How Movies Affect World’s Perception Of India?

Written by: Niyati Mahale  || Graphics by: Niyati Mahale||SEO by Aarushi Mahajan

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Ever been excited to see an Indian in a Hollywood movie, only to be disappointed with the exaggerated ‘Indian accent’? Or ever waited to see the beautiful Indian cities in an English series, only to end up seeing the slums?

The human mind is designed to think, judge and have an opinion! Our perception of other people comes from what we see, what we hear, and what we feel about them. But most people gather this information only through the media exposed to countless movies, series, and images that have shaped your perception of a ninja. 

Now think of the Indian who is shown in a poor light throughout the world. It just makes us wonder: How much does the world really know about us?

The stereotypical Indian:

While Hollywood (and other English productions) have been introducing Indian characters in many of their movies and TV shows, most of us have a hard time relating to them. Worse, some of the over-done elements of their character make us cringe. Though many Indian origin actors are putting an effort into changing the way the ‘Indian character’ is played, some stereotypes like ‘eating curry’ and ‘being poor’ can leave a lasting impression (and a bad one) in the minds of non-Indian viewers.

  • The Tacky Accent

Indian actors in English movies (and non-Indian actors playing Indian characters) are often told to play up their accent. The long-drawn words, poor grammar, and adding an ‘Aiyyo’ after every sentence are some of the many ways used to make a character sound Indian enough. 

Priyanka Chopra, a well-accomplished Indian actress, revealed that Hollywood directors were not satisfied with her accent and asked her to speak the Indian way. This only goes on to show that movies worldwide are forcing the characters into a particular Indian stereotype while being reluctant to show the reality on screen.

  • Slums and poverty

We rarely see any big Indian cities in Hollywood movies. Our country is shown to lack basic infrastructure and people are shown to rejoice in poverty. The 2012 Avengers movie showed Dr. Bruce Banner hiding in Kolkata’s slums helping cure leprosy. But they conveniently decided to sideline the marvelous city of Kolkata with its well-developed infrastructure and beautiful heritage.

  • The very loooooongg names

How many of us can successfully recall Apu’s surname from The Simpsons? It was Nahasapeemapetilon. These names are neither realistic nor can be successfully pronounced without pausing in between to take another glance at them.

Another short but ignorant name was from the film Annie, where a bodyguard is named Punjab. Yes, it is an Indian state. No, we do not name anyone Punjab.

  • Other subtle stereotypes

Most Indian characters are just ‘brown’. Not wheatish, not white-skinned, just brown. Before Hollywood cast Indian actors in their movies, the American actors were brown-washed to fit the Indian role.

Another stereotype is that Indian cuisine is always spicy, and we always eat curry. There is more to Indian cuisine than just spicy curry. Look beyond, and you will find a whole variety of sweets and savories that will leave you asking for more and not give you diarrhea. 

The other stereotypes are Indians having lots of children, Indians breaking into random dances on the street, the list is endless.

Popular Indian Stereotypical Characters in the West:

There are a few characters that have found a place in the hearts of millions across the globe but have so many character flaws it simply makes us cringe. The two famous characters Rajesh Koothrapalli and Apu portray everything that is wrong with Hollywood’s perspective of India.

Rajesh Koothrapalli (The Big Bang Theory):

The immediate mental picture when someone says Raj, is that of the soft Indian guy who lacks the abilities to speak to women without alcohol. Raj has been the character that provides comic relief along with Howard(another stereotyped character). From cracking jokes on how crowded India is, to dancing on random Bollywood numbers with Bernadette, Raj is everything we don’t do in India.Instead of being proud that one of the characters in TBBT is Indian, we are left pondering over the subtle stereotypes for a long time.

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (The Simpsons):

The character of Apu was portrayed so poorly that they made a documentary out of it. The 2017 documentary titled ‘The Problem with Apu’ analyses the various scenarios where Apu was shown as the stereotyped Indian. With the exaggerated Indian accent, the long names, and having eight children, Apu has it all. The accent was so badly criticized that the voice actor for Apu, Hank Azaria, apologized to the audience and stepped down from his role in January 2020.

Is There A Better Future?

Even though Indians are made to fit in a particular image, actors like Dev Patel and Aziz Ansari are working hard to change the mindset of people around the world. This fresh perspective, if developed over a long time can slowly change the image of ‘the typical Indian’ in the eyes of non-Indians. Coming to an end, there is hope in our eyes, a hope that Indians will be attributed to intelligence and skill, to love and passion, and to strength and valor.

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