic Avenger series, Blood Feast etc “Actually, most b-grade movies portray horror, gore or sex comedies” was the response of another respondent.
The respondents were also empathetic in their own way the these films genres are not watched by the regular film going audience and many of them also mentioned that they have film festivals to screen these films, because such films attract a very niche audience.
Intertextuality also refers to the ability of the viewers to recognise that the film in some ways is mocking the institutionalised standards of film making. ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ employ several ways to rebel against the standard way of a Hindi Film script and film making which doesn’t go neglected by the audiences. A respondent remarks,


The thing about ‘Gunda’ is that in some sense we are also mocking it. It comes from also in some sense a class division of the audience that watches it. There are some who are genuinely entertained in the small single room theatres in this city. Not that we are not entertained but we laugh at the continuity errors, the horrible plots and dialogues. At some level you wonder if Kanti Shah and others made this movie or was the joke on you (they knew what they were doing); we have watched a movie over and over again, year after year.

Intertextuality is also present in the form borrowing elements from the main stream cinema (Supposed
A grade Hindi Films). In ‘Loha’ in a verbal fight between Mustafabhai and Tandya Bhai, Musatafa bhai drawas reference to Nana Patekar’s dialogue ‘Ek machar aadmi ko Hinjda bana deta hai’, when
Tandya Bhai accuses Mustafabhai of being as insignificant as a mosquito.
In another scene in ‘Loha’ , Govindas character while addressing Manisha Koirala character says that she reminds him of ‘1942 ki love story ki Manisha Koirala’ and Dinesh Hingoo reminds him of a
‘ghost from Zaalim film’ (both of them did those roles in the respective films). Also other films are brought in the conversations to poke fun at them. Films like ‘China Gate’, ‘Duplicate’, ‘Hero Number
1’and ‘Biwi Number 1’.
Another respondent asserts,
People like them (films –’Gunda’ and ‘Loha’) because of their kitsch value (so bad it's good). They take it in turns to repeat the terrible rhyming dialogue, and argue over the lack of sense in the action scenes. ‘Gunda’ doesn't pull any punches, all the characters (though unbelievable) are very starkly portrayed. Also, 2 big aspects: the rhyming dialogue and the poor production values (it was made in
1998 but looks like a 1973 film) make it truly one of the worst films ever in India, and that's why I think it worked.

Another respondent managed finding intellect in the film and also added that the presence of the intellect might not have been intended that way by the director/script-writer. Two instances of the unintended intellect according to him were:
1) lambu aata exclaims "mere naam ki qawwali gana chhod, kaam ki baat bata.. jis kaam ke liye tu billi ka dudh peekar dilli se aaya hai!" (Do not sing a song praising me, tell me what you want, why have you rushed from Delhi after drinking cat’s milk) he could have easily said, "kaam ki baat kar!" but, the writer chose the most outrageous poetic rhymes to describe the situtation... but it struck a chord somewhere, it made me remember the dialogue... much like BINGO's ads
2) With bulla's sister raped and killed, one expects some hardcore senti stuff to follow. but bulla has different plans, he goes beside her and says some unforgettable lines "lambu ne tujhe lamba kar diya, maachis ki tilli ko khamba kar diya............ tu to katela gurda yaani ki murda ho gayi!" (Lambu stretched you, he made a matchstick into a pole) so what should have been a scene that generates sadness, frustration and anguish, it became a scene where the audience is in splits... reminds me of a flop show episode, where Jaspal Bhatti directs a horror-tragedy, and ends up winning the best comedy film award for it!

Yet another respondent did agree that the film might be of pathetic nature but still has to be given credit for being creative. Thus all the respondents categorically mention that the low value of production and the absence of a rigid structure make the films more appealing to them. The ability to overlook the bad direction and production value and find such films and finding pleasure in them does confer the respondents with the cultural capital and taste which distinguishes them from the other set of audiences who enjoy the film without professing Dadaism and Surrealism. This taste is developed

