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Of Bollywood dreams in technicolour

Within the first 10 seconds of Coldplay’s latest video, ‘Hymn for the Weekend’, there are several stereotypes of India: majestic ruins overgrown with weeds, peacocks spreading their tail-feathers and sadhus in saffron robes with ash-smeared foreheads. No wonder the band was trending on social media, and not necessarily for the right reasons.

Since the release of the video on January 29 — which also features Beyoncé as a Bollywood star — they have received both flak and praise for the way they have represented India. They’ve been accused of cultural misrepresentation and appropriation, and applauded for choosing to showcase the beauty of our country. And while my Facebook timeline is flooded with angry rants about how there is more to India than Holi and that we do have malls and skyscrapers and not just slums and villages, I can’t quite agree with the consensus.

Sure, the video has its faults: we don’t walk around throwing colours at everyone all year round, we hardly have mystics floating in the air at every street corner, and we most certainly do not run in slow motion wearing lehengas (or is it a saree?), like Sonam Kapoor does in her blink-and-you-miss-it eight-second cameo. It might have been totally problematic if this was all they showed, with some elephants and snake-charmers thrown into the mix.

In the midst of these clichés, they do showcase the India that is: the bright colours that we love to paint our buildings with, youngsters illegally travelling ‘triples’ on a two-wheeler, the enterprising nature of street artists and vendors, right down to people peering out of windows when there’s a commotion outside and uncles in the background waving at any camera in the vicinity. Bharatanatyam and Kathakali dancers make an appearance, giving a glimpse of South Indian culture as well. The balcony with a charpoy that Chris Martin sits on, in the beginning of the video, is not an unfamiliar sight: anyone who has travelled even to the outskirts of a city would have seen them. The idea of India as an exotic destination isn’t so bad: after all, we do advertise ourselves as ‘Incredible India’.

Yes, Beyoncé is wearing mehendi and stars in a movie called Rani, but there’s nothing disrespectful about it. If the complaint is that she’s supposed to be an Indian, well, what about Amy Jackson, Sunny Leone, Katrina Kaif or Nargis Fakhri playing roles with decidedly Indian names. At the same time, young Indian boys are shown breakdancing, which is clearly adapted from Black/African-American culture. So where does cultural appropriation cross the line from being imitation as a form of flattery and become mockery?

In Coldplay’s case, it shows healthy appreciation for Indian culture, peppered with the idea of India as seen in the Western world. They didn’t get it totally right, but it’s a chance to create conversations and alter people’s perception of the country, one music video at a time.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 1:56:02 PM |

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