On Coldplay and Offending Indians

More than a decade ago I remember watching an episode of ‘The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest’ in which Hadji Singh (“Hey Steve! Throw me an Indian name will ya’?”) flies back to Calcutta in search of his lineage or something. The opening shot of Calcutta features every man wearing a turban, unpaved streets with Sadhu’s performing the Indian rope trick at every corner, the most advanced automobile to be a bullock cart…you get the drift. It was a civilisation that basically froze once the white people left the country.

"Hey Steve! Kids still play with cobras in India right?"
“Hey Steve! Kids still play with cobras in India right?”

Now bear in mind, I was probably 12-13 at that time and naturally I got a bit irritated by this unreal and uneducated depiction of our country. I mean all they could have done is asked someone who had been to the country at least once.

"Hey Steve! Apu Nahasapeemapetilon must be a pretty common name in India right?"
“Hey Steve! Apu Nahasapeemapetilon must be a pretty common name in India right?”

Soon just like the Baader-Meinhof phenomena, I started to notice this growing trend of stereotypical Indian representation in every cartoon. Apu, Hadji, The Maharaja of Pookajee, Dr.Vindaloo just to name a few characters. And these are just from the cartoons that I used to watch as a kid. Similarly a lot of hollywood often gets Indians wrong with tropes such as the levitating guru master, the bumbling idiot full of lingual faux pas, the synecdoche “Slumdog Millionaire”, the ultra right wing cultural goof etc.

slumdog
From the critically acclaimed documentary ‘Slumdog Millionaire’

Okay maybe some of them aren’t exactly far off. And also this is completely ignoring the fact that Bollywood  has a tendency of calling anyone with Mongolian features: ‘Chini’, sometimes going as far as showing inappropriately slapstick kung fu moves with the standard Fu Manchu moustache. And let’s not even talk about the representation of black people in Bollywood. But these are separate issues. And we’ve got a bigger things to deal with. We’ve got far more things to get offended by.

And just as we thought the list of things to worry about was getting thinner…we get the new Coldplay video for ‘Hymn For The Weekend’. I mean c’mon Chris Martin…I’m sorry, c’mon Coldplay!! Levitating Sadhu’s again? People playing holi, a bioscope from the early 1900’s, old building ruins, peacocks…how did Taj Mahal not make it to the list. And as if Beyonce clearly green screening her way into the video wasn’t bad enough, she has to call herself ‘Rani‘. I mean yeah, whatever…she’s the Queen B or something, but that doesn’t justify why she looks like she’s ready for battle dressed in chain mail.

I was thoroughly appalled. I demanded a refund (From whom? Doesn’t matter)! Clearly people outside this country (yes white people, you!) aren’t getting to see what really happens in this prosperous nation of ours. Why can’t we show them our sky scrapers, our spacious malls, our music industry full of men in bling throwing money at modestly attired women, Priyanka Chopra’s real accent…the list is endless. And yet they chose to go with the usual and banal ‘magically poor india celebrating life by throwing colours at each other’ theme.

At this point I took the onus on myself. And hence after minutes of shuffling for real india video footage from youtube I cobbled up the music video preview for what the video should’ve been. This ladies and gentlemen is the worldwide release for this video so please stay calm!

Hymn for the Weekend (Real Version) from Ajay Menon on Vimeo.

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