Usha Iyer's research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of cinema, performance, and gender and sexuality studies, with a specific focus on film and performance histories, body cultures, and Global South cultural traffic along the vectors of race, gender, caste, and religion.
Iyer is the author of Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema (Oxford University Press, 2020), which examines constructions of gender, stardom, sexuality, and spectacle in Hindi cinema through women’s labor, collaborative networks, and gestural genealogies to produce a corporeal history of South Asian cultural modernities. Through a material history of the labor of producing on-screen dance, theoretical frameworks that emphasize collaboration, aesthetic approaches to embodiment, and formal analyses of cine-choreographic "techno-spectacles," Dancing Women offers a variegated, textured history of cinema, dance, and music. Her PhD dissertation, “Film Dance, Female Stardom, and the Production of Gender in Popular Hindi Cinema,” won the University of Pittsburgh's Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program's “Best Dissertation in the Humanities” award.
Iyer’s proposed next book project is an examination of the affective engagements of Caribbean spectators with Indian cinema in relation to discourses of belonging and citizenship that have developed around the histories of African enslavement and Indian indentureship in Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Guyana. Examining as well the impact of Caribbean cultural forms on the Indian film industry, the project engages with transnational perspectives on race, ethnicity, performance, and migration to produce a multi-sited analysis of the traffic of sensory, embodied forms of knowledge across informal networks between South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.
Iyer's 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, The Evolution of Song and Dance in Hindi Cinema, Industrial Networks and Cinemas of India, and are forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Film Theory, The Blackwell Companion to Indian Cinema, BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, and the Women Film Pioneers Project, among others. Iyer is Associate Editor of South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.
Iyer is affiliate faculty at Stanford's Center for South Asia and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE). She is a 2021-22 faculty fellow in Stanford's Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, and her research has been supported by fellowships from the Stanford Humanities Center, the Clayman Institute of Gender Research, CCSRE, and Stanford Global Studies.
(available at https://stanford.academia.edu/UshaIyer)
“Dance and Ludic Queerness: A Genealogy of Gestures from Bhagwan to Bachchan.” In A Companion to Indian Cinema, eds. Neepa Majumdar and Ranjani Mazumdar (John Wiley & Sons).
“A Pedagogy of Reparations: Notes towards Repairing the Film and Media Studies Curriculum,” Feminist Media Histories.
“Keyword: Song and Dance Sequence.” Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies.
“Smuggling, Infiltrating, Usurping: Why Globalizing the Film and Media Studies Curriculum is Essential to Decolonizing It,” JCMS: The Journal of Cinema and Media Studies.
“The Many Bodies of the Dancer-Actress: Towards A Kinesics of Film Acting.” In The Oxford Handbook of Film Theory, ed. Kyle Stevens (Oxford University Press).
2021. “Bringing Bharatanatyam to Bombay Cinema – Vyjayanthimala and Tamil-Hindi Film Industry Interactions in the 1950s.” In Industrial Networks and Cinemas of India: Shooting Stars, Shifting Geographies, and Multiplying Media, eds. Madhuja Mukherjee and Monika Mehta (Routledge).
2020. Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema (Oxford University Press).
2019. “Dance Musicalization: Proposing a Choreomusicological Approach to Hindi Film Song-and-dance Sequences.” Reprint in The Evolution of Song and Dance in Hindi Cinema, eds. Ajay Gehlawat and Rajinder Dudrah (Routledge).
2019. “Dispassionate Repetition and the Enfoldings of History.” Exhibition catalog for the film, Vrindavani Vairagya (Dispassionate Love, Ashish Avikunthak, 2018) (Chatterjee & Lal Art Gallery, Mumbai).
2017. “Dance Musicalization: Proposing a Choreomusicological Approach to Hindi Film Song-and-dance Sequences.” South Asian Popular Culture 15, no. 2-3: 123-138.
2016. “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 and Mark Evans (Equinox Publishing).
2015. “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: 129-159.
2013: “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).
Queer Cinemas around the World; Love in the Time of Cinema; Gender & Performance; The Body in Film and other Media; Global Melodrama; The Art Cinemas of India; Hollywood/Bollywood; History of World Cinema; Introduction to Film Study, Indian Cinema.
Recorded Talks and Interviews
South Asian Studies at Stanford podcast interview, 2020: https://shows.acast.com/south-asian-studies-at-stanford/episodes/usha-iyer-dancing-women
"Folded Corporeal Histories of the 1950s-60s Hindi Film Dancer-Actress" (UC Santa Cruz, Center for South Asian Studies, 2020): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7DtbnT15QE&feature=emb_logo
"Dancer-Actresses as Choreographers of New Mobilities" (Columbia University, South Asia Institute, 2020): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUtuSdX8c3A&t=4381s
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Aca-Media podcast interview, 2019: http://www.aca-media.org/episode50
"Teaching Indian Cinema in Trinidad: Rethinking Globalization Paradigms" (Stanford Global Studies, 2018): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiXzCU-oo3c&list=PLmsK9JBJBwlI7KmlP6lPAH3-MgD-B5Ih0
"Histories of the Ephemeral: Producing a Narrative of Film Dance through Song Booklets" (UC Berkeley, 2018): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eCAL5oKX5k&list=PLmsK9JBJBwlI7KmlP6lPAH3-MgD-B5Ih0&index=2
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