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Hooray for Bollywood


“The perfect applied and collaborative project for a semester wrecked by the pandemic.” That’s how Associate Professor of Literature Pavitra Sundar described the fortuitous route her Lit 230 Bollywood Film course took this semester.

Students in Sundar’s class participated in a semester-long collaboration with Kinolab, a searchable archive of film and television clips annotated for their notable use of cinematic techniques. Conceived by Bowdoin College professor Allison Cooper, this digital humanities project aims to “become the richest, most comprehensive collection of film and show clips available for non-commercial use in the United States, built from the ground up by the scholars and students using it.” 

Sundar said that before she and her students joined the project, the Bowdoin team and cinema studies students had already curated hundreds of clips, and they were seeking volunteers to continue building this shared pedagogical resource. 

Kinolab logo


“The open-access and collaborative aspects of this repository caught my eye. I knew, too, that this would be an exceptional resource for teaching,” said Sundar, who, in a normal semester takes students to film festivals and conferences, an impossibility in 2020.

Sundar reached out to Cooper early in the semester with a proposal for her class to collaborate with Kinolab and was thrilled by Cooper’s enthusiastic response. “She shared a wealth of resources with me that helped me craft the details of my assignment, with my TA Ruth Coolidge’s ’21 assistance,” Sundar said. And, the Bowdoin team quickly assembled digitized versions of the films Sundar was teaching.

Sundar’s students selected and pulled three-four clips each from nine feature films and annotated them using concepts they were learning in the course. “The assignment was designed not just to have students generate material for Kinolab, but to sharpen their analytical skills and learn critical film vocabulary,” Sundar said.

 “Collaborating with Kinolab was unexpectedly fulfilling,” said Clara Walling ’23. “What I enjoyed most … was being able to help expand their database’s global presence. … And it was a great experience getting to interact with another liberal arts college.”

Sundar’s Bollywood class collaboration expanded Kinolab in two ways: First, her students generated clips from a filmic tradition that was not yet represented in the archive. Perhaps more importantly, she said, “They contributed new film terminology — that is, they identified concepts for use as ‘tags’ that were not listed in Kinolab but that are crucial to the study of [Indian] cinema. Some of these terms are widely used by scholars and students of cinema, but Kinolab had not received examples that illustrated those concepts [e.g. ‘superimposition’].”

Other tags were absent because they tend not to be used in film and media studies beyond South Asia. “Given the Eurocentric history of the discipline, some terms that were important in our course and that are widely used in the scholarship on Bombay cinema (such as ‘playback singing’ and ‘song-dance sequence’) are rarely found in classic film textbooks,” Sundar said. “My students thus played a crucial role in making Kinolab even more global and comprehensive than it had been but a few months ago.”

“For me, the most enjoyable aspect of this course was revisiting material I loved when I took it as a student, and being able to come at that material in a deeper, more nuanced way because of my prior knowledge,” Coolidge said. “The inclusion of Kinolab into this course was awesome. Collaborating with another college was special, and knowing that the students’ work has contributed usefully to a real archive is very cool! I think it was a great way for students to engage with the films and hone their cinematic analysis, and I loved seeing what they came up with.”

Coolidge said that she and Sundar were curious about how the class would go on Zoom, since it’s so discussion-based, but overall the students did a great job engaging thoroughly with the films, readings, and each other.

“I was looking for [a] project that would help students realize how their academic work on campus was connected to the world beyond Hamilton,” Sundar concluded. “Kinolab … turned out to be a perfect match for our class!”

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