by the consumption of world cinema and awareness of existence of culture where such films are praised. It is also not a proof of their understanding of the above terms. It is likely that they subscribe to notions of ‘world cinema’ and believe in its connections to terms such as Dadaism, Kitsch and
The second identifying feature of a cult film is that it should develop a sub-culture around it. Eco says
‘There has to be a cult around the cult – meta cult’. This concept includes inter-cinematic, intermedia awareness and presence of archetypes in the film. Inter-cinematic awareness means the awareness among the audiences about the references in the film that are borrowed from the other films. Thus for the audience to make sense of characters in one film, it becomes useful to have seen some other works from which the characters in the film are inspired. Inter-media awareness refers to the ability of the devoted audiences to actively scout for information on the film and other elements associated with it. Reading up on the film, the conditions of the production of the film, following the careers of the stars of the films, being aware of mass media gossip about the movies are some of the ways the audiences indulge in the inter–media awareness of the film. On being enquired if the respondents actively participated in reading and discussing the film, most of them replied in affirmative. One of them said, “Oh yes, once ‘Gunda’ immersed in my life, I felt like finding out if there were others who got the humour in it and I found a few groups on the net which were equally awestruck by the literary genius.”
While the other respondent replied that, “Online reading I guess is something of an individual thing. I am not sure if people go out trolling the internet for ‘Gunda’ in herds.”

Thus the audience

appropriating such films are not just interested in their entertaining value but are also active information seekers for the same.
Not only that they also seek other people on web who are interested in similar films. Groups like “I love trashy Hindi Movies” on a social networking site with members more than 2500 members. The group description reads, If you love mindless, absurd, B grade, obscure, trashy, and all kinds of hindi movies, then this is the group for you.
One of the respondents actually showed me a newspaper cutting an article in which director of
‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ was receiving lifetime achievement award for worst film at the Golden Kela
Awards (awards for felicitating the worst in Hindi Film Industry).
The willingness of the fans of such films to create an imagined world around it full with extended personalities of the characters, where the dialogues find a way in the general way of talking and are understood by the people sharing the context at large. This world is constructed by fans by establishing every small detail through the means of frequent discussions and contestations on online forums. Interestingly there have been blogs on the internet maintain the Frequently Asked Questions for ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’, the questions are anything from the kind of whisky drunk in the film to the

number of cars in the final fight sequence. This world thus complete with many more such minute details gives an opportunity to the viewers to think of other possibilities and sequels involving the same characters, even when the creator (here director) is not very keen on it.
An appropriation of a film as cult happens at the end of audiences and this appropriation is a group activity. Such films enjoy their status because their method of viewing is collective. Thus when asked if the respondents would have enjoyed such a film had they been watching it alone, the most common reply was a no. The environment in which one is watching the film was stressed by all the respondents. “Mahaul is very important to enjoy such movies. you will not laugh watching ‘Gunda’ alone, or with parents, or with people who do not share your interest for such humour”, observed one respondent. Another respondent remarked, “The setting is very important” and added,
You need the squalor and poverty of the setting to bring out its craziness better. It's a movie that paints with a very broad brush, and that's why you need the setting also to be extreme. The environment at hostels with all of us living in non- fancy situations, connecting with the characters on the screen is not very hard.

A very interesting response was, “No I do not believe I could watch ‘Gunda’ alone. It would be just too depressing a movie-except for a few scenes. But watching it with a group of friends does make it more enjoyable. Though I must mention that some of the content is downright disgusting that even as a group we just skip through.” This clearly points that such films are viewed and appropriated in a group. In addition to the way the films are consumed, it is very important to look at the way they are sourced.
This is also very important because the group of students looking up to the film are not going to single screen theatres and watching it along with the members or working class. Though they are watching a film meant for a different audience, the conditions in which other audiences are watching it are far removed for the college audience. Most of them enjoy these films in the comfort of their hostel dorm or a small amphitheatre without actually coming in contact with any grindhouse like theatre space or interacting with the audience for which they are thought to have been made. For most of the respondents, the knowledge of existence of such cinema came only through the internet.
One of the respondents share his experience of being first introduced to the films, “I was introduced through blogs/sites online (e.g. as far back as 2003, when I first got a net connection.
It was something I found myself, as I was not interested in regular 'good' movies.” He further adds that the popularity of such films exploded in campus only with the arrival of Wi-Fi and LAN (Local
Area Network) in the campus. This made downloading extremely simple and the films could be shared more easily than before. Having the whole movies online at YouTube also helps according to some respondents. In fact many of them remember their first brush with the film when Goggle Videos was launched and the whole films could be found online. For others, it is the video parlour guy who supplies them with such films and who could be relied for having many more of such titles. A

