Sunday, November 16, 2008

research question #7

Here's a political/cultural question from my friend Dr. Michael (anthropologist, high school teacher, fellow Fulbrighter, and keen observer of Indian cinema) (and poser of questions 1 and 3):


Kal Ho Naa Ho was a big hit in the NRI market a few years ago. It was set in the States and appeared one year after the terrible communal violence in Gujarat. The male leading character (SAK, not SRK) comes from a typical Gujarati NRI business-oriented family, and there is a scene at the wedding or engagement party where his family members sing a song about being "G-U-J-J-U...what a community." It is quite funny and intended simply to be comedy, period. [You can watch it here.] But what I am wondering is how such a number is received by non-Gujaratis. I have a feeling that many in India have a negative reaction to anything Gujarati not only because of what happened in 2002, but also because of Gujarati voters' overwhelming support for Narendra Modi in the most recent elections. Modi is not simply a BJP type nationalist; he is former RSS Hindutva extremist who many believe (or wish) could be the next PM of India. I am trying to get a "read" on how much Gujarat and Gujarati NRIs are tainted by Modi and the politics of Hindutva, or alternatively of how much pan-Indian support Modi really has - but I am inspired to ask because of the "G-U-J-J-U" scene in the movie. Many in India might not find a song about "Gujjus" being "What a community" as so funny, after all. I would love to read responses! BTW I am fully aware that non-Hindus and secularists and leftists and Congress Party affiliates loathe Modi. I am wondering how "ordinary" Indian film viewers react to that particular scene, that's all.
I'm happy to collect answers or further questions here. (And thoughts from anyone [as long as they're not troll-ish] are welcome.) I've never thought about this particular point before, but he does start me thinking about what popular Hindi cinema does to influence its primary audiences' perceptions of one another.

22 comments:

Kanan said...

I'm a Gujarati so I guess I won't get to answer the question? :P hehe.. honestly I personally am cool with such a song, it's all in jest or so I feel.

Beth said...

Kanan - Please do comment as much as you want! I'll add clarification to the post. :)

Shrabonti said...

Don't think the song raised any bad feelings towards Gujjus, don't think anything can. Their abiding image remains that of an industrious, hard-working, food-loving community with slightly weird English accents and not as marauders of life and public property. I would say what happened in Gujarat raised a lot of negative feelings towards Modi, and the BJP, sure, but not towards Gujaratis elsewhere or the Gujarati family next door or the ones on film.

Temple said...

Hi Beth - I viewed the G-U-JJ-U song as more of an affectionate send up of the characteristics of the group called Gujjus, and that it honed in on characteristics that would have been widely accepted as true in order to get the humour across. So just like my folk (the Irish-Australian mob) are stereotyped as easy going, hard drinking, funny and slightly daft etc... I saw this as a stereotype of a group of people who are very family oriented, value hard work and achievement, love to dress up and show off, and think food and social occasions are very important. So to me it had no negative connotations, just more of an in-joke that was broad enough for me to get it.

Rum said...

I agree with temple here, it was completely a fun poke, though I was like Unnhhhh at the Punjabi family that comes over, though I forgive it for giving me hiccups while laughing. Coz as I know from meeting every relative in India, us Punjabis are quite loud,brash and generally funky like me!

Anonymous said...

IMO, people in India rarely connect movies to real life and the Gujju song is no exception. It was just a fun song in a sort-of-fun movie, nothing beyond that. The general non-Gujarati perception of Gujaratis is as temple said above. Also, M.K.Gandhi's reputation being what it is, Gujjus don't have much to fear regarding public perception
:-)

Silent Melody said...

Hey Beth, while movies do help in shaping the public perception of a particular community, (I am punjabi and I should know, both the positives and negatives are reinforced) it is true that most people do not analyse a fun song too much.

And moreover, in India communal violence is mostly perceived to be initiated and sustained by politics and most of the people do not attribute such mindless violence to people as such.

And also the most common perception of Gujratis is that of simple, hard-working, non-violent and family oriented merchants. This perception has been formed over centuries and I do not think it will be tarnished by any one incident no matter how ghastly that incident was.

Amrita said...

Like others have mentioned - I don't think that song was based on the 2002 riots or was referenced by that song. In fact, I don't remember thinking about Modi even once when I saw the movie (and God knows I won't be starting a fan club anytime soon). the whole Gujju thing fits into a larger Indian narrative where difference regional communities are given nicknames associated with certain stereotypes. That song could well have been called M-A-L-L-U and talked about coconut oil and how Preity's face was as fair as the "yem-woe-yet another woe-yen" (m-o-o-n).

pawan said...

i agree with everyone on the board. it was a fun song and even though I am a modi hater, it didn't remind me of modi at all

Sizzlingtree said...

