Friday, 26 September 2014

Desperately Seeking Stereotypes(but Finding Fanny)

Published in The Navhind Times on 27th Sept. 2014

The release of Finding Fanny and the fact that the story is based in Goa has brought an old non-issue back to the fore: the portrayal of Goa and Goans by Bollywood. Although a couple of dozen Hindi films are shot in Goa every year, the treatment of Goa by Bollywood raises hackles time and again, like it did with Dum Maro Dum and Go Goa Gone in recent times.

Just as a reminder, Dum Maro Dum had Abhishek Bachchan playing a cop who takes on the drug mafia (which existed then, and exists now), but the fact that an attempt was made to highlight that topical issue was not the focus of criticism at all. The uproar was about a line which Bipasha Basu uttered in the movie, and those who have seen the film know very well it was taken out of context. The film – even before it was released – saw protests, and the matter was even discussed in the Assembly. Some women’s group protested and put up a banner outside INOX which said, “Bollywood b**bs coconut size, brains peanut size”, which was far more offensive than anything Goan that Bollywood has portrayed in its chequered history.

Go Goa Gone was a zombie story set in Goa, and even before the film’s release there was a hue and cry about it. “Is the director trying to show that there are zombies in Goa?” asked an ultra-sensitive Goan in a letter published in the local newspaper. He would perhaps have been perfectly happy if the zombies were in Delhi or Darjeeling. But Goa is a no entry zone for zombies.        

The French author Jules Renard once said, 'Look for the ridiculous in everything, and you will find it'. Given today’s scenario of people getting offended at the drop of a hat, I would simply replace ‘ridiculous’ with ‘offensive’ in that statement. 

As for the fuss over Finding Fanny, let me quote from an editorial in a local daily which said, “Hello Bollywood, Goans of today live in penthouses, lavish bungalows and drive Audis and BMWs too and holiday in Thailand!” which the writer no doubt considered a devastating critique of Homi Adjania’s film. That ‘Goans of today’ live such a lifestyle is indeed news to me, and perhaps to all those who are reading this. The acclaimed Konkani film Paltodcho Munis (The Man Across the Bridge) didn’t have any Audis or BMWs in it either, but some people get riled up only when Bollywood doesn’t show proper reverence for Audi-driving penthouse-living Goans.

And therein lies the problem. What exactly is the ideal or accurate portrayal of a Goan that would please everyone? Should a Goan man never be shown drinking, or a woman wearing a skirt in any film ever?  Is there an archetypal, acceptable Goan according to those who criticize Bollywood’s portrayal of this entity? Hindi films have portrayed and often lampooned communities from all over India, but I don’t quite see Tamilians or Punjabis endlessly debating how and whether they are accurately depicted in Hindi movies. 

A lot of these false notions are propagated when facts go unchecked and when people who don’t know the subject speak or write about it with more passion than sense. On social media and online forums, everyone has an opinion but very few have the facts.

If someone writes about, say, cryogenic technology, you assume the person is either an expert or has some knowledge of the subject, but that doesn’t apply to culture and certainly not to films. On this matter, everyone is an expert. It’s a myth that Bollywood stereotypes Goa, and this stereotype doesn’t originate from Bollywood but from the very people who buy into the myth without evidence. 

Fairly typical of this mindless myth-making is a piece that appeared on the NDTV website  which talks about ‘Five Goan characters you know well.’ The article is plain drivel because three of the five films mentioned in it – Baton Baton Mein (a memorable film by Basu Chatterjee set in Mumbai), Julie (the story of an Anglo-Indian family, remake of a Malayalam film - Chattakari) and Amar Akbar Anthony – have nothing to do with Goa or Goans. 

The fourth, Premnath in Bobby, is described as a Goan with a “paunch, striped skin tight shirt, a joke in the name of a lungi, a skull cap.” Now, this sounds plausibly stereotyped, until you ask yourself: “When was the last time I saw a Goan depicted in this unusual manner in a Hindi film?” Only in Bobby, obviously, because that was probably the only time such a character was shown in a Hindi movie. Premath’s Jack Braganza may be a character and his appearance is certainly striking, but how exactly is he a ‘stereotype’? 

The same applies to the fifth film, Saagar, where Kamal Hasan’s character is supposed to be typecast. Incidentally, the character’s name is Raja, but for some unfathomable reason the NDTV article lists him as a Goan stereotype. 

It is a misconception that every woman in a Hindi movie who wears a skirt is Goan, but this idée fixe exists in the minds of many. 

