Think about it, we are so quick to jump up and celebrate every Indian-origin story. Whether it is Leena Nair, Indira Nooyi, Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, Kamla Harris…That Indian thread in the making of the success story is milked to the maximum by us. It becomes our claim to fame. But when it comes to clapping hands at the ghisa-pita portrayal of Indians in Hollywood productions, should we be clapping our hands? Unfortunately, the desi actors haven’t really met with resounding accolades on the Hollywood screen. Even if you think of the minutes clocked on celluloid by Aishwarya Rai, Mallika Sherawat, Frieda Pinto, Priyanka Chopra…There have been movies galore that have glamorized the ‘poverty porn’, the element of ‘exotic India’ often with Rajasthani regalia thrown in, to win awards at international film festivals. But what about the mainstream commercial circuit where the projection of Indians is still cringe worthy? Tacky costumes, lousy accents, guffaw inducing dialogues…is it a mockery or a mindblowing derision that has been going on for years now?
Cut to 2022, even with the 67-year-old Harish Patel who played the Indian side-kick in the typically-billed Indian accent, Gujju style, in the much-awaited superhero flick, Eternals, from the house of Marvel Studios. What a let down the movie was in itself! A bludgeoned script, with ho-hum character carpentry. The mighty Marvels movie even dived desperately into a gaudy version of the Bollywood song and dance routine on the sets, with the white saviours leaping in with ageless defiance (can’t say it was a Jolie good show!). Kumail Nanjiani (that’s Kingo) kicks and cavorts with flashy ease on the OTT sets of a Bollywood masala film. It’s a mock masquerade, a cheap imitation. If only they had the budget to maybe hire Prabhas, or Shahrukh Khan to do believable justice, in their own skin, in a firang production. Why did an Indian have to be shown yet again, speaking in broken English, looking sheepish, and grateful to simply be there? The character demanded it, sure. That’s how the character was conceived and shaped.
Meanwhile, Harish bhai ki to life ban gayi. The portly grandpa who now lives in the US (yes, that’s how he got the role) and picks up his grandkids from school has quadrupled his popularity quotient suddenly – from the forgotten corridors on the 90s flicks he featured in on home turf. As Karun, the blubbering assistant to Kingo, his screen visibility stands resurrected. Never mind that he entrenched the stereotype of Indians conversing inanely in unpolished English
We might be transplanting ace Silicon Valley saplings, winning Pulitzer, Magsaysay, Nobel awards, clinching beauty titles but at the end of the day we are still a gaggle of Hollywood-redemption-starved movie watchers. That’s the truth. Let’s be done with it – the brown-skin-grade 2-showbiz, now.
Shilpi Madan for Deccan Chronicle