Tag Archives: Bollywood

Amitabh Bachchan In The Great Gatsby: Is Desi The New Jewish?

By Margaret Redlich

Image via India Today.

When I studied The Great Gatsby in college, we spent an entire class period on the character of Meyer Wolsheim–.  From the multiple descriptions of his oversize nose and atrocious dialect (“gonnegtions”), it only took five minutes for the class to determine he was supposed to be Jewish, and someone involved was terribly racist.  The question then became, was the racism from the author, Fitzgerald, or the narrator, Nick Carroway?  An added complication, if Gatsby was conceived by the author as Jewish, but not known to be Jewish by Carroway, does that mean that Fitzgerald was not racist? Or at least less racist?  With five minutes left in the class period, one of my classmates said that she had an uncle named “Gatz” (Gatsby’s birth name) and he was Jewish, so the class voted for Gatsby as Jewish and thus the narrator as the racist.

In the recent film, director Baz Lurhmann leaves Gatsby’s origins open to interpretation.  The character of Meyer Wolfsheim is still presented as Jewish, but only in name.  The dialect is softened and Carroway’s voice over narration is not included in this scene.  Luhrman also makes an effort to soften elements of the character’s appearance and personality; instead of two molars used as cufflinks and discussed in detail, Wolfsheim has one used as a tie pin, which is only mentioned in passing. As to the reaction of other characters to Wolfsheim: in the novel Gatsby is happy to see him leave; In the film, he is happy to see him arrive.  These are easily understandable alterations, necessary to make the scene palatable to a modern audience.  Less easy to understand? Luhrmann’s decision to cast a Desi actor to play the role.  Even stranger, Amitabh Bachchan, after 40 years of Indian superstardom, decided to make The Great Gatsby his American debut.

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Links Roundup 1.24.13

As part of today’s festivities, a site called InternetFreedomDay.net was launched. One of the several organizations behind the effort, Fight for the Future, tried to make a point about copyright law by posting a video that included footage of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Why? Because, as Fight for the Future’s video explained, King’s speech is still under copyright—and therefore sharing it is an act of civil disobedience that honors both Internet Freedom Day and Martin Luther King Day this Monday. Fight for the Future’s video also explained that SOPA would have made streaming the film a criminal offense—a crime like kidnapping, bank fraud, anddownloading too many JSTOR articles in violation of terms of service.

Yet just after 1 p.m. on Friday, the video had been removed from the video sharing site Vimeo, presumably at the request of EMI, which, with the King estate, holds the rights to the speech. You may not realize it, but, as Vice’s Motherboard explained, “You’d be hard pressed to find a good complete video version on the web, and it’s not even to be found in the new digital archive of the King Center’s website. If you want to watch the whole thing, legally, you’ll need to get the $20 DVD.”

“Do you think it’s easier to look beyond race in France?” Most Americans assume this is true, but even from my few days in the country so far, I’d seen evidence to the contrary. Christine’s favorite leftist newspaper Le Canard Enchâiné regularly satirized former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his hardline approach to dealing with immigrants of color.

“Maybe,” she answered. “You’re less ‘not supposed to do something’ than in America. I think the pressure is stronger over there because society is not going to want you to mix in that way. Even inside your family the pressure is going to be stronger. And not every mixed couple lives in Manhattan either. Imagine if you live in Arkansas; your life can be hell! In France it can be the same thing if you live in a small village. Mais, the less you are together, the less they are going to expect you to be together, and in France we are not as apart from each other. You don’t have a separate Black school here where they’re teaching you how wonderful it is to be Black and what Black people did to make humanity grow.”

Some of us matured away from the idea of a Black culture that thinks with only one point of view about things like interracial marriage, and others never would. My opinions now are a lot different than they were before I graduated my own Black college alma mater, but I tried explaining to Christine—the product of a supposedly colorblind society—my younger attitude about preserving and protecting the Black community from being watered down. She laughed.

Many argue that Indian popular culture is full of misogyny, and Bollywood too needs to own up to its role in fuelling this culture. As Ritupurna Chatterjee writes, “it will be highly presumptuous to assume that Hindi cinema is the root cause of a spike in sexual assaults. But Bollywood and regional cinema in equal parts, because of their reach, scope and influence, have a larger role to play in assuming responsibility for the message it sends out to millions of audience — some highly impressionable.” India’s population has now exceeded 1.2 billion, and even though literacy has increased quickly in the past years, a little over 25 per cent of the country’s population is still illiterate.

Is it fair to blame Bollywood, or even expect it to produce movies that adhere to a higher standard? As Bollywood mega star and bad boy Salman Khan argued in an interview — each movie has a good guy and a bad guy. It isn’t Bollywood’s fault that people choose to follow the villain. The superstar also added that if not the death penalty, rapists should be sentenced to life. Others, like director Anurag Kashyap, agree with the general sentiment that Bollywood, being such a huge influence for Indian society, has a responsibility to produce movies that show women in progressive light, but hold that censorship is not a viable way to achieve this goal, tweeting that moralising censorship would create “another kind of Taliban”.

