Longing to be a Western Bollywood Heroine

I got to see Agneepath this afternoon at a local art theater. It was amazing to see it on a big screen, in a packed house. I love the energy of the audience, the way everyone claps and cheers when the Hero comes on the screen. I’m still riding the high. I love Indian Cinema. I love the music, the culture, the clothes… It is a wish of mine to one day visit India.

A good friend and I awaiting last summer's showing of "Ready".

While Hindi films have gained a fairly large fan base in the US over the last few years (at least, I know a good number of people familiar with the term “Bollywood”, even if they’ve never seen a single movie.), I often find myself being curiously asked about my interest by Indians I encounter. Today, during intermission, I was asked by 3 people sitting near me how I was enjoying the film, if I’d seen a Hindi film before, if I was able to follow the story well. I never mind answering, I love the conversations that tend to follow – in this case it was a short discussion about how South Indian films are often remade in Hindi and it’s typically the Hindi versions that get the recognition in the US. (There’s fodder for a whole other post that I won’t go into here.)

Last time I went to see a Hindi film in the theater, I went with some friends, and I dressed in a salwar kurta and jeans. Admittedly, I felt self-conscious and wondered if my choice in attire was being well or ill received, or if I was over-thinking it. I couldn’t help but think about the words of a TA (Teacher’s Assistant) I had in college, and I still think about them. One day, in class, he read to us a poem he’d written entitled “I am not a dot”, after which he went on to talk about cultural appropriation and we had a discussion about whether it’s ok to take elements from another’s culture, how different aspects of cultures are appropriated, dynamics of power and so on. (It was actually quite interesting and enlightening.. I still have it recorded, but sadly, I need a new micro-cassette player to access it.) I also distinctly remember Madonna being mentioned, and, while these things never really have a “right answer”, I remember his distaste for the way she wore mehndi, and the way she talked about yoga. These discussions are a large part of why I’ve never donned a bindi, even as I have become more infatuated with Indian fashion and design.

I know, mirror pictures are garish. I had no other choice... really.

Despite seeing numerous positive blogs and videos and generally having been told by friends that I look good and can pull it off, my mind somehow always wanders back to the issue of appropriation. I start to dance around when I hear the tabla, and then I hear George Carlin saying, “…stick to your … polkas and waltzes, and that repulsive country line dancing shit that you do.” I get carried away in the magic of a Hindi film song, and as I close my eyes and begin to imagine myself as a heroine, sometimes I see myself merge gracefully like Heather Graham in The Guru, other times, I think I clash like Rachel Shelley in Lagaan.


Additional Reading:

How to be a white girl in Indian clothes – http://jacquelinecieslak.com/?p=1327

Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation? – http://www.the-nri.com/index.php/2010/05/whats-wrong-with-white-women-wearing-sari/

Recommended Movies (just a few, or this list would never end!):

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Ghajini (There’s a Hindi version and a Tamil version, I like both)


3 Idiots

Veer Zaara