Amanda Weidman

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20072008 Forum on Origins

Amanda Weidman

Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Bryn Mawr College

The Female Voice in Tamil Cinema

Song sequences are a central element of Indian popular cinema. The voices in these songs are those of “playback” singers, recorded in the film music studio and subsequently “lip-synched” by actors. Playback singers, whose voices are immediately recognized by Indian audiences, have become celebrities in their own right. The respectable female playback singer in particular has become a cultural icon, one whose singing voice might be matched up with on-screen characters of varying social status, but whose “original” persona remains that of a married, upper-caste woman.
I will trace a genealogy of this figure and her voice, looking at how Indian nationalist notions of femininity worked together with technologies of sound recording and reproduction to naturalize both a particular vocal sound and an ideology about women’s voices. Second, I will explore the ways in which playback singing both preserves and disturbs supposedly “original” voice-body relationships.