Stereotypes maketh a poor story

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Bollywood and Hollywood is rife with stereotypes but portraying a community as caricatures or in a negative light can seriously instigate racism and is the poorest form of entertainment argues Dhanya Nair

Twenty minutes into watching the recently released Chennai Express and I was reprimanding my 13-year-old self for being heads over heels in love with a man called Shah Rukh Khan post Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, a modern Bollywood classic. I still remember being starry-eyed and fervently hoping that I would one day get my own Raj if not for SRK himself. I also remember empathising with the cold-hearted lover, the anti-hero from Darr. I knew my teenage icon Shah Rukh Khan could do no wrong and he will continue to enthrall me for many, many years to come. Apparently, we get wiser as we get older. SRK  and his recent movies prove if only!

Bollywood is celebrating its 100 years; turn every which way you will agree that it has gone global. Even Hollywood’s calling card is no longer seductive. In fact, SRK has vociferously stated that he would not be interested in a Hollywood film because it would be difficult to get a movie which is not specific to his colour and culture.  But he forgets that charity begins at home.

If his curd with noodle eating, aiyyo saying software geek portrayal in Ra:One wasn’t offending enough; in Chennai Express he goes a step further. His atrocious fake Tamil accent, Lungi dancing and singing about lassi in your coconut is head-ache inducing to say the least.  Unfortunately, Chennai Express is good at only that—dishing out such blatant stereotypes and unintelligent caricatures in the name of entertainment.


Don’t even get me started on Deepika Padukone and her, “South Indian” accent and jo-huis. Surely, for a seemingly intelligent girl, Deepika must have studied geography in her school. A fascinating subject which teaches you about directions: North, South, East and West. It also teaches you that everything after Maharashtra is not Madarasi or as she says South Indian. I would also assume she must have in some point of her life learnt Social Studies which teaches you about states and languages. Malayalam is spoken in Kerala, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Kannada in Karnataka, Telugu in Andhra and Tulu in Southwest Karnataka. There is hence no such thing called “South Indian accent.” Deepika, who has grown up in Bangalore should know this.

Bollywood’s tryst with stereotyping communities is an age old exercise. As Baradwaj Rangan writes in The Hindu not every Punjabi man bursts into balle-balle each time he sees a dhol nor does every Catholic Father walk with a Virgin Mary statue. Hollywood too is no holy cow when it comes to stereotyping. Lucy Liu has recently voiced her opinion about the elephant in the room: racism and stereotyping in Hollywood. She has pointed out that her race has often being a crucial factor when she was chosen for roles. “I wish people wouldn’t just see me as the Asian girl who beats everyone up, or the Asian girl with no emotion. People see Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock in a romantic comedy, but not me,” she stated.

The danger of stereotyping a community is the racism it instigates. A case in point—the barrage of Anti-Asian (Korean specific) slurs on social media channels after the strictly okay movie Olympus has fallen . If you carefully examine, there is nothing remotely funny about stereotyping, because it only reinforces our own prejudices. As Dominican-American writer, Junot Diaz said, “Stereotypes, they’re sensual, cultural weapons. That’s the way that we attack people. At an artistic level, stereotypes are terrible writing.” In Chennai Express’s case it is just another mindless, terrible form of story-telling. Yes, it might be a hit but at the terrible cost of strengthening silly cultural ideas.

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