Flipkart Racism Ghost : Typecasting community in mass media should be strictly dealt
Ever wondered how much we are influenced by movies and TV? We follow the dress code of our favorite actors and we pick up their hair-styles and their dance moves. And yet, sometimes we ignore the small mistakes which hold great significance to a whole bunch of people. Ever notice the sound a galloping horse makes in films and television shows? According to filmmakers horse hooves make a clickety-clack noise of coconuts being banged together. Anyone who has ever ridden a horse knows this isn’t true, but yet it persists. Why? Audiences have become so accustomed to the sound effect when seeing a horse onscreen that it is expected, and when the clickety-clack isn’t present it’s even more jarring. In a way, reality becomes unrealistic.
People tend to have a pre-conceived notion about things they are not aware of. There were days when women were portrayed as damsels in distress, waiting for their knight to come to the rescue. Result? People thought that women were only good for household chores and raising kids and needed to be protected. Cut to the modern era, women are as capable as men in heading a department and carrying a big budget movie entirely on their shoulders. They earn medals, they break barriers, but still male chauvinism exists. They are overshadowed by the chauvinistic crap that people shove down everyone’s throats.
Things are turning around and bold directors are making bold women-centric movies like ‘Mary Kom’, ‘Queen’, ‘Piku’ where women kick ass and at the same time have an independent, unapologetic take on gender stereotypes. However, some things are still swept under the carpet unanswered and unresolved.
India is now more diverse than it ever has been, but from watching movies and television programs it’s easy to overlook that development, given the prevalence of racial stereotypes in the Indian media. Northeastern characters remain underrepresented and stereotyped in many mainstream movies and TV shows, and the actors who play them are asked to play stereotypes from chowkidars to maids and prostitutes.
Nepalese people of Sikkim, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Nepal and many parts of India are portrayed very poorly in Bollywood. To date, Nepalese are invariably depicted as chowkidars and maids, the very recent being an advert by online shopping site Flipkart. ‘Kapoor and Sons’, a successful Bollywood movie this year featured a Nepali man as the chowkidar of Alia Bhatt’s character. ‘Aashiqui 2’, a phenomenally successful movie also featured a Nepali man as a chowkidar working for Aditya Kapoor.
Nepalese are not the only ones who are portrayed in a stereotypical way. In fact, there are many communities like Sikhs, Parsis, Biharis who are stereotyped in such a way that when we actually see them in real life we already have a pre-conceived notion about them from a movie or an ad or a TV show. Sikhs for example are showed as free-spirited, loud, violent, party and booze loving characters in movies. But most of these features are not applicable to all Sikhs.
Muslims are the largest religious minority group in India. Muslim characters are portrayed as untrustworthy or worst, a terrorist. Imagine how would they feel if they are not given the jobs they deserve because they are Muslims? Parsi men in movies often have a stammer and are shown as foolish with a distinctive accent like the one in ‘Happy New Year’ where Boman Irani is a Parsi and has an anxiety attack every time he is nervous.
Stereotypes have a serious consequence in real life. Because of the misleading portrayal of a minor community in movies, people generalize them. Minorities suffer a lot because of this kind of stereotypical presentation of their community and often they suffer from the inescapable stigmas. The crux of the problem is not that stereotypes are used or that they frequently occur but that pejorative Nepali stereotype is the only stereotype that Bollywood uses to represent a Nepali/ Gorkha. Why cannot a Nepali man be a rich successful businessman? Why cannot a Nepali man be the central character in a movie?
Are Nepali characters only good as chowkidars mouthing the heavily accented [which, by the way, is an imaginary accent] and clichéd word ‘Shaab jee’. Nepali/ Gorkha is a community spread across the world.
Limiting all Gorkhas to these stereotypes is like comparing the people of South India to the people from North India. Huge difference, right?
(Writer Palzor Machungpa is a columnist in Sikkim ‘Summit Times’ English Daily)