We are in the year 2020, possibly the most eventful since the World Wars, and conversations around health, patriarchy, feminism, sexism, colourism, nepotism, racism and many such ‘isms’ have taken centre stage. The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown has been quite an enlightening time for most of us. And although many have whiled away the pandemic by baking bread, scrolling through social media and making new Instagram pages, many others used social media to get informed and highlight some of the biggest issues plaguing the world, and the youth should get some credit. One may dub millennials, Gen Z and the TikTok generation as a generation of followers, but being ‘woke’ is the latest trend, and everyone wants to keep up. Everyone, but Bollywood it seems.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition, woke means being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”, or to put it simply, treat each person like a person irrespective of their race, religion, gender, caste, sexual preference or any other attribute you would consider a ‘difference’. We often accuse Hollywood celebrities of appropriating Indian culture, but ignore Bollywood’s own insensitivity towards and appropriation of other, and our own, cultures.
Dig deep, and we all know how problematic Bollywood can be, let’s not even get into the whole ‘nepotism, drug, movie mafia’ drama. Bollywood has always been known for it stereotypical portrayals, misogynistic leads and plot lines, and its patriarchy-glorifying legacy. But these are the kind of films that have a A-list star-studded cast and are successful at the Box Office. Bollywood can get Kareena Kapoor Khan to do Blackface (she had a whole thing in Khushi) and laugh it off as a gag, or worse the extremely unrealistic and offensive portrayal of homosexuals is used to cut the tension by making the lead hero uncomfortable, so it may be a long journey for them in the sensitivity department. Be it the edited out scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge where Farida Jalal basically shames Kajol for her skin colour, the colour-shaming of Beyonce in the Khaali Peeli song Beyonce Sharma Jayegi, or the stereotypical portrayal and cultural appropriation of Arab culture in the Laxmmi Bomb (Akshay Kumar and Kiara Advani starrer) song, Burj Khalifa, Bollywood really needs to get with the times, here are some of Bollywood’s most culturally inappropriate, bordering racist and majorly insensitive moments:
When Khaali Peeli stars, Ananya Panday and Ishaan Khatter must have danced to the beats of Beyonse Sharma Jayegi (previously Beyonce) they never would have guessed the flak the song would receive because of its colourist lyrics. The lyrics go, “tujhe dekh ke goriya Beyonce sharma jayegi”. Fans from the Beyhive apologized to Queen Bey for the inappropriate song lyrics that promoted colourism and the makers quickly changed the Beyonce to duniya. Nice save guys, that’s almost as much effort as Glow and Lovely.
Kiara Advani and Akshay Kumar in Laxmmi Bomb.
The Laxxmi Bomb song Burj Khalifa may as well be a tourism ad for Dubai because that’s exactly what it looks like. It seems like the song comes out of the imagination of someone who only knows about Dubai from Bollywood films and Aladdin. The lyrics make no sense at all, Burj Khalifa seems like a forced plug and apparently all Arabs do is wear long robes and bob around in the sand, like in Ali Baba or something.
We all love DDLJ, but an edited out scene from the movie shows Farida Jalal going on quite the monologue to Simran, her ‘ghenhu’ (wheat) coloured daughter (her words not mine) about how she just squeezes her cheeks and needs no rouge, unlike her daughter who will only find love in India as Indian men appreciate ‘ghenhu’ colour (once again, her words).
Kareena Kapoor Khan and Fardeen Khan in Khushi.
Like the entirety of the movie Khushi, this bit with Kareena dancing around in Black face and an Afro was extremely racist and should have been edited out. Talking about Black face, Shraddha Kapoor also once appeared in an Afro and considerably tanned skin on the cover of Grazia in August 2016.
Shraddha Kapoor for Grazia.
Deepika Padukone’s ‘China’ look in Chandni Chowk to China was total cultural appropriation, from the poker straight hair, her eye make-up to make her look more Oriental Asian and even the lipstick dab like Geisha’s, who would paint only the centre of their lips. Although Geishas are a part of Japanese culture, it was stick appropriation.
Most recently Bala was criticised for showing Bhumi Pednekar for ‘brown’ face, the actor, who is considerably light-skinned was portrayed as a dark skinned girl who is obsessed with her skin colour. We have plenty of dusky actors in Bollywood, so this was an easy solve, however showing a light-skinned Yami Gautam as more desirable in comparison to Bhumi was wrong on so many levels. Bollywood needs to do a better job at showing all kinds of Indian beauty, we aren’t all just tall, fair and blue-eyed.
Bhumi Pednekar, Ayushmann Khurran and Yami Gautam in Bala.
Let’s talk accents! There was absolutely no need for Deepika’s characters in Happy New Year and Chennai Express to have over the top Marathi or Tamil twang, just like Anushka Sharma’s fake and forced Gujarati accent in Harry Met Sejal. Not to forget every old Parsi uncle with his ‘deekra’ in every Bollywood movie. People don’t talk like this anymore!
Bollywood loves appropriating Indian cultures, think of every Muslim family ever seen on the silver screen and ‘Begum’, ‘Tauba Tauba’ and ‘Tashreef’ are the words that will cross your mind, and that’s all the nuance Bollywood can give you.
And if we move on to Bollywood and homophobia, be it the effeminate extra in Prem Aggan who gets brushed aside as ‘gay’ as though it were an insult, or every role Bobby Darling has played, Bollywood in general portrays homosexuals in a negative and derogatory way. Dostana reduced homosexual relations to a joke, and although Ayushmann Khurrana starrer-Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhan was a great attempt, one some level, in an unfortunate way, the movie was the most vanilla attempt of showing the struggles of the LGBTQ community.