Listening with a Feminist Ear

Soundwork in Bombay Cinema

Subjects: Music, Ethnomusicology, Asian Studies, South/Southeast Asia, Media Studies, Cinema Studies, Women's Studies
Paperback : 9780472039371, 282 pages, 11 illustrations, 6 x 9, August 2023
Hardcover : 9780472132485, 282 pages, 11 illustrations, 6 x 9, August 2023
Open Access : 9780472903665, 282 pages, 11 illustrations, 6 x 9, August 2023

This Open Access edition is made available through financial support from Hamilton College.
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On the cultural politics and possibilities of sound in cinema

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Listening With a Feminist Ear
Listening as Habit and Hermeneutic
Politics of Nation
Singing, Listening, Speaking
Chapter One: Singing
From Singing to Musicking: Women’s Voices, Bodies, and the Audiovisual Contract
Conjoining Sound and Image
Playback Singing and the “Old” Audiovisual Contract
Singing on Television
The “Ethnic” Voice and the Aural Lag
Millennial Soundwork
Women’s Musicking and the Somatic Clause
Chapter Two: Listening
Re-Sounding the Islamicate: The Cinematic Qawwali and its Listening Publics
Qawwalis’ Classic Features
Ishq Ishq! Romance in Classic Qawwalis
World Music and Post-Liberalization
De-Islamicization and Irrelationality In Sufipop
Pious Listening in Dargah Qawwalis
Spectacular Dancing in Item Number-Esque Qawwalis
Chapter Three: Speaking
Speaking of the Xenophone: Language as Sound in Satya
From Cinematic Language to Dialogue-baazi
Language, Politics, and Cinema
Hindi Film Languages
Accenting Bambaiyya
Language, Violence, and Marginality
Dhichkiaoon! And Other Cinematic Sounds
Listening, Loving, Longing
Textual and Aural Pleasures
Translation and Temporality
Seditious Touching in Soundwork


Listening with a Feminist Ear is a study of the cultural politics and possibilities of sound in cinema. Eschewing ocularcentric and siloed disciplinary formations, the book takes seriously the radical theoretical and methodological potential of listening. It models a feminist interpretive practice that is not just attuned to how power and privilege are materialized in sound, but that engenders new, counter-hegemonic imaginaries.
Focusing on mainstream Bombay cinema, Sundar identifies singing, listening, and speaking as key sites in which gendered notions of identity and difference take form. Charting new paths through seven decades of film, media, and cultural history, Sundar identifies key shifts in women’s playback voices and the Islamicate genre of the qawwali. She also conceptualizes spoken language as sound, and turns up the volume on a capacious, multilingual politics of belonging that scholarly and popular accounts of nation typically render silent. All in all, Listening with a Feminist Ear offers a critical sonic sensibility that reinvigorates debates about the gendering of voice and body in cinema, and the role of sound and media in conjuring community.

Pavitra Sundar is Associate Professor of Literature at Hamilton College.

“Sundar brings to the study of Bombay cinema the methods and insights of sound studies and feminism to produce a thoroughly original monograph that provides a model for how sound might be studied in cinema with an eye to historical and industrial specificity.”
—Sangita Gopal, University of Oregon

- Sangita Gopal

Listening with a Feminist Ear is a tour de force. Using a robust theoretical framework, Sundar carefully illuminates the historical, technological, and ideological factors sustaining paradigms of sonic representation, effects, and modes of listening across seven decades of Hindi cinema. Superbly written and researched, this study foregrounds the importance of gender and sexuality in cinematic and cultural soundwork. Highly recommended.”
—Caryl Flinn, University of Michigan

- Caryl Flinn

“Pavitra Sundar has made an important contribution to sound studies and film studies with this rigorous and insightful analysis of the singing, listening, and speaking of popular Bombay cinema. Sundar’s clear prose and compelling case studies work to update the historical narrative and help us to listen more deeply, more broadly, and more sensitively to an influential tradition of soundwork.” 
—Jacob Smith, Northwestern University

- Jacob Smith

Listening with a Feminist Ear lives up to the promise of listening to sound differently and not just using sound to register difference. Sundar offers an elegant analysis of the power of listening and the generative potential of soundwork.”
—Sujata Moorti, Middlebury College

- Sujata Moorti

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Finalist: 2024 Kraszna-Krausz Foundation Moving Image Book Award Longlist | 05/09/2024
Listen: Author Interview on New Books Network | 11/15/2023
Read: Author Interview with Anaar Desai-Stephens on CaMP Anthropology | 04/10/2024