“Firrr wahi Bokwas Stereotyping???”

For the uninitiated, Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma’ is a very popular Hindi comedy caper which appears 5 days a week on Prime time and many more times through the day on SAB TV.  The long running show extolls the virtues of harmonized community living in a housing society in Mumbai. Therefore the central characters range from a Gujarati family where the husband is predictably a trader, a Maharashtrian family, a Sardar (Sikh) and Parsi couple – the Sardar expectedly runs an auto garage, a South Indian Iyer and Bengali couple where the man is a scientist and so on. The show takes stereotyping and caricaturing to Himalayan heights. The Sardar is shown as a loud, short-tempered and emotional type who breaks into a fight at the slightest provocation while being good at heart.  The Gujarati trader is shown as one who is money minded while being respectful to elders and of course good at heart. The South Indian Iyer is a scientist and supposedly intelligent, appears with a Vibhudi (holy ash) smeared face even early in the morning, talks in highly accented Hindi, drinks coffee all the time and of course is dark-complexioned.  One can excuse this daily opera as the title itself claims – “it views things with an oolta chashma”. When you are day in and day out watching this and learnt to ignore and  enjoy, other small inanities like what features in SRK’s latest journey ‘Chennai Express’ don’t bother you. But when the trailer for the same hit first and later the film hit the marquee, I could see some uproar in the online space not that these matter now as the film has more than collected its quota of crores. (Read this)

Frankly I’m not surprised by this noise. This is not the 1st time a SRK film sort of pokes at  South Indian sensibilities. We saw it in ‘Om Shanti Om – where SRK is shown appearing in a South Indian film and spitting some ludicrous Tamil dialogues like “Enna Rascala”,…,… Enna Rascala ??? In which part of South India can you hear this?? Then of course in ‘Ra One’, SRK is a Subramaniam and yes is a geek and stuffs noodles mixed with curd using his hand. And many more frivolousness like that.

The blame award for setting this stereotype of South Indians in Bollywood films and Hindi serials and therefore in the minds of Indians by and large must go to that talented comedian Mehmood in the movie Padosan. If you want one good example for comedy of errors – this could qualify well for it. Mehmood’s character is one Master Pillai (usually a Malayali surname), a Tamil music teacher who keeps saying “Aiyyaiyo”, his makeup is with ‘Pattai vibhudhi’ (lines of holy ash) and speaks Hindi in typical Andhra style. When this movie a good comedy became a super hit, no one could stop the ‘aiyyaiyo’ juggernaut since then. So much so that later in Amitabh’s Agneepath, Mithunda plays the role of ‘Krishnan Iyer YAM YAY(MA)’ and mouths Hindi dialogues in the same way as Mehmood in ‘Padosan’ and even waltz away with the National award for best supporting actor that year.  In both these cases and in fact many more to follow, film makers have just taken the easy route of painting all South Indians in one ‘Madrasi’ brush. That Hindi is spoken completely differently in the 4 states of South India seems to be a best kept secret.

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The second best award in this category must go to that Quick Gun Murugan” a character made of mostly inaccurate Andhra/Tamil/Kannada/Kerala clichés.

The response to the uproar to ‘Chennai Express’ was very much in expected lines. Why should South Indians take offence so much to this stereotyping? Don’t Hindi films regularly take potshots at Sardars, parsis, Gujjus,…,… Don’t you guys show Hindi speaking North Indians in poor light ever? So what’s the big deal in this?

My own issue is not with stereotyping or caricaturing per se. Comedy genres in general allow for stereotyping. But my appeal to all writers/ film makers whether from North or South is “For heaven sake, please do your research properly”

  • A white cloth worn by men around the waist in South India is called “Veshti” in Tamil Nadu, “Mundu” in Kerala and it’s never called a “lungi”!!! Lungi is a coloured version of the same. And both are completely different from a sartorial standpoint.
  • All South Indians are not the 24*7*52 vibhudhi smearing types.
  • “Tum aatha, mai jaatha” may be prevalent in Seemandhra/Telengana (with due respect to the upcoming new states) but not in Kerala or Bengaluru. Hindi accent varies from state to state in South India as much as Hindi dialect contrasts from Punjab to MP to UP to Bihar.
  • “Aiyyo, Aiyyaiyo” are not pan South Indian exclamations for God’s sake. They are restricted to pockets in Tamil Nadu/Kerala

I can go on and on.