To me, the song and Modi had no connection whatsoever. In fact, until I read this question I didn't even make the connection and I suspect it is the same for a lot of people. I have had a lot of Gujarati friends and have travelled from one end of Gujarat to another by car. My impression of Gujarat and Gujarati's has always been one of hard working people who sometimes have a hard time with English. And lets not forget the food. But thats about it. Modi never entered the picture.

Sawariya said...

hi,beth-
Try to understand
I hate Bush but should i hate u?
Nnayyyyyyyyyyyy
and another thing u are idiot.
Life is short. there are hundreds of films that are waiting for u to give you a sea of pleaser, why are u wasting your time dear ?Go ,find it and Enjoy........

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I do not beleive that anyone necessarily has bad feelings about Gujratis because of Modi- they seem to be an enterprising bunch, and I doubt anyone can blame a whole community for the behavior of 1 individual- wouldnt make sense. As for the song, I doubt anyone took it seriously- joking about communities and their peculiarities is a common Bollywood attitude.

Michael A. Marcus said...

I am glad to read from the responses to my question that most "ordinary" folks do not "taint" an entire group with negativity. Perhaps I am reading too much material written by intellectuals, both in online journals and in academic journals, which does tend to equate Gujarat with Godhra. It almost seems that all sees written about Gujarat in such sources is negative, all about Godhra, Modi, and how the state is a "laboratory for Hindutva fascism." I have personally directly heard two negative stereotype comments about Gujjus; on the other hand I also recently heard a Gujju make a comment about Muslims that replicates how Nazis spoke of Jews. I do believe that the fantasy goal of the Modi-led govt. and its many supporters is to make Gujarat empty of non-Hindus, and failing that, to put them in their "proper" subordinate and submissive place. There is an awful lot of discussion about this on websites, so that also stimulated my question. If people wish to comment further, that's cool, but thanks to all for what you have written, except of course to the idiot who called my dear Beth an idiot.

Anonymous said...

The person who has pointed out that those in the rest of the world who disllike/hate "Bush" do not tarnish all americans with the same brush. I think this is an apt analogy in the case of Modi and Gujaratis.

As everyone else has pointed out that jokes/songs in hindi films about particular traits of communities is in general accepted by the audience with a sense of humour.

Indians, whether living in India or overseas seldom associate funny/ humour laden film incidents to real life poliitical situations.

On the other hand they do enjoy watching good films based on real incidents (political or otherwise) and films that focus on issues such as corruption, violence etc.

Sanket Vyas said...

Being a fellow Guju I found the song a bit goofy but not offensive in the least. I also have many Gujarati Muslim friends and find the politics of Modi generally Hitler-like in nature. However there are so many instances of Hindu/Muslim strife throughout parts of India that all states pretty much share the equally in the blame. I have friends who are from all over the subcontinent (Indian Punjabi, Pakistani Punjabi, South Indian, Rajasthanis, etc.) and we all kid eachother in good fun about the stereotypes associated with them. As a Gujarati I usually get the 'Patel Motel' and convenience store clerk jokes but like I said, it's all in good fun. No one however brings up the Godhra thing here in the states and blames it on Gujarat, just brought up as a horrible event (not even the Gujarati Muslims I know).

I just get tickled when we get a shout-out in Bollywood, even if it's a fleeting thing as in 'Mississippi Masala' or in this classic Amitabh/Parveen Barbie (I love that Beth!) tune from 'Khuddar'.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPsGYLXivm8

idiot sawariya said...

Ok, dear Michael A. Marcus and beth SORRYYYYYYYYY
very sorry.

Darshit said...

What is this>?? Where is the connection between communal violance and the song? Modi and Priety?

I don't know, where did idea came from. And to all of you, I assume anybody has been in Gujarat at all, Modi is the Best CM Gujrat has ever got. OK, NOW I M NO BIG FAN OF HIM. Even I do dislike him many times. But given his dedication to development of the state, he surely is going to stay.

Dear Beth, Gujju song, made no harm to community, too. Its so much fun actually. Don't we see Punjabi jokes here, there and everywhere? Just like that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what is said about the song not reflecting negatively on the Gujjus.

I'm Muslim, my parents are Gujju, and in my household, we code-switch like crazy between English, Hindi and Gujarati. Dr. Michael is absolutely on the right track on what someone of my demographic would feel of Modi.

There are very few people who I believe are genuinely evil. Modi tops that list with a select few.

We the Indian people seem to want to have it both ways. So Mr. 'no big fan of him' who 'dislikes him many times' might be very forgiving if 'his dedication to development of the state' involves wiping out people of another kind. Give me a break!

I'm still waiting for people of the state to take accountability for the leader they elect. What bothers me most is that Modi still enjoys immense popularity there -- ref: the overwhelming support for him in the most recent elections. And as Sanket says, too often it's just 'brought up as a horrible event' -- okay, so it happened, let's move on and elect the same people again, so they continue to spread their hatred. Where's the rationality in this?

