Bio


Usha Iyer's research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of cinema, performance, and gender studies with a specific focus on stardom, body cultures, spectatorial desire and engagement, and the political economy of transnational media.

Her current book project, Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Popular Hindi Cinema (under contract with Oxford University Press), examines the role of dance in the construction of female stardom in popular Hindi cinema from the 1930s to the 1990s, theorizing and historicizing film dance, a staple “attraction” of the popular Indian film form, in relation to the construction of cinematic narratives, star bodies, and spectator-citizens. The dissertation version of this manuscript won the University of Pittsburgh's Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program's “Best Dissertation in the Humanities” award. In recent articles and conference presentations, she examines dance, comedy, and action as performative modes involved in the presentation of the male body as spectacle. This attention to varied modes of performance is directed towards understanding cultural paradigms for performing gender, and producing a critical genealogy of popular cultural forms and trans-regional exchanges through the performing body.

Other areas of research include performance traditions of the Indian indentured labor diaspora in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.

Dr. Iyer is an affiliate faculty of Stanford's Center for South Asia, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and ethnicity, and was a faculty fellow at The Clayman Institute for Gender Research in 2018-19.

Her Autumn 2019 course, Love in the Time of Cinema was awarded the Stanford Global Studies course innovation grant.

Dr. Iyer's essays have appeared in Camera Obscura, South Asian Popular Culture, and edited collections such as Movies, Moves and Music: The Sonic World of Dance Films, Figurations in Indian Film, and are forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Film Theory, The Oxford Handbook of Indian Dance,The Blackwell Companion to Indian Cinema, and the Women Film Pioneers Project,among others.

Academic Appointments


  • Assistant Professor, Art & Art History

Administrative Appointments


  • Director of Undergraduate Studies, Film and Media Studies Program, Dept of Art and Art History (2017 - Present)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations


  • Faculty Steering Committee, Center for South Asia (2019 - Present)
  • Faculty Steering Committee, Center for Comparative Studies of Race and Ethnicity (2019 - Present)

Professional Education


  • PhD, University of Pittsburgh, Film Studies (2014)
  • MA, Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, India, Literary and Cultural Studies (2006)
  • MA, University of Pune, India, Mass Communication (1996)

Current Research and Scholarly Interests


Film studies, South Asian cinema, Dance, Gender, Diaspora, Indentured labor

2019-20 Courses


Stanford Advisees


  • Orals Chair
    Annika Butler-Wall
  • Doctoral Dissertation Advisor (AC)
    Ankita Deb

All Publications


  • “Dance Musicalization: Proposing a Choreomusicological Approach to Hindi Film Song-and-dance Sequences.” South Asian Popular Culture Iyer, U. 2017; 15 (2-3): 123-138
  • "Looking for the Past in Pastiche: Intertextuality in Bollywood Song and Dance Sequences." Movies, Moves and Music: The Sonic World of Dance Films Iyer, U. Equinox Publishing. 2016: 207–226
  • "Stardom Ke Peeche Kya Hai?/What Is behind the Stardom? Madhuri Dixit, the Production Number, and the Construction of the Female Star Text in 1990s Hindi Cinema" Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies Iyer, U. 2015; 30 (3): 129-159
  • "Nevla as Dracula: Figurations of the Tantric as Monster in the Hindi Horror Film" Figurations in Indian Film Iyer, U. Palgrave Macmillan. 2013: 101–115