Sudhir Mahadevan (he/him/his)

Associate Professor
Portrait of Sudhir Mahadevan

Contact Information

PDL B-205
Office Hours
By appointment


Who am I?

I am an Associate Professor in CHID 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).

What is my book about?

At the title indicates, my book traces the cinema's origins to patterns in photography and print culture from the mid-19th to the early 20th century. In the book, I describe 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 describe 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.  My book also delves into legal history and copyright disputes, and describes 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 argue 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

As in my first book, 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. Do scholars need to develop large-scale quantitative projects to get a real "macroscopic" sense of what this cinema is like, aesthetically or commercially? 

My second research project centers around aesthetics and asks whether the cinema in India is a medium with distinct or unique properties compared to other media and forms of expression such as photography, theater and literature. What makes the cinema, cinematic, in India? In film studies, scholars call this the question of "medium specificity". 

My third research interest is in the relation between cinema and literature. In 2021, I wrote about a recently re-discovered queer film from India. In my most recent writing I  look closely at the Hindi novel that inspired that movie.  Literature-cinema relations are another emerging facet of my aforementioned interest in medium specificity.

Students: Who should contact me?

You should feel free to contact me if you are interested in cinema, the history of photography and/or printing technology or visual culture, or if you are interested in pursuing archival research.