Usha Iyer's research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of cinema, performance, and gender studies with a specific focus on stardom, body cultures, spectatorial desire and engagement, and the political economy of transnational media.
Her current book project, The Dancing Heroine: Choreographing Gender in Popular Hindi Cinema (under contract with Oxford University Press), examines the role of dance in the construction of female stardom in popular Hindi cinema from the 1930s to the 1990s, theorizing and historicizing film dance, a staple “attraction” of the popular Indian film form, in relation to the construction of cinematic narratives, star bodies, and spectator-citizens. The dissertation version of this manuscript won the University of Pittsburgh's Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program's “Best Dissertation in the Humanities” award. In recent articles and conference presentations, she examines dance, comedy, and action as performative modes involved in the presentation of the male body as spectacle. This attention to varied modes of performance is directed towards understanding cultural paradigms for performing gender, and producing a critical genealogy of popular cultural forms and trans-regional exchanges through the performing body.
Other areas of research include performance traditions of the Indian indentured labor diaspora in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.
Dr. Iyer is an affiliate faculty of Stanford's Center for South Asia, and a faculty fellow at The Clayman Institute for Gender Research in 2018-19.
Her essays have appeared in Camera Obscura, South Asian Popular Culture, and edited collections such as Movies, Moves and Music: The Sonic World of Dance Films, Figurations in Indian Film, and are forthcoming in The Blackwell Companion to Indian Cinema, and the Women Film Pioneers Project.
Selected articles, essays:
“Dance Musicalization: Proposing a Choreomusicological Approach to Hindi Film Song-and-dance Sequences.” South Asian Popular Culture 15, no. 2-3 (2017): 123-138.
“Looking for the Past in Pastiche: Intertextuality in Bollywood Song and Dance Sequences.” In Movies, Moves and Music: The Sonic World of Dance Films, eds. Pauline Manley, Mark Evans. Equinox Publishing, 2016. 207-226.
“Stardom Ke Peeche Kya Hai?/What Is behind the Stardom? Madhuri Dixit, the Production Number, and the Construction of the Female Star Text in 1990s Hindi Cinema.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 30, no. 3 (90) (2015): 129-159.
“Nevla as Dracula: Figurations of the Tantric as Monster in the Hindi Horror Film.” In Figurations in Indian Film, eds. Anustup Basu, Meheli Sen. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2013. 101-115.
See more at: https://stanford.academia.edu/UshaIyer
Gender & Performance
The Body in Film and other Media
Theories of Melodrama
Exploring South Asia through Cinema – History, Political Economy, Cultural Production
The Art Cinema in India
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