Female Voices in the Public Sphere: Playback Singing, Performance, and Gender in South India


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS/NEH International and Area Studies Fellow named award


This is an historical and ethnographic study of female playback singers in the popular Tamil film industry. Playback singers, whose voices are recorded in the studio and then “played back” on the set to be lip-synched by actors, are celebrities in their own right. As a profession that produced new opportunities for women to enter the public sphere, playback singing has been an important site for the creation of ideologies of voice and gender. The project focuses on vocal sound, performance practices, and personae associated with female playback singers in relation to the cultural politics of South India from the post-Independence 1950s to the post-liberalization present.