It's fact, not fiction, and Gujarat and to some extent, even India, has yet to wake up to it (by choice, I think, which is not surprising, because majorities always rule). It's a classic example of the risks of democracy. (Not saying it's not the best alternative, but my point is, it's not perfect).

Ironic it is that it was a member of the RSS Hindutva extremist factions who assassinated the Mahatma Gandhi, himself a Gujju who did us and still does us all proud.

Jai Hind.

Asli Jat said...

Hi,

I have been reading your blog for a while now, but don't think I have ever commented. In fact yours was the 1st blog I came across reviewing Hindi Movies from a non-Indian / western point of view. What an eye-opener it was to see such different perspectives on movies that I had grown up watching !

It led me to discover many other similar blogs like 'MemsaabStory' etc. I have even heard your interview on (I think ) the Kamla Bhatt podcast.

Anyway, coming back to this particular song from 'Kal Ho Naa Ho'. As far as I could tell, this was a tongue-in-cheek parody of how the Gujji community is perceived.

In England, where I grew up, & it looks like the States also, there is a (friendly ?) rivalry between the Punjabi & Gujrati communities & this song was just playing on that, nothing else. In this case I think Dr. Michael has read way too much into the song. It was (pardon my language) a 'piss-take' song, but one done in jest & not meant to offend too much.

Anyway, that's my two-cents worth.

Take Care & keep up the good work.


Asli Jat

P.S.
I gather from your postings also that you are a Shashi Kapoor fan. I have a documentary on Rajesh Khanna from '73 that has a brief interview with Shashi also. Also have many pics & articles. Let me know & I can maybe send over a few ...

Michael A. Marcus said...

I thank "Anonymous" for his comment and reminder to all readers of his "demographic." Of course the scene in KHNH plays on commmon stereotypes and was meant as pure humor, but it is impossible for me (outsider) to divorce popular expressions of identity and "this group vs. that group" jokes in a Bollywood film from the "hard surfaces" of the realities, both national and transnational, that the film claims to represent. Six years on, there is no acknowledgment, no reconciliation, no justice in Gujarat. Of course not: why bring it up? And that is precisely the point. Instead, official Commission inquiries at the national level and Supreme Court findings are denounced. CM NM wins overwhelming praise both in Gujarat and among Gujarati NRIs because he is a "lion" wedded to nothing other than his people and their welfare, as long as they are the right kind of people. I read right, center, and left publications and blogs and journals. I have no secular, religious, political, and certainly no "anti-Hindu" axes to grind. I am just trying to expand my understanding of Bollywood beyond the conventions of Bollywood itself. Most responders to my question insist that what I have asked about means, innocently, little or nothing, but I am not persuaded yet. I don't want Beth's blog become vituperative. This thread can die a natural death, or others may continue to respond. As an academic, I am required to keep digging. I'll stop when I have to, which may, in fact, be now as far as these blog comments are concerned. Thanks again to all who took the time to write.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow academic--I teach Indian history at a university, and did my Ph.D. fieldwork in Gujarat in 2002--I love the question. Especially since Modi is so dangerous (I saw him give a mesmerizing speech during his post-riot re-election campaign). But I think the bloggers have it right here regarding Bollywood. Gujarat's "brand name" hasn't been permanently stained by the riots, and the song merely pokes fun at insular regional identities. Don't let Gujarati NRI Hindutva donors off the hook, but more importantly don't associate all Gujjus with the tragedies of 2002--most Indians don't.

Beth, I should have said this eons before when I discovered your blog, but thanks for the entertaining and enthusiastic reviews.

Michael A. Marcus said...

Thank you again "Anonymous." You may choose to remain anonymous, but I would be very interested in sharing ideas off this blog if you agree. My professional affiliations and Ph.D require utter upholding of ethics and responsibility w/regard to information gathering. I am writing an essay about NRI Gujaratis and identity issues, and have seen/read just about everything in English that there is to see, to my knowledge, including relatively recent scholarly books, journal articles, and of course the web (including a long anti-Hindutva video on youtube which, to say the least, was eye-opening and shocking). I have attended local public events arranged by a number of different NRI associations. I have surveyed and/or spoken with about a dozen young professionals of Indian origin, I have spoken with/known a larger number of adolescents with NRI parents over the years, and am in the process of arranging interviews with some adults who have expressed a willingness to discuss things with me. The essay is not overtly political, nor meant to be. It will be completed within the next few months, it is likely to be published, and I need precisely this sort of communication in order to avoid making such egregious errors as reading too much into a funny movie song. Thanks again, this research question can now be declared "over", and thanks Beth! Michael
marcus.m@comcast.net