Just yesterday I watched the newly released ‘Madras Café’ and came out very impressed by the whole film. Here I must add that the kind of detailing and research which have gone into casting, characterization, dialogues,… deserve special mention. Tamil characters are shown speaking in Hindi but not of the Deccan “aatha/jaatha” variety.  Of course this movie is no comedy caper.  My point is – go ahead with stereotyping and typecasting. But do that with some accuracy and after some research.  Watch out for changes happening in the horizon and don’t get stuck with age-old stereotypes. ‘Padosan’ was released in 1968 and this is 2013.  And I am a South Indian and I’m not a geek, Mr SRK.

Postscript: This was a joke narrated by a Parsi gentleman in my earlier company many years back and the joke goes like this. His brother a very accomplished chef associated with the Taj group of hotels was posted in Madras when Taj Connemara opened shop in the city. After quite a lot of research on the Tamil’s eating habits, they came up with the menu for the buffet dinner spread. Once the hotel kicked off the master chef was keen to hear people’s feedback on the food. So in the 1st few days he personally talked to patrons and what he heard was not music to his ears. They kept improving the food, dabbled with the menu,… and still the response was not exciting. Finally he decided to ask some of their own employees to taste the food and tell what is/are wrong. There he got the answer which was:

“Sir the food tastes fantastic, the spread is great, priced right but where is the thayir sadam (curd rice) Chef ??? “ 🙂 🙂 🙂

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An “I” Day ode!!!

I, mine, my family, my business, my job, my life are my priority

I want my leaders to think always about the country

I don’t want to become a leader

I get frustrated with the conduct of my leader

I don’t go out to vote on the Election Day

I feel upset on National matters when I don’t have a say

I cast my vote when I do based on caste

I am manic when my country is ranked last

I arrive at my own time

I expect my netas to be on time

I spit anywhere in the streets of Mumbai

I want my city to be another Shanghai

I don’t want to form a line when I’m in the front

I expect others to form a line when I’m behind

I jump the signal when I don’t sight a cop in my land

I follow every signal when I’m in foreign land

I bribe the cop when I get caught

I get vociferous when on corruption charges my leaders are caught

I don’t feel like following any discipline

I get angry when netas in the parliament show indiscipline

I demand world class infrastructure from my government

I burn public buses to show my ire at the government

I seldom respect women at home

I am very upset with my country’s “Woman is item” syndrome

I try my best to “save” my tax

I get irritated when crorepati businessmen “evade” tax

I yearn for my leaders to rise above petty politics

I forget that my leaders are like me

I reflect on all this on “I” Day

I forget all this the next day

I get what I deserve

I deserve what I get

Iday

Chennai Express heralding a new arrival ???

I haven’t watched the latest blockbuster Chennai Express yet. But from all reports, it is certain that it is “right on track” to set a few collection records.  SRK can now relax and breathe easy after his last few tame “derailed” outings as per his standards. Though Rohit Shetty’s pudding this time is not a rehash of a South movie (that’s what I believe), it has all the trappings of a typical masala potboiler of Tamil or Telugu.  Watching the trailer was enough to get to this supposition. This means that here’s another movie joining the now getting longer list of Ghajini, Dabang, Singham, and Rowdy Rathore, … which are basically pregnant with “Southisms” but have impressed the Bollywood movie goers by far.  Another point to note is that these have been big grossers not just in B and C Centers (Small Towns and Villages in Film Trade lingo) but also in A Centers like Mumbai, Pune, Delhi,…

That brings us to the main question I want to raise through this blog outing, which is – “Is the Angry Young Man” of yore getting back with a vengeance in Bollywood?

Salim-Javed (Salim Khan-Javed Akhtar) the famed writer duo of Bollywood is credited with the creation of the original “Angry Young Man” in Indian cinema thro Amitabh Bachchan in the 70’s. This was when the films in which they penned the screen play like Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay,… were super-duper hits and had Amitabh playing the protagonist taking on the system and not necessarily playing by the rules.  This led to many observers conjecturing that the “Angry Young Man” (let’s call it AYM) was a reflection of those times. The youths of that time were getting restless with the joblessness and issues like that and were preparing to take the system head on unlike in the past. Incidentally I must add here that in one of the recent interviews (Walk the Talk with Shekhar Gupta), Javed Akhtar candidly admitted that they had no clue that they were mirroring the society or such thing like that with their main lead characterisation and that they were frankly amused by the various theories that emerged out regarding those movies and the characters. Watch that interview here if you like.