While the film has obviously found its supporters, backlash against it continues to grow. Yesterday, director Kathryn Bigelow defended her film from charges it promotes torture in an Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times . Bigelow claimed artistic license writing, “those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement.” While this is obviously true, the film goes further than depiction. AsDeepa Kumar wrote the film promotes extra judicial killing and the drone warfare that has become the hallmark of the Obama administration’s “war on terror.”

People like outsourcers and Jeremy Scott greatly affect non-Native people’s perceptions of Native American art and aesthetics. They also impact our economies.

Back in the 1920s and 1930s, non-Native ‘friends of Indians’ noticed that the creation and marketing of Native American arts could have a positive economic impact in Native communities. Thus, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act was enacted to protect Native artists against people who falsely suggested that their artwork was Native-made. This act sought to help protect Native artists who were working to bring money into their communities from companies who would mass-produce cheap knock-offs, and thus produce unfair competition and redirect money into the pockets of a few versus back to where the money was needed to continue these important living artistic cultural practices. Over the years, the IACA hasn’t always been supportive of Native artists and has lost a lot of clout – big companies with big lawyers find ways to circumvent our rights to our cultural capital, imagery and names. Furthermore, the jury is still out on whether or not ‘fashion’ is considered ‘art,’ adding another potential loophole to the mix.

I apologize for the longwindedness, but this legacy is important to note since it continues to affect us today. When companies like Forever 21Urban Outfitters, or Adidas put out tacky images like this, they perpetuate the idea that Native art is in the free bin (as if we have no sense of ownership or artistic legacy when it comes to our art), and anyone can reach in and grab it, tack their name on it, and make a buck – all the while putting forward the idea that our art is ugly and cheap.

“People Don’t Want To See Problems On The Screen”: Why The West Won’t Watch Bollywood

By Guest Contributor Margaret Redlich

Kajol (l) and Shahrukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenga. Courtesy: planetradiocity.com

When they’ve tried to make realistic pictures about the poor and the middle classes, they get miserable attendance…People don’t want to see problems on the screen.

So says a 2001 article from Smithsonian magazine about the rise in popularity of the Indian movie industry, a.k.a. “Bollywood,” in the West during the 1990s.  And this is the general assumption many in the First World like to make about Indian film: that it is an escapist genre, and that all the poor people of South Asia need to be happy is three hours of brightly colored fantasy.

Indian films have been the main source of popular culture for all of South Asia and popular in many other countries throughout the world since the 1950s. The first international hit was Raj Kapoor’s Awaara in 1951, followed by Shree 420 four years later. Although the 50s are generally considered the “Golden Age” of Indian film, the Indian film industry had been around for 40 years before that, with the studio system already thriving within 20 years. Although the West, especially America, likes to pretend that they invented the movies and every other country is merely imitating them (as is implied in the very name “Bollywood”), in fact India has been making movies in its own style since the advent of the artform.

The West didn’t suddenly make a Columbus-like discovery of Indian film in the 90s; it was a result of a calculated strategy on the part of the Indian industry. A series of political shifts in Indian government had led to weakening import/export regulations as well as the legalization of investments in the Indian film industry. Therefore, there was suddenly more money around to make these globe-hopping song- and dance-filled extravaganzas. And that money could be turned into even more money by making plots that were universal and of interest to Desis and others living in the First World. What is more universal than romance?

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DISGRASIAN OF THE WEAK! Vagina Whitening (That’s Right, You Heard Me)

By Guest Contributor Jen Wang, cross-posted from Disgrasian

One year I vacationed in Mexico and spent the entire time in the water, body surfing and boogie boarding. My skin got really dark, which I don’t care about one way or another, though I am afraid of sun damage and skin cancer, in that order. I made one mistake that trip though, and it wasn’t forgetting sunscreen (always, always remember sunscreen). My mistake was going to see my grandmother right after. The first thing she said, once she got over the shock, was “How did you get so dark?!” For the rest of the visit, she introduced me to her friends as “My Granddaughter-Who’s-Normally-Not-This-Dark.”

Light skin is still prized in Asia for a number of reasons that have to do with longstanding notions of race, class, and gender. Good thing then, that there’s a booming market for skin whitening creams, many of them manufactured by Western companies! And good thing the companies who make these creams also make commercials, because quite a few of them–beyond their creepy, disturbing premise–are kinda hilarious.
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Jonnie Lewis Brown: Outsider In Bollywood [Culturelicious]

By Guest Contributor Filmi Girl

I was beyond thrilled when I got word that the first African-American actor to have a major role in a Bollywood film, Jonnie Louis Brown, was willing to speak to me for this interview series. However, when I mentioned to some friends that I was going to be interviewing Jonnie, the responses I got were all some variation of, “He’s so scary!” In the United States, Jonnie is best known for his portrayal of the sadistic Officer Eddie Walker on HBO’s The Wire, a standout performance on a show packed with talented actors. Bollywood fans will know Jonnie from Apne, in which he played the toughest, fiercest boxer in the world.

