Samhita Sunya

Associate Professor of Cinema

After completing my PhD at Rice University (2014), I joined the American University of Beirut as an Assistant Professor of Visual Culture. My location in Lebanon for two years (2014 - 2016) complemented my earlier fieldwork at the National Film Archive of India, enabling me to further explore postwar circulation histories of Hindi film/songs across and beyond the Middle East. Supported by a Spring 2018 residence at Yale University and a 2018-2019 Mellon Humanities Fellowship, I have completed my first book titled Sirens of Modernity: World Cinema via Bombay (2022). Sirens of Modernity historicizes the category of “world cinema” in the politics of the Cold War, and the manner in which popular Hindi film/songs negotiated their own worldly circuits through reflexive arguments about gender, excess, and popular cinephilia during the 1960s. A second project, tentatively titled Agents on Location, explores South-South histories of location shooting and espionage genres, as intertwined with informal and clandestine practices of film distribution. I am additionally working--in extra slow motion!--on a more creative project that has grown out of my interests in media studies and transregional histories: I am assembling a cultural history of carrom, a popular tabletop game of South Asian origin, through a collection of oral histories, memoirs, and original short stories.

My interests span world film history; feminist historiography; informal practices of media distribution across South / West Asia and the Indian Ocean; intersections of audio-visual media and literary forms; and sound studies. I currently direct the undergraduate Distinguished Majors Program in MESALC, and I am on the executive committee of the Screen Arts and Culture forum of the Modern Language Association. I remain active in the collaborative administration of film series and festivals--most recently, as a Guest Programmer for the Virginia Film Festival and Director of Programming for the Shenandoah Film Collaborative. By night, I am working on a certificate in Museum Studies from Northwestern University, which has been inspiring for my ongoing curatorial and public humanities practice. By day, I teach survey courses and specialized seminars in Middle East - South Asia film histories, in addition to Middle East - South Asia-focused thematic courses on topics such as cinephilia, adaptation, and genre; methods courses in areas such as film programming, sound studies, and film festival studies; among so many other possibilities that lie ahead!