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Tamil stereotyping in CE:Baradwaj Rangan

you2 IF-Sizzlerz

Joined: 26 July 2007
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Posted: 23 June 2013 at 10:47pm | IP Logged

Ayyo, Rama, what's aappening?

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Actor Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone during the trailer launch of 'Chennai Express' in Mumbai. File Photo
APActor Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone during the trailer launch of 'Chennai Express' in Mumbai. File Photo

The appropriate response to mainstream cinematic stereotyping depends on the kind of film it is

When I reviewed Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar, an update on the Heer-Ranjha legend that situates its heroine in Kashmir, a Kashmiri reader wrote back in angst: "The problem (likely only for me)... is that no Kashmiri girl would be named Heer! This sort of cultural tone-deafness is one of the reasons I haven't bothered to see the movie." Going by the feedback to the teaser/trailer of the Shah Rukh Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer Chennai Express, an entire State (or at least, its tweeting population) appears to be up in arms. People are sick of the stereotyping ' understandably so. Not every Tamilian is characterised by forehead stripes, a fondness for idlis and an accent that appears to have been gargled through a mouth full of sambar.


But then, does every Punjabi male start to shake his shoulders to the sound of an off-screen dhol as a chorus bursts into balle-balle? Is every Christian father a cheerful lush who trundles off to a portrait of the Virgin Mary after proclaiming "Hum God se baat karega, man"? Isn't there another way to evoke a blue-collar locale of Mumbai than to depict the Dionysian revelries around a giant statue of Ganesha? The answer, of course, is no ' and the question, really, ought to be framed differently. Should we care about stereotypes in mainstream cinema? Perhaps at some level we should care that these templates, in films that are going to be seen by millions, are forever going to render us ' as a community ' a certain way in the minds of those from elsewhere. But is this worth getting worked up over?

The general outrage around Chennai Express seems to revolve around the fact that a Hindi film has reduced a Tamilian to this crude stereotype. I am not defending this. All I'm asking ' rather, wondering out loud ' is whether Tamil cinema is so blameless. (I take the example of Tamil cinema because I am familiar with it, but I suspect what I say is true of other regional cinemas as well.) For the longest time in Tamil films, Malayali women wandered around in tightfitting blouses and mundus. Any North Indian was a seth, a Shylock ' and he'd speak a strange, fractured patois. But forget the depiction of these outsiders and look at Tamilians ' say, Tam-Brahms ' and the exaggeration is no less. Not every Iyer woman is trussed up in a nine-yard sari, and neither is she always a Carnatic music expert. Why, then, haven't we seen many protests against these stereotypes in Tamil cinema? Probably not many from outside Tamil Nadu watch Tamil films, and we probably sigh at the inaccuracies but don't do much else because we are making fun of ourselves. This explains the success of the Suryan FM show "Kittu Mama Susie Mami," which saddles a stereotyped Tam-Brahm with a stereotyped Anglo-Indian spouse. No one's offended. It's just a joke. But when an outsider, especially from North India, makes fun of us, we erupt in rage. "How dare you?" we seethe. "What makes you so superior?"Do the extra-loud Punjabi characters in Hindi films make sardars equally angry? I doubt it. Because there's a shared ethos. But we get offended because most of us have nothing in common with Hindi culture, and the stereotyping assumes the form of deliberate mockery: Deepika Padukone is no longer playing a character in a silly comedy ' she's the latest embodiment of the Other's longstanding attempt to belittle us.

I have mixed feelings about stereotyping. On the one hand, I am annoyed when every Tamilian in a Hindi film makes his entry in a lungi, scratching his armpits and uttering aiyaiyo. But I also don't take these films all that seriously, and I find the stereotyping in a so-called serious film like Mr. and Mrs. Iyer more galling. In the latter, I expect accuracy, pointillistic detail. In the former, I only expect entertainment, and the question ' to me ' isn't whether Deepika Padukone is authentic, but whether she can make me laugh. In other words, it all comes down to the tone of the film. Mickey Rooney's bucktoothed Japanese character in Breakfast at Tiffany's is all wrong not because he's offensive but because he's playing it so broadly in a film that's otherwise so subtle, so sophisticated. But when Monty Python, in their song "I Like Chinese," tell us "They only come up to your knees/Yet they're always friendly, and they're ready to please," the only thing to do is laugh.

Keywords: Hindi film Chennai Express, Tamil cinema, stereotypes, mainstream cinema, Indian cinema

Edited by you2 - 24 June 2013 at 12:04am

The following 3 member(s) liked the above post:


edgarwright Groupbie

Joined: 27 June 2011
Posts: 114

Posted: 23 June 2013 at 11:37pm | IP Logged
Thank god, BR for speaking up!
Vedika211 IF-Dazzler

Joined: 02 April 2008
Posts: 3066

Posted: 23 June 2013 at 11:57pm | IP Logged
This is the link to his entire blog. The newspaper article is just an excerpt.
you2 IF-Sizzlerz

Joined: 26 July 2007
Posts: 12724

Posted: 24 June 2013 at 12:00am | IP Logged
Are Tamils more sensitive?

On Pinkvilla,people had problems with the dance costume Deepika  was wearing..and that no one wears skirts in TN..But why dont theyConfused?It is now fashion,stitched sarees and ghaghra cholis are worn in south style now.Lehnga,sharara, gharara are traditional skirts worn in India..

Punjabisstill wear suits,Bengalis wear sarees their tradtional way,Gujaratis do the same..Parsis  wear differently..

As for the dance costume,who makes a big deal about garba,bhangra,Lavni etc? why the outrage?

As for the accent..How many in Mumbai talk in the Bambmiya tapori style..or say nako nako Hyderabadi style..

So,Are Tamils extra sensitive?


Edited by you2 - 24 June 2013 at 12:19am

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you2 IF-Sizzlerz

Joined: 26 July 2007
Posts: 12724

Posted: 24 June 2013 at 12:01am | IP Logged
Originally posted by dkdc

This is the link to his entire blog. The newspaper article is just an excerpt.

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