The Decades Of Disillusionment: Essays On Indian Literature And Cinema After Nehru

Vikrant Dadawala, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This dissertation is a study of themes of disillusionment and disappointment in modern Indian literature and cinema. The death of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, marks the symbolic starting point for the project. Part I of the dissertation focuses on the period of crisis between Nehru’s death in 1964 and the declaration of the Indian Emergency in 1975; Part II analyses themes of mohabhang (‘disenchantment’, with connotations of ‘broken love’) in Hindi literature and Indian New Wave cinema, primarily focusing on the 1970s and 80s. Individual chapters traces parallel but distinct paths through the decades of disillusionment that followed Nehru’s death, analyzing documentary films and newsreels, Indian writing in English, prison memoirs, arthouse cinema in Hindi, and modern Hindi poetry. Through close-reading, visual analysis, and archival research, “The Decades of Disillusionment” offers a fresh, multilingual perspective on mohabhang as a pivotal structure of feeling in post-independence India, the Cold War as an essential context for Indian cultural life, mofussil (‘provincial’, or backward) modernism in Hindi and English, the literary roots of Indian New Wave cinema, and the fading allure of socialism in the former Third World. In general, literary critics have interpreted disillusionment in negative terms: as the loss of energy, commitment, or world-making confidence. This project suggests an alternative interpretation. Narratives of disillusionment and disenchantment do not just reflect despair, but also participate in a vital recalibration and reinvention of hope by interrogating previously cherished utopian projects. Rather than deifying or demonizing Prime Minister Nehru’s legacy, “The Decades of Disillusionment” recovers a more organic sense of how middle-class India began to lose faith in his dreams.