respondent also pointed out that on shopping websites like Flipkart etc. DVDs and CDs of such films can be ordered in less than fifty rupees.
The availability of such film on internet and in digital format makes it both accessible and easy to share. Sharing is made further easier by having Local Area Network in the college which facilitates the establishment of a hub and hence easy transfer of content from one computer to another.
Almost all the respondents on being asked the thing they enjoyed most about the films pointed out their dialogues. The dialogues were the most lively and popular part of the film. In fact they are so popular that lot of respondents admit to have memorised them. They also admit to making these dialogues a part of their everyday lingo. A respondents reaction on why he enjoyed dialogues the most was, The absolute un-do-ability of the dialogues. I mean who'd speak like that? But they did, and they did with their chins straight up, seena taan ke with the most serious expressions. e.g. who'd talk to his raped, dead sister's body in words like "lambu ne tujhe lamba kar diya!" don't know if it was the writer's creative ability or his creative handicap, but it did give me a kick, and a break from the monotony The other respondent thinks it was the presence of slang and words of sexual connotation that popularised the film. He says, “It (The film) was weird...too weird…because it had rhyming dialogues, the names of the characters resembled slang and dirty words”.
In addition to the usage of dialogues in daily life, the fan groups also try strengthening the cult culture in their respective colleges in different ways, while some of them admit to have started with
‘Gunda’/’Loha’ Quiz as a separate event during their film festivals. Others come up with
‘Gunda’/’Loha’ T-shirts and one of the respondents also admitted having used lines from
‘Gunda’/’Loha’ in the IIT play performance.
The third important characteristic of a cult film is its ability to be hailed by several generations and not just one. It is also supposed to have transcended certain set parameters that bind a film only to a certain type or category of audience. With ‘Gunda’/’Loha’ the film is brought in circulation by the means of informal screenings by the seniors for the juniors in the most of the colleges. The social life of the film is extended by the means of seniors passing the cult quotient from one batch to another.
With watching such films being associated with certain coolness quotient among students, most of juniors end up liking the film or at least make sincere efforts to like it.
One of the respondents elaborates on such informal screenings, “There are initiation ceremonies where freshers watch it en masse, and that's how it is passed on from generation to generation. I would estimate that 60%+ of IITians have seen it, at least in recent years”.
The experience of another respondent adds to this being initiated in the cult following phenomenon,


I first watched the movie when I attended college (BE) in Mumbai. ‘Gunda’ was a sort of an informal rite of passage of sorts. There was no formal way of screening, but the movie was screened occasionally during college fests. So any one who was part of the College Student Union or the 'cool gang' (mostly hostel people) knew about the movie, and hence you had to know. My friends, seniors in college introduced me to the movie. The movie has a cult following in engineering colleges, especially in Mumbai.

A response from another respondent emphasised the value of word of mouth and generated hype that plays a part in popularising the film. He says,
My brother was also from IIT Bombay, he used to talk about a lot about ‘Gunda’ and its cult in IITB.
Saw the first thing when I got a laptop at IIT, was to download and ‘Gunda’. All I knew about the movie was that it was a cult movie but I had no idea of the content. There is screening of ‘Gunda’ in my hostel once in a semester. The whole hostel sits together and enjoys this cult classic. If you are in alive and you have not seen ‘Gunda’ than you have missed something big

Such screenings make sure that the next batch is passed with appropriate tools to analyse the films and appreciate it. It also marks the beginning for another generation of students who are being exposed to a film, that they did not necessarily know about to become active consumers of the same and educate themselves on such films, accumulate enough cultural capital to appreciate such films and then pass it on to their junior batch.
It is also quite interesting to note that the students while maintaining that they enjoy the film admit that they do not really think it is meant for them to enjoy in first place. Even according to them the actual consumer of such films are completely different people and it is only by chance that such films have found their way in such elite spaces.
“‘Gunda’/’Loha’ was definitely NOT intended for the IIT-IIM audience that it eventually won over. I think it was directed at the seeti bajao morning show audience, but it accidentally caught the eye of some vella engineer, and the rest, as they say, is history.”, said a respondent when asked who does he think are the intended consumers of such films.
Another respondent felt that these kinds of movies are made to cater mainly to the village people who mainly watch movies through video cassettes or cd/dvd player on a TV sitting together in the evening after work…the producers have stopped releasing these kind of movies with the mainstream movies.
Yet another respondent emphasized that, “these are meant largely for those single room and single screen audiences. I would be very surprised if Kanti Shah and co. expected the cult status of ‘Gunda’ in the Metros.” While another respondent nailed down the location of the production in addition to its targeted audience “These were made initially for small town guys - Mithun had a studio in Ooty
(there's a wiki article on it) that was profitable because he made it for the lowest common denominator”. Thus the members of ‘Gunda’/’Loha’ cult culture in colleges know that they are not the audience who generally takes interest in films of such kind and their construction of the actual audiences for whom

