The 'first world's timeless obsession of construing 'third world' countries such as our own as filthy places swarming with mosquitoes, roaches and all sorts of creepy crawlies as well as primitive peoples that belong to a world different from the pristine ones they are so proud of, continues with Fox Searchlight's latest 'India - centric' comedy about a bunch of retired British individuals who are lured by a budding entrepreneur in distant Jaipur, Rajasthan with a dream of peaceful and exotic living in India's royal abode.
The recently released 'The Best exotic Marigold Hotel' is a classic example of how the uptight and notoriously vain native British community sees India, their one time colonial crown jewel.
The film's producers have included a couple of recognizable faces from the Indian film industry also just to connect with the vast English movie watching - multiplex visiting Indian populace.
While 'The best..' filmmakers recognize the huge potential of India as a market for their work, its a pity they willingly forget to portray a more balanced picture of my country.
The opening shots of the movie are quite funny and I did laugh a bit when the comedy was race, gender and ethnicity neutral. Well that was may be for the first 5 minutes and then you had a supposedly funny racist octogenarian who demands for a more 'English' doctor to look into her hip replacement rather than be attended by one who is available but is unqualified because of the color of his skin. Well the joke is, the more 'English' doctor is an Indian!
I really wondered, even after 3 - 4 generations of living in Britain, people of Indian origin are still not recognized as British and are still subjected to suspicion and bias, whereas in India, we easily accept many fair skinned foreigners into our mainstream without prejudice and without prior judgement. We have one literally shadow ruling us all with an iron fist and the other semi - Indian lady ruling the silver screen. Well! blimey!! we even had a Brazilian model passed off as a Punjabi girl and nobody suspected anything fishy until the secret was out. Remember "Love Aaj Kal"?
In a particular scene in the movie 'The best exotic Marigold Hotel' Dame Judi Dench's character Evelyn Greenslade's son who is accompanying her to the London airport asks her how she would contact him from India! come on! 'they do have phones over there, you know' was her reply. This made me wonder. Seriously guys! this is all you could think of? we sure have come a long way from being snake charmers and hermits! we do have telephones and not all Indians communicate through telepathy or use doves as messengers.
Another particular scene is of much intrigue, when the retired bunch arrives at Delhi, their connecting flight to Jaipur is delayed and one of them who is a retired high court judge who has visited India before decides to hitch a ride in one of those rickety private buses to Jaipur.
This scene though might have invoked bouts of laughter among the unassuming British audience, the sparsely occupied multiplex where I was watching this movie was a silent one since no one could find the joke in this one, particularly when there are excellent taxi services right from the airport or there are posh air conditioned Volvos and Mercedes Benzes doing the rounds from Delhi to Jaipur and back. After all, it is a popular tourist circuit. Why show the shitty side of India always??
Obviously the bus they travel in is overcrowded, laden with luggage. Thankfully, they did not show poultry and cattle inside or on top of the bus as is the usual case with these western film makers. Not once in the movie do they even show a glimpse of the progressive India, the real estate boom that has resulted in countless hives of apartments springing up at all places, the IT boom that has led to huge glass facade buildings and mega shopping malls, the economic revolution that has opened doors for European luxury and sports car manufacturers set up shop in India (Aston Martin set up its second shop in New Delhi after Mumbai recently & we already have RR, Bentley, JLR scurrying around Indian roads)
Well, their arrival at their promised Utopia is also mired in ridicule. They hop onto to the omnipresent Tuk Tuks. Originally of Gujarat, this desi innovation in rapid mass transit has spread across to other states of Northern & Central India as well. I guess the ageing Britishers were too vain to even acknowledge the existence of other decent modes of transport in Rajasthan's largest city.
The hotel itself is portrayed more as a cattle shed. Desperately in need of a thorough renovation and in urgent need of installation of phones, furniture and even in some cases doors to the rooms! The hapless crowd of Britishers are in for a nasty surprise when they see that their much anticipated vacation in Nirvana land is going to be a truly Himalayan experience. The overtly nice bunch decides to continue with their stay nevertheless, in the nearly dilapidated haveli turned hotel instead of reporting the fraud to their embassy or the nearest police station. Well done!
There are some pleasant snapshots in the film where the most hardcore critic of anything outside of being British, the wheel chair bound character Muriel Donnelly played by the charismatic Maggie Smith undergoes a change of heart, maybe due to the kindness of the Indian people or due to the sheer helplessness of her situation.
In one scene, Muriel is invited by a servant working in the hotel to her modest home in a slum on the outskirts of the city. The small house which is more a room is filled with more people than the furniture in Muriel's British home.
The whole movie is peppered with striking stereotypes which is too hard to swallow and makes your blood boil with anger and then quickly cools down with the realization of useless rage.
These guys will continue to make such stereotypical movies about India as long as we accept them with pseudo liberal mindsets.
I had thought this would be the end with Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay & Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire but the saga continues unabated. Maybe, India's dark underbelly will continue to haunt its people by stark portrayals of deep rooted casteism, racism, poverty & disorder in the Indian society. The popular series on mutants 'Heroes' had an Indian city set up in an American studio and was testimony to the western world's typecasting of Indian cities and its people. They showed a city what according to them was Chennai obviously with cattle roaming, but of all! people wearing Rajasthani turbans in typical South India!
I am sure everyone was critical of the portrayal of Chennai again in the doomsday movie '2012' where they show old vintage cars and cattle loitering around a small & dingy structure which is supposed to be the airport.
George Lucas's famous Indiana Jones series' second installment was based in India. The Temple of doom though shot entirely in Sri Lanka portrayed India as a land ruled over by a tantric bigot played by the indomitable Amrish Puri and where people had monkey brains for food. No wonder, the movie was banned in India and I haven't seen any movie channel ever showing this movie on Indian television ever.
I don't see one mainstream Hollywood movie doing winning an Oscar for the true portrayal of the even darker underbellies of American and European imperialist regimes and the wasted youth of those countries. I really wonder why the great Martin Scorsese has (and probably will never) not won any academy award for his excellent works. Maybe because he dared to show the truth. The dirty side of a world that only shows its best side to the other part of the world.
The best possible to stop these tongues wagging is to bring about a drastic change in the way we exist as a nation. Give them no chance to point fingers. I don't see any western filmmaker worth his salt make a movie about the hardships the Chinese face under the oppressive rule of the communist regime, about the nefarious schemes of the zionist regime nor do I see the ill fate of immigrants living in America's staunchest ally in the Arab world, the kingdom of the Sauds.
What is laudable are the works of Michael Moore. He has been a crusader of sorts and has been showcasing in-your-face documentaries on the west's hypocrisy. His docu - dramas Fahrenheit 911 & Sicko are more of journalistic exposes.
I truly detest this censorship in film making and call for a more open minded approach towards nations who are working really hard to get recognized at world forums and have true potential to be great. I look forward to a more neutral view point of India and a more subliminal if not over the top portrayal of India's growth story.