Usha Iyer's research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of cinema, performance, and gender and sexuality studies, with a specific focus on film and performance histories, body cultures, and Global South cultural traffic along the vectors of race, gender, caste, and religion.
Iyer is the author of Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema (Oxford University Press, 2020), which examines constructions of gender, stardom, sexuality, and spectacle in Hindi cinema through women’s labor, collaborative networks, and gestural genealogies to produce a corporeal history of South Asian cultural modernities. Through a material history of the labor of producing on-screen dance, theoretical frameworks that emphasize collaboration, aesthetic approaches to embodiment, and formal analyses of cine-choreographic "techno-spectacles," Dancing Women offers a variegated, textured history of cinema, dance, and music. Her PhD dissertation, “Film Dance, Female Stardom, and the Production of Gender in Popular Hindi Cinema,” won the University of Pittsburgh's Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program's “Best Dissertation in the Humanities” award.
Iyer’s proposed next book project is an examination of the affective engagements of Caribbean spectators with Indian cinema in relation to discourses of belonging and citizenship that have developed around the histories of African enslavement and Indian indentureship in Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Guyana. Examining as well the impact of Caribbean cultural forms on the Indian film industry, the project engages with transnational perspectives on race, ethnicity, performance, and migration to produce a multi-sited analysis of the traffic of sensory, embodied forms of knowledge across informal networks between South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.
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, The Evolution of Song and Dance in Hindi Cinema, and are forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Film Theory, The Blackwell Companion to Indian Cinema, BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, Industrial Networks and Cinemas of India, and the Women Film Pioneers Project, among others.
Iyer is affiliate faculty of Stanford's Center for South Asia and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE). She is currently a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center and a 2020 CCSRE Faculty Fellow. She was a fellow at The Clayman Institute for Gender Research in 2018-19. Her Autumn 2019 course, Love in the Time of Cinema, was awarded the 2019-20 Stanford Global Studies course innovation grant. Iyer is Associate Editor of South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.