such film is made are the ones who belong to a different class than them. What can then explain the trans –class popularity of this film?
One approach was to understand if this cult consumption practised was gendered. Was it a male –only cult culture? Or was it the content which made it to be homogeneously liked by a gender? The respondents did agree to both the absence of its popularity among the female population on campuses as well the inherent misogyny in the content.
One of the responses in this connection was “feminists would find this movie extremely offensive.
Women, in general, would find it disgusting because of the dialogues and scenes (which is the main reason I liked it)”, Others said,
It is a very misogynistic film, but 2 mitigating things: A. it shows the misogyny only of the villains in the film - the hero never mistreats or objectifies women. It's just that there are more villains, hence more misogyny B. it's like a cartoon film almost, and its misogyny is like cartoon violence; not meant seriously I mean it is sexist to the core, and misogynistic. But it sort of reflects almost all of the stereotypes of women that Bollywood has portrayed: the innocent sister, the lover, the rape scenes, and vengeance for it. I have personally not met any girl who has ever liked the movie at any level. And i can totally understand that.

When confronted with whether it is the inherent misogyny that binds the men of all classes together in watching the film, the respondents said it is an interesting idea but ruled out the possibility of it. Only two of them tried considering it as a plausible reason for the films successes. Most of the respondents argument could be summed up as, “I don't think misogyny is something that bonds people…I mean you can't generalize”.
A respondent who agreed to give it a thought said “It is not the main reason of appeal, but possibly unconsciously the anti-women-ness makes it more appealing” Another respondent averred
I don't know about that one. Of course this can be a grand sweep, not every guy I know likes the movie.
I am not sure why I like the movie myself. I wouldn't say that the misogynist appeal is all there is to this movie; there is also the one man against the world, and as I have mentioned quite a few times before the sheer ridiculous power of Mithunda. But yes that cannot be separated from the overall misogyny that is prevalent in the movie. And I must admit the causal explanation that you have given is quite plausible. All the spaces where it has achieved cult status are spaces that are predominantly male
(the spaces themselves masculine); hostels, engineering colleges, single room movie screens.

While the presence of a cult culture around films like ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ has been established, the reasons for their popularity differ from sheer entertainment to their badness quotient and can be investigated further. Popularity of such films does disturb the notion of intended and unintended audiences while challenging the concept of taste.
It is not surprising to find that students of IIT actually started a campaign to make ‘Gunda’ achieve an
IMDB rating of perfect 10 above ‘Shawshank Redemption’(Frank Darabont,1994) and
‘Godfather’(Francis Ford Coppola, 1972). According to them they also succeeded at a point but the

rankings then slipped to 8.4 and then finally to 7.5. They still take pride that it is still above films life
‘Bodyguard’(Siddique, 2011), ‘Ra.One’(Anubhav Sinha,2011) , ‘Dirty Picture’(Milan Luthria, 2011) and ‘Rockstar’ (Imtiaz Ali, 2011). The presenter during the award ceremony of the Golden Kela
Awards refers to Kanti Shah in glowing terms. He is introduced as an unsung legend in Indian cinema. The presenter also rightly points that he (Kanti Shah) is the only director who manages to have headliner on his own movie poster. This is not even a luxury any other Bollywood director can afford. We are rightly reminded that in the popular parlance, Kanti Shah’s films are not called
‘Angoor’ or ‘Loha’ but are called ‘Kanti Shahs’ Loha’, ‘Kanti Shahs’ Angoor’. He goes on to add that Kanti Shah has made more films than Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra , Farah Khan and Madhur
Bhandarkar put together and each film of his has more to offer than all their films combined. The popularity of his films among such an audience is attributed to the rise in internet usage which brought ‘Gunda’ back in circulation.
The reasons presented by the anchor, with which one could not help agreeing were, the presence of unadulterated filmi masala in the films, their form being those of minimalistic Bollywood and giving audiences what they actually want. Favouring the expectation of audience over the need of the script and above his directorial ego is what makes his films stand out and appeal to people irrespective of the class location
Note: In this chapter, all the interviewees are referred to as respondents because they can be assumed be quite homogeneous in their demographic composition as all of them were men between the age group 20 -27. Their presence on social networking sites refuses to give away any kind of their socioeconomic conditions. All of them were students from premier engineering and management colleges.


