Sudhir Mahadevan (He/him/his)

Associate Professor

Contact Information



I am an Associate Professor in Comparative History of Ideas, and Cinema and Media Studies. My PhD was in Cinema and Media Studies. I am the author of "A Very Old Machine: The Many Origins of the Cinema in India" (SUNY Press (US), 2015; Permanent Black (India), 2018), as well as essays published in Framework, Screen, Journal of South Asian Popular Culture, and TransAsia Photography.

 My first book traced the cinema's origins to patterns in photography and print culture from the mid-19th to the early 20th century. I described novel uses of photographic and film technology in India that ensured that people with very little resources could carve out a viable business in cinema. I described how both photojournalism and cinema captured ordinary life and dramatic events alike in early twentieth century India, establishing themselves as indispensable aspects of everyday visual culture.  I  delved into legal history and copyright disputes, and described the emergence of new understandings of art, creativity and originality,  that in turn shaped discussions of cinema as an art form and a commercial medium.  I argued that what makes the cinema distinctive in India is its multifarious origins in the technologies of print and photography, in the visual cultures these engendered, and in inventive commercial practices.

Current research interests

 I am motivated by the challenge of developing new research methods to make sense of India's massive cinematic output (in numerical terms, the world's largest). Tens of thousands of movies have been released in the Hindi language alone between 1931 and the present.

My second research project is tentatively titled Iconic Images and I undertake a large-scale project of thematic criticism and formal analysis that foregrounds iconicity as a recurring  component traversing the organic and inorganic, the technical and the natural, the living and dying, in Hindi commercial cinema and visual culture of the post-Independence era in India. As in the research methods that culminated in my first book project, my approach is speculative. I am interested in exploring what, if anything, makes cinema "cinematic" in India; in finding pathways between the history of still photography, animation, and moving image media (analog and digital); and in drawing on myriad disciplines ranging from religious studies, anthropology, and history to art history and film studies, to make the movies speak to us in several registers: as historical documents, as formal configurations of sight, sensation and sound, and as media. I may be a new historicist by inclination and a high modernist in my tastes!

Literature-cinema relations are another emerging facet of my aforementioned interest in medium specificity. In 2021, I wrote about a recently re-discovered queer film from India. In my most recent writing currently under review I  look closely at the Hindi novel that inspired that movie. 


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