Interrogating Practices of Gender, Religion and Nationalism in the Representation of Muslim Women in Bollywood: Contexts of Change, Sites of Continuity


  • Nazia Hussein Department of Sociology, University of Warwick
  • Saba Hussain Department of Sociology, University of Warwick
  • Nazia Hussein Department of Sociology, University of Warwick
  • Saba Hussein Department of Sociology, University of Warwick



Muslim women, India, Gender, Nationalism, Identity, Hindu-Muslim relations, Representations, Religious discourses


Through a discourse analysis of four commercially successful Bollywood films between 2012-2013, this paper investigates Bollywood’s role in creation of hierarchical identities in the Indian society wherein Muslims occupy the position of the inferior ‘other’ to the superior Hindu ‘self’. Focusing on Muslim heroines, the paper demonstrates that the selected narratives attempt to move away from the older binary identity narratives of Muslim women such as nation vs. religion and hyper-sexualised courtesan vs. subservient veiled women,  towards identity narratives borne out of Muslim women’s choice of education, career and life partner, political participation, and embodied practices. However, in comparison to signs of change the sites of continuity are strongly embedded in the religious-nationalistic meta-narrative that drives the paradigms of Indian femininity/ womanhood. To conclude, the nature of the recent deployment of Muslim heroines in Bollywood  reinforce the hierarchy between the genders (male-female), between the communities (Hindu-Muslim) and between nations (India- Pakistan).


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Author Biographies

Nazia Hussein, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

Nazia Hussain is a final year doctoral researcher and Sessional Tutor in the Department of Sociology, at the University of Warwick. Her research interests are in the areas of gender, class, religion and culture.

Saba Hussain, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

Saba Hussain is a doctoral researcher at the Department of Sociology, University of Warwick. Her research interest is in the area of gender, nationalism and education.



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Ek Tha Tiger, directed Kabir Khan (2012; YRF Productions), DVD

Ishaqzaade directed Habib Faisal (2012; YRF Productions), DVD

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