In an interview given to the Indian Express Kanti Shah said,
My films are for the aam admi, who doesn't have time for homilies or soul-stirring dramas. He works hard during the day, and wants entertainment that will make him forget about his life, his work and other concerns…I offer just that. Take any film of mine, it has music, drama, action. The viewer would go out entertained. (Hebbar 2012)

Clearly he was not referring to the students of Engineering colleges and Management Institutes. The aim of this study was to understand the popularity of films among college students who are not supposed to be its primary consumers.
My findings suggest that the culture of popularity is both a function of availability of technology and time which makes it possible for students of these colleges to indulge in movies like these. The findings also suggest that this audience is not only interested in the ‘face value’ of films but are interested in generating a value through their own acts of consumption. The attempt to get Gunda a perfect ten on the Internet Movie Database is but an illustration of this. These audiences take what they watch quite seriously and trying expand its fan base across colleges and batches by organising screenings and inculcating the language in their daily conversations. The members of such fan bases also try popularising the film across their sister institutes by also encouraging students to make it a part of the college festivals etc. It looks like a certain class of people who are ‘capable’ are able to produce a meaning which the original act of making the film could not achieve.
Although I am unable to explain or theorise sufficiently I hope to have presented an evidence of an interplay of resistance and art. Kanti Shah the director of the film texts in this study has been in the industry since the eighties the golden age of kitschy films in India. He is ‘almost fifty’ and through his understanding of the ‘Aam Admi’ (common man) is able to reach out to audiences who might as well be the ‘cream of the society’ In a sense this is a reversal of the of another tendency. The recent the trend has been banning certain films which are deemed unfit for public consumption. Such films are banned either on the grounds of inciting public, misinformation, susceptible to be hurting sentiments of a particular group. This move is obviously resented by film makers, artists, singers etc who see it as a threat to their creativity. The films, texts deemed unfit for viewing are tried to remove from the film circuits and little is heard about them later. Revival of films like ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ is quite interesting because the reasons for pulling down these films from the theatres was the presence of the foul language and immorality in it which might have led to corrupting the young vulnerable minds.
The same audiences who were to be protected from these films circulate them. Institutions then can serve as a space where the films that are rejected outside might find acceptance. The presence of

infrastructure, apparatus and an audience wanting to be a part of rebellious culture makes it the best place to be screening the films that go against the grain. Does it then mean that this is the way (by appropriating alternative culture) engineering and management colleges balance their supposed disinterest in politics?
The education policy in India is going through a flux which can befuddle most. While there is an attempt to create more engineers and managers than students and scholars of humanities and social sciences across the board, a conflicting position was indicated.
Following recommendations made by the National Integration Council, the University Grants
Commission has written to all universities and recognised institutes asking them to ensure that students enrolled even in science and technology courses study humanities and social sciences alongside, so as to remain sensitive to human values. (Vishnoi 2013)

The intention indicated above was more to check ‘radicalisation’ in higher education which somehow seems to be the responsibility of humanities and social sciences. But if the intention to make people
‘sensitive to human values’ is fulfilled it might have a bearing on the culture of viewing films like
‘Gunda’ in institutes of higher learning. However it might be too early to celebrate the popularity of
‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’ and link it to popularity among youth to create spaces of consumption of alternative cinema or texts which do not fall under the mainstream category.
The gender bias of these texts under consideration and the gender composition of engineering and management colleges might be a reason for their circulation as well. All the respondents agree that not many women in the campus being interested in these films or even willing to watch it. Combined with the already skewed ratio of girls and boys in engineering colleges one is forced to admit that the cult culture is predominantly male centric. This male –centricity is not very surprising because globally all the films that have been appropriated under the cult category have been with without doubt had fan bases with male majority.
If anything one is then troubled by the films popularity across classes which might arise from the misogyny inherent among them. Misogyny then is classless.
But it doesn’t deny that institutions can in future play an important role in creating spaces where the texts are contested in manners which can challenge common sense understanding. This study according to me was very interesting because all the while one talks of the appropriateness of the text for a particular audience, this study looks at the inappropriateness of the audience and not the text.
This study also tried to problematise the concept of high- brow and low- brow taste by exploring the phenomenon of the popularity of a film considered very low-brow in very elite colleges.
This study would have been better if I could have engaged with the so-called intended audiences of the film and tried understanding their reasons for liking it. Talking to them would have given me a totally different understanding of film and its popularity. It would have also helped me explore the