Jonnie laughs when I tell him of my friends’ reactions. “You want to hear something funny?” Filmi Girl always wants to hear something funny. “What’s funny about all those roles is that I almost did not land any of them because the directors and writers thought I was so nice that I could not do it!” The good-natured man on the other end of the line certainly doesn’t sound as if he would steal money from kids, as Officer Walker did on The Wire. “It was just completely ridiculous, they were like, ‘He’s too nice, too clean looking! How can he… I don’t believe it.’ And then when they see me perform it’s like, ‘OH MY GOD!’”

Bollywood audiences also cried “Hai Bhagwaan!” when they saw Jonnie in Apne. For those of you who missed the 2007 Deol family film, Apne is, naturally, the story of a father and his two sons. Dharmenda plays an ex-boxing champ trying to repair his family ties by training up his son, played by Sunny Deol, to become a boxing champ. Jonnie plays the World Champion Sunny must defeat to gain closure. A Bollywood hero is only as tough as the villain he defeats and Jonnie’s performance in the ring allowed Sunny Deol to give the audience a victory that meant something.

“My first impression of Bollywood films was that I didn’t have one,” begins Jonnie. “I didn’t know quite what to make of the films; I had to really sit down and absorb and concentrate on what I was seeing, on what my senses were actually feeling.” But unlike some of the less enlightened film critics who enjoy mocking the filmi style of Bollywood, Jonnie’s years of acting experience allowed him to see past the cultural differences. “I came to realize right away how good the actors and actresses were in Bollywood. They are so good at what they do and they are so centered in the fundamentals of acting that it almost goes unnoticed because the creativity in their films is so high and their dance numbers and sequences are so large that their acting often gets overshadowed by that.”

It’s an astute observation from an actor who is used to thinking outside of the box. When I ask Jonnie why he decided to audition for a Bollywood film, he explains, “Being an African-American male in the United States, the work is very sparse, very difficult. Most of the writers and screenplay writers in the United States are Caucasian and they’re also male, so African-American males are mostly thought of, when it comes to screenplay writing, like an afterthought. The roles for us are sidekick or best friend until you reach that status of, say, a Denzel Washington or a Will Smith. The new opportunities are not necessarily there for us like there are for other ethnicities, unfortunately. So the chances for me playing Superman out of the blue will not happen. It’s one of those things where that’s just how it is.” He laughs. “What’s funny is that I hear my Caucasian actor friends say that there are so many more of them and that the competition is so fierce. But what I tell them is that there are more jobs for you, too. The experience for us [African-American actors] is a little bit different and because of that experience, that’s when you start considering things outside the box.” Continue reading

Disney, Twilight and Bollywood: Reinforcing the Purity Myth or Fantasy of Safe Sexual Exploration for Young Girls (and Their Mothers)?

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger

The other day, I was surfing aimlessly online and happened upon Jessica Valenti’s most recent book, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession With Virginity is Hurting Young Women. Ms. Valenti is the founder and Executive Editor of Feministing.com.

Here is the first paragraph:

There is a moral panic in America over young women’s sexuality–and it’s entirely misplaced. Girls ‘going wild’ aren’t damaging a generation of women, the myth of sexual purity is. The lie of virginity–the idea that such a thing even exists–is ensuring that young women’s perception of themselves is inextricable from their bodies, and that their ability to be moral actors is absolutely dependent on their sexuality. It’s time to teach our daughters that their ability to be good people depends on their being good people, not on whether or not they’re sexually active.

And then this:

More than 1,400 purity balls, where young girls pledge their virginity to their fathers at a promlike event, were held in 2006 (the balls are federally funded) [Emphasis mine]. Facebook is peppered with purity groups that exist to support girls trying to ‘save it.’…So while young girls are subject to overt sexual messages every day, they’re simultaneously being taught — by the people who are supposed to care for their personal and moral development, no less–that their only real worth is their virginity and ability to remain “pure.”

I thought about these quotes for days after reading them. For one, the fact that purity balls are federally funded, if indeed they are, blew me away (so that–and new sports stadiums–is where all the education and health care money is!). Valenti’s premise kind of made sense when I thought about Bollywood films and the “no kissing” rule — how some of the most successful Bollywood romances are all about sexual longing and tension within the context of safe, non-sexual relationships. And how the concept of safeguarded virginity seems to be a giant moral marker for young girls around the globe. I can’t remember how often I saw a Bollywood film about the men in a family viciously guarding a young woman’s virginity because the honour and reputation of the entire family rested on the moral purity of that young woman. And if, as in some films, she happened to be raped, the only honourable thing left was for her to take her own life.

I compared this to a DVD I recently succumbed to watching–despite my best intentions. I had tried twice to push through the novel, but did not get past the first 30 pages each time. I know that Twilight has been examined and analyzed on this site and others in terms of its racial content, but that was not the reason I was so disturbed by the film. I was prepared for the racial issues since I read various blog entries on that particular topic. What I was not prepared for was how thoroughly the film capitalized on young female sexuality and the concept of innocence, or as Ms. Valenti might refer to it, purity. Continue reading