Yes, we know you only just got over all the discussions around Coldplay's latest video and, honestly, we are sorry for bringing this up again. If you logged on to any form of social media during the weekend, when the English rock superstars launched the video for their latest single 'Hymn For The Weekend', you probably belong to one of the following three camps:
a) You love the video and you think it's beautifully shot and are proud that they chose to feature India.
b) You detest the video and think it's yet another instance of the West's fascination with Indian exotica (aka cultural appropriation).
c) Who cares? Coldplay is stupid. Everyone is stupid. Ever heard of a band called Muse? Blur? That's real music, bruvs.
'Hymn For The Weekend' by Coldplay feat. Beyonce, from their latest album 'A Head Full Of Dreams'
Well, regardless of what your opinion about the video (or the song) may be, the conversations around cultural stereotyping have shed light on the lazy clichés the West often relies on to depict India. But when we'e speaking about laziness, can good old Bollywood ever be left behind?
Here are a few examples of horrendous cultural stereotyping in mainstream Hindi cinema, starring well-known actors and actresses, that have been watched and celebrated by millions of people since. It might explain why we are where we are.
1. 'Hawa Hawai' from Mr India (1987)
What a lovely song, right? An absolute classic. But wait, what's up with those background dancers? Oh, right, they're deliberately being made to look outlandish so as to make Sridevi look even prettier than she already is. Fair enough. But then you get to the four-and-a-half minute mark and you realise they're in blackface for... no real reason whatsoever. So much for sensitivity to centuries of oppression.
2. 'Chai Mein Chini' from Roop Ki Raani Choron Ka Raja (1993)
India is in the same continent as China. And Japan. And yet, for some reason, we seem to know nothing about these cultures. 'Chinki', 'cheeni', 'Nepali' — they're all the same to us, apparently, and this song from Satish Kaushik's early '90s disaster does nothing to dispel that idea. Here we have Anil Kapoor in mild blackface along with Sridevi dressed as a geisha (traditional Japanese female entertainers) pretending to be... Chinese, apparently. A line in the song goes 'Bachcha, tujhe mein kachcha chaba jaaungi' ('Kid, I will eat you alive') —because that's what Chinese people do, of course.
3. Dharmendra in Razia Sultan (1983)
This big-budget epic by Kamal Amrohi (Pakeezah), based on the life of Razia Sultan, may to be the only Hindi movie that has ever had an African protagonist. There's just one problem: that black male lead is a man from Punjab we all know as Dharmendra, playing an Abyssinian slave named Jamal-ud-Din Yakut, in blackface. Sigh.
4. Chunky Pandey in Housefull (2010) and Housefull 2 (2012)
Let's file this one under 'Stereotyping So Lazy It Failed Jr Kg'. In Sajid Khan's smash-hit (which has a second sequel coming out soon), Chunky Pandey plays an "Italian" man named Aakhri Pasta (a reference to the 1986 film Aakhree Raasta). While the exaggerated Italian accent, hand gestures, and empty references to Robert De Niro are obvious red flags, he's also prone to saying 'señorita' and 'gracias' — which are, of course, Spanish (aka Not Italian) words. Yes, of course, the whole thing's a joke — Aakhri Pasta, as a character, is very clearly meant to be an Indian man impersonating an Italian quite badly — but one suspects that this slip-up was brushed away with "Oho, Spanish-Italian, no one will know the difference yaar."
5. Innumerable white back-up dancers in various Bollywood songs
There are hundreds of examples of this, especially in the last 15 years. Caucasian women gyrating in barely-there clothing, often behind the lead pair of the movie, chosen because they "have better figures and are more willing to expose them". To young Indian males who have been watching this for years, this translates very easily to 'all white women are easy'. Incredible India, indeed.
6. Mehmood in Padosan (1968)
All South Indians are 'Madrasis'. All South Indians speak Hindi in a funny accent and say 'Aiyyo!' all the time. All South Indians are Brahmins. All South Indians wear lungis. Here's a scene from a much-loved Hindi cinema classic that checks off all these boxes.
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