misogyny angle to a greater degree. The difference or similarity in the reasons for liking the film and the contrast between the two might have brought more depth in my research.
It might have also allowed me to understand the dynamics of screening, distribution and the circuit of popularity among in such spaces. Such an understanding would have challenged understanding beyond ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’. It is very likely that unlike the sudents of engineering colleges migrant labourers who visit the ‘grindhouses’ often to escape the heat of the day than really to pleasure or entertain themselves.
There were several reasons I could not visit these places. Some of them were mental blocks on my part and others the impracticality of my approaching these spaces where I was clearly not welcome. I did try exploring and engaging with audiences in these spaces by visiting a theatre which is (in) famous for screening ‘B-films’ but I returned disappointed at being snubbed by the manager who took my interest the space of the theatre for an investigation by the government interested in knowing of their revenues.
This was a quite disappointing as I was then really prejudiced against visiting the actual ‘tapri’ (make shift) theatres bit suspicious if my presence would make, both, the patrons of such theatres and me uncomfortable. As a researcher I tried working around this problem by identifying people who have visited such places for their purpose of study and depending on their narratives.
I think this study can be carried forward to identify more existing sub cultures in colleges and trying to locate if these are also a part of the consumption of alternative culture which is understood by the students as going against the grain. Identification of such cultures would problematise the understanding of what is deemed fit and unfit for consumption for particular group of people and see if it is actually accepted or not.
The existence of such cultures points out the against the assumption that such films or texts are not fit for viewing for people belonging to particular class in society or at a particular age engaged in studies might not just hold true and students do find ways to circumvent this assumption.
The internet has served as a source of liberation and the availability of films/texts online makes it all the more easy for its access. Interestingly going viral is the resort taken by many film makers when their work has been withheld from screening. This study suggests that fan behaviour is also very motivated and the internet anonymity is the best way to cloak the motivations. As admitted by the students, they were actually trying to get the rating of the film to 10 and actually started a campaign for it. This might have included creating blogs for it, being active on the pages and writing plots, summary, trivia etc on the IMDB fan page. Thus the high rate is not because of film buffs liking the


movie and voting for it but also because of a sustained campaign in institutes to make students vote for it.
Internet has also made it easy to popularise this cult culture belonging to one college and spreading it to the others. The fan groups, discussion forums and blogs bear a witness to how even the smallest detail is hotly contested and how fans outwit one another to establish their supremacy of knowledge on the movie. By signing up for quizzes based on such movies which you could take and determine your level of knowledge on it are also how the students try to establish themselves as the most knowledgeable person on a particular film.
These sub cultures are both heartening and frightening. Frightening because cone fears of their homogeneous nature, lack of diversity and base of sub-conscious emphasis on masculinity and heartening because they are offering spaces for the unsung heroes to tell their tales.



Photo 1 ……………………………………………………………………...IMDB Rating of ‘Gunda’
Photo 2 …………………Poster notifying the screening of ‘Gunda’ in a reputed educational
Photo 3………. Random Thoughts of Demented Mind, blog by Arnab Ray (The post, ‘Losing my
Religion’ drawing 120 comments)
Photo 4………………………………………………………Screenshot of villains in the film ‘Gunda’
Photo 5………………………………………………………Bulla grieves over his sisters’ dead body
Photo 6…………………………………………………………………Mithun as Shankar in ‘Gunda’
Photo 7……………………………………………………………………………. Poster of the film


Some of the Questions asked to the respondents

How were you introduced to these movies?
What was your reaction while watching the film?
Have you watched some other such films? (besides ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’)
Do you also follow similar Hollywood movies?
Are such movies watched regularly in public or is it a one-time phenomenon?
Are the students watching these films seen as cooler than their counterparts?
Whom do you think these movies are originally made for?
What were the expectations with which you saw Gunda/Loha?
What do you think sets Gunda aside from other similar b-grade films?
Did you screen it for your juniors?
Do you think some people like it just to be accepted by their peers?
Would you find it equally funny if you were watching it in some other setting? like watching alone?
Would you say that different class of audiences interpret films differently?
Do you think your reasons for enjoying a film like gunda are different from a working class persons reasons of enjoying it?
How do you think students get to know of such films!
Do girls in college watch such movies as well? or is it just a guys phenomenon?
Do you think they would find it funny or misogynist?
Do you think such films bond men of all classes?
Can you give a few examples of ‘Gunda’ culture in your college?


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