Julie, for instance, is the story of an Anglo-Indian family which is obviously not the same thing as a Goan family. This fallacious identification of Indian Christians with ‘Goans’ is a trope that doesn’t necessarily have currency outside Goa. (There are Peters, Roberts, Monas and Lilys from Mangalore to Mizoram, but this is conveniently overlooked, not least by those who criticize Bollywood). 

It is also a fact that there was a time when Hindi films gave the impression there were only Christians in Goa or, at least, that Goa was a Catholic dominated state. This impression, unfortunately, continues to remain in the minds of people who are not in sync with either Hindi films or reality.]

True, Bollywood is not particular known for doing a great deal of research, but if you go by the malcontents’ view, you would think they are all out gunning for Goans. The least Homi Adajania and his co-screen writer Kersi Khambatta could do is, spent a few months, learning, respecting and appreciating Goan culture and civilized lifestyle,’ said the editorial in the Goan daily. If only the edit writer had done a bit of homework, or stayed back till the end credits had rolled to see that the film makers indeed had a consultant in Goa to ensure they got the details right. They brought on board Cecil Pinto, arguably one of Goa’s finest humor columnists – and a thoroughbred Goan – for his inputs. 

Interestingly, Cecil had written, many years ago, a very insightful piece on the subject of Goan stereotypes which you can read here

To come back to Finding Fanny, the film was conceived in 2009 and Cecil was a part of the project since then. His services were on tap during the shooting of the film in Goa. Some parts were altered and the script was fine-tuned as per his suggestions, and many new details were incorporated.  

But hey, he forgot to recommend the Audi, the BMW and the penthouse, which apparently are the hallmarks of Goa these days.    

In a dismal misconception of life in Goa, the editorial further claims, “even homemakers get their chicken and fish cleaned in the market itself” (the last time I checked, Goa also had villages, some quite like Fanny’s fictional ‘Pocolim’) and “the use of non-inverted verbs in every question like “You’re ok no, Ferdie?” and “What man?”” was ‘sickening’, as if everyone here is a descendant of the Wren & Martin family of grammarians.

The fact is that Bollywood has evolved and changed considerably. But some people, unevolved themselves, fail to observe that the world outside does not always conform to their suspicions and prejudices.  

There are several films shot or set (sometimes both) in Goa that give lie to these mythical stereotypes, but more about these films and their characters in my column next fortnight.

Published in The Navhind Times on 27th Sept. 2014

1 comment:

  1. Sachin Chatte has hit the nail on the head. It is time we all grow up and stop getting `offended' by every little (most imagined) slight on us by Bollywood.

    Frankly, I thought the movie was a sweet, lightweight comedy and it was a pleasure to watch the lesser travelled roads on a large screen. No `Goan’ person’s portrayal offended me. Indeed I wasn’t aware that Goans now dwell in penthouses and drive around in Audis and BMWs. I am guessing the author of the Editorial must though!

    And to be honest, there are innumerable stereotypes in the world. The common ethnic ones are:

    Sardarjis – dumb, swaggering with more jokes about them in circulation, a hundred times more than Clinton/Monica ever managed.
    Marathis (Ghatis) – In Bollywood – Always either Sakhubais (the household maids) and Pandus – the inept, bumbling police constables.
    Tamilians (or Madrasis, a generic term which contains all the southern states). Devout, lungi wearing, confused, forehead smeared with holy ash and given to shouting `aiyyo’.
    Parsis – (Bawas) – Shuffling old people, speaking Hindi in atrocious falsettos.
    Etc etc.

    If everytime a laugh was raised against them, the Sardarjis would be a perpetual state of war against the world, right?

    So, please, let’s just stop taking offence at some attempts to raise laughs, no matter how stereotypical `we’ are shown. Is our Goan identity so fragile, are we so insecure that every time the `Goan’ is shown as something we don’t agree with, we should feel threatened?

    Can we also start taking ourselves a little less seriously? If you want to get serious and take offense, how about picking one of the following;

    The awful state of our roads, the mature trees which are cut ruthlessly for `development’, lack of toilet and parking facilities in our cities, the mounds of garbage littering our countryside, the illegal hoardings along the roads, the weak bridges on our rivers, the cattle roaming on our streets when the cattle pounds remain empty, the traffic cops who chat away on their cell phones while the traffic around them does what it wants, take your pick.

    Come out against these real issues and stop creating a a non-issue of Goan stereotyping by Bollywood!