Since it is not uncommon for movies to just follow a trailblazer, scores of films ensued with the AYM theme in Hindi with other actors as well. And not surprisingly this trend crossed state boundaries and soon we started seeing the “Angry Young Man” in Tamil (Rajnikant), Telugu (Chiranjeevi) and “even” in Malayalam (Mohanlal) (I say “even” since generally Malayalam cinema is associated with serious literary influence and low budgets) And like any trend which gets flogged to death, the AYM story also got beaten to death and soon faded out in Hindi. Another point is, by this time Amitabh Bachchan though may be angry was certainly not young!  One hears from the knowledgeable that the period (80’s) when the Angry Young Man was on his way out, was a black-out dark period for Hindi films when originality hit a rock-bottom in Bollywood. And the AYM times eventually made way for the romantic Yashraj era in the mid 90’s and with that the quintessential “I am Rahul (IAR) era with SRK bbbbbegan!!!

But this was not the case in South. The AYM never really cooled his heels. The mantle of AYM got passed on from one star to another but the theme itself never failed to reverberate with the masses. For example in Tamil movies from Rajnikant to Vijaykanth to Vijay the AYM flame continues to burn to this date. Same in Telugu.(Chiranjeevi to now his son Ram Charan Teja starring in the Zanjeer remake by the way). In Hindi the wannabe “Angry Young Man” – Sunny Deol couldn’t keep the temper alive though.

In the last few years, as I wrote in my earlier blog The “Punch”ing of Bollywood,( you can read here) a reversal of trend is seen happening. That is of South film makers, technicians and accordingly South styled films making a punching impact in Bollywood.   My point was that increasingly we could see the South way of film making in Hindi films characterised by “Punch” Dialogues (“Ek baar maine jo commitment kar di, phir main apni bhi nahin sunta”), Loud villains (Prakash Raj), Louder sickle wielding henchmen (Ghajini), lead character with a moustache (Rowdy Rathore/Singham/Dabang), unbelievable but breathtaking action sequences(Rowdy Rathore,Ghajini), Garment flapping choreography (made popular by Prabhu Deva – Just closely watch his choreography and you will notice that the dancer will flap one garment or other for sure),…,…  But one main thing I missed in that hypothesis was the presence of our “Angry Young Man” in the centre of it all.  And it is no wonder that the Southern film makers have carried along with them the long-standing successful theme out there and brought the “Angry Young Man” back to life in Hindi films!!!   

When these guys come to Bollywood and become successful, can you leave the natives behind? So you have our own Rohit Shetty who has emerged as the new champion of the AYM in Hindi cinema post Singham. As I confessed in the beginning, I haven’t watched Chennai Express yet.  But I feel that in the lover boy Rahul who is seen as prancing around that good-looking Meenamma there hides an AYM though aged 40 in SRK!!!

One of the main differences in the AYM of the past and today is that apart from being brawny our “AYM-Ver. 2.0” is brainy as well.  Hence outwitting the villain happens not just by muscle power but combined with brain power (Wanted, Singham)!!!  Oh yes, there are now a few Angry Young Men to count on and not just one! (All in their 40’s 😦 ) And increasingly my hunch is that the films with the “AYM” theme will keep setting the box office on fire.  The re-emergence of AYM again in Bollywood may be resonating with the socio political climate of our times I guess. The youth is again getting increasingly frustrated of what is happening in the country – Lawlessness, Corruption, Terrorism,…   and indeed with their helplessness to make any material intervention. The AYM themed movies give an opportunity to the youth and actually all of us to fantasize on what you want to do but unable to.  So ladies and gentlemen, in this era of increasing youth anxiety about their future and their country’s, brace yourself for a flood of movies with anger smeared all over them.  Not surprising in a world where even children are fixated with “Angry Birds”!!!

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Tail piece: In a couple of weeks from now the original “Angry Young Man” will again the hit the screens though as Angry Old Man in Satyagraha!!!  Wishing him and the film good luck!!!

And I hear that Rohit Shetty has been given Honorary lifetime membership of “South Indian Film Directors Association” 🙂 🙂

Now for the twist : It is a fact that AYM is back in Bollywood. However it may be stretching one’s imagination by far if it is attributed to Chennai Express!! But that was the intended pun 🙂 like the film’s PR team was doing in the run up to the film plugging every possible story bit (Eg – Lungi becoming a fashion trend,..,…) to promote Chennai Express !!!