Saw “Love Aaj Kal” last night. I enjoyed it but it raised the question that every recent Bollywood film brings to mind: why are Indians so Indo-phobic? I watch many foreign films and I have yet to see Chinese or French or Iranian films be so defined by their diaspora audience or be so averse to their own country in setting, story, and casting.
I’m now accustomed to the fact that extras in the dance sequences are almost always not Indian. Love Aaj Kal took the this casting direction to a whole new level. The female supporting lead is Brazilian!
Ability aside, there were no other Indians in all of the Indian film and TV industry to play the not-so-challenging role of a sweet, quiet Punjabi village girl? Ayesha Takia who did an amazing job in “Dor” is just one possible candidate.
Is it not bad enough that women of Indian origin have to fight tooth-and-nail to get parts outside of India and within India they must fight a fair-and-lovely stereotype (as much as American actresses must fight the size 0 complex), that now even India has become a casting battleground? I can assure you that in Brazil, no Brazilians are discarded for Indians nor in any other country.
It is not just the landscapes, it is the very story. To be fair, the writer and director of this movie, Imitiaz Ali, who also directed “Jab We Met,” which I loved, perhaps grew up in a world where the type of story he presented is true for him. A more Western vision where breaking up and complicated romance may in fact, be his norm. He is after all, a filmmaker who has never pretended to be an ambassador of culture.
I applaud the story personally for it gives much more strength and power of choice to the woman involved. I’m happy that such visions and stories can give something to chew on for the parts of India where women and choice do not go together, most esp in matters of marriage much less the heart. But, Mr. Ali is at the top of his game unlike most of the films catering to the West, which are most of the films out. Where are the stories that most Indians can relate to with such themes?
Love Aaj Kal is one of many movies where at least half of it is not even in India. With Yash Chopra films, we’re used to a India that isn’t really India. The sanitized, sephora-based landscapes and soft-focused lens are his signature and it is what it is. Now, more and more films are set in NYC or San Francisco or London. The only thing Indian are the stars and some — just some — of the clothes.
Some may argue, it’s not the movie industry’s fault. The cities of India don’t have good infrastructure. Kashmir is dangerous so where to go for scenic beauty. Really? Has India become that much of a dump that Haryana, Rajasthan, Simla, Kerala which I can attest is gorgeous, all provide nothing? And if whatever may be the truth of a city, that’s the truth of the characters and the story; they are inseparable.
A few movies to reach out to the diaspora audiences, I can understand, but it’s gone way beyond that. If movies are our new mythology then where are the culturally-based stories for Indians to call their own? Where are the stories of Indians celebrating their spiritual and historical past? Where are the images of women that the average little Indian girl can turn to as a role model, as an achievable look? Where is the funding for films like “Black Friday”?
Must it be the British and other foreigners who come in, film something true, and walk away with Oscars? No wonder they walked away with the country for hundreds of years– and they can very easily do it again for this approach to the film industry resonates in big and small ways across the culture and economy.
Indians complain all Westerners see is the poverty of India or make a big a-do about exploiting its spirituality. They cause a ruckus if an Indian actress is kissed when they ape it nonstop. All Indian stories seem to be seeing is the West and that shows an even greater, more alarming impoverishment.
On a lighter note: new fashion trends are set by Bollywood and Deepika’s kurthas in the movie are no exception. They are available now at Shopper’s Stop in India. Buy them or call your cousins as I have to get them for you!