Oberlin Center for Convergence (StudiOC)

From Bombay to Cairo: Cinema and Social Change

Explore how cinematic transformations of literary texts and the historical event inspire social and political revolution.

one woman stands with arm on the other woman who is sitting in a chair
Oberlin professors Zeinab Abul-Magd and Anuradha (Anu) Needham will teach the course From Bombay to Cairo.
Photo credit: Jennifer Manna

From Bombay to Cairo: Cinema and Social Change

Offered fall 2019

India and Egypt were colonized by the British Empire for many long decades, and they have developed prolific film industries since their independence. Students in this learning community will explore the postcolonial cinemas of cosmopolitan Bombay and Cairo, which are widely influential in both societies.

This learning community will focus especially on how these cinemas subversively adapt key literary texts of global literature, represent radical thought, and actively depict resistance movements. While filmmakers in Bombay have adventurously introduced revisionary appropriations of Shakespeare’s plays, others in Egypt fearlessly participated in major movements of social reform and used their art as a medium of political activism.

In the course, English 247 Shakespeare in the Colonies, students will explore examples of Indian cinema and postcolonial literary works to analyze what happens to Shakespeare when he travels to the colonies. In History 247 Cinema Social Movements and Revolution in Egypt, students will read historical analyses and watch important films that served as cornerstones in the formation of the country’s rebellious ideologies and movements of resistance against social and state repression. This period includes the 1950s until the 2011 youth uprisings known as the “Arab spring.”

Each course in the learning community focuses on cinematic and literary adaptations; each course is linked as well through its use of the postcolonial and social movement theories that frame how (non-western) postcolonial cultures have interacted with the culture of their former (English) colonizers, as well as account for social change.  

Oberlin students in From Bombay to Cairo will have the opportunity to connect with their peers and discuss these topics with comparative literature students at the American University in Cairo.

ENGL 247 and HIST 247 are both required for enrollment in this learning community.


Course instructors for this learning community are Associate Professor of History Zeinab Abul-Magd and Donald R. Longan Professor of English Anuradha (Anu) Needham.

Zeinab Abul-Magd, instructor

HIST 247 Cinema, Social Movements & Revolution in Egypt
Meets 11 am, Monday, Wednesday; 4 credit hours; enrollment limit 25

What is the role of cinema in revolution? This course explores how cinema has contributed to social movements and mass uprisings in Egypt’s recent history. Cairo's prolific film industry has mirrored political, socioeconomic, urban, and cultural transformations in the country. It has integrally participated in shaping radical ideologies and revolutionary activism. Informed by postcolonial and social movement theories, this course investigates Egyptian cinema and resistance against colonial capitalism; Western imperialism; gender structures; queer repression; security state; neoliberalism; fundamentalist Islamism; oppressed sports—from the 1950s until the 2011 youth uprisings.

Assignments include weekly films, film critiques, and a final research paper.

Anuradha (Anu) Needham, instructor

ENGL 247 Shakespeare in the Colonies
Meets 9:30 am, Monday, Wednesday; 4 credit hours; enrollment limit 25

What happens when Shakespeare travels from England to its former colonies in South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean? Framed by Shakespeare’s canonical position in cultural texts from these former colonies, this course will examine revisionary appropriations of his plays by contemporary Indian cinema and postcolonial literary texts.  

Our discussions will be informed by postcolonial scholarship on revision and translation as forms of transformation and subversion and theories of cinematic and literary adaptations.  

Assignments will include informal written and oral presentations and formal writing assignments on the literary, theoretical, and cinematic texts and film viewings.