Bollywood- (the general name for the Hindi film industry headquartered in Mumbai, the erstwhile Bombay, hence the name) has been very much in the news for the last few months. It began with the death on June 14, 2020 of the rising super star Sushant Singh Rajput. Whether it was a suicide or whether he was killed remains a mystery. Several months have gone past with a flurry of activity. The Central Bureau of Investigation, (CBI) India’s premier investigative agency is still on the job and when this mystery will be solved, is at present, anybody’s guess.
However as a fallout of investigations into Rajput’s death came the arrest of Rhea Chakraborthy, the late actor’s’ live in girlfriend/partner by the Narcotics Control Board. Recently, she was granted bail by the Bombay High Court which with some strict conditions. Television channels have been talking about very little else other than the Sushant Singh Rajput case. Bollywood stars Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor were called by the NCB for questioning in the drugs case. This got a lot of media attention as did reports on national television channels about drug parties in Bollywood.
Defenders of Bollywood were quick to say a few people taking drugs should not result in the entire industry being tarred with the same brush. They accused their critics of being guilty of stereotyping . It seemed that every Bollywood party had its share of drugs, sex and what have you. Indeed the clothes worn by Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor when they appeared for the NCB investigation gave rise to a lot of comment. They were dressed the way most people are. Yet the comments came in thick and fast because that day they wore far more clothes than they are usually seen wearing!
What is stereotyping? In Simply Psychology, Cardwell calls it, ” a fixed over generalized belief about a particular class or group of people”. There could be more detailed definitions but this one, for me, is a smart summary. We have both positive as well as negative stereotypes. We have come to believe through this process that fat men are jolly and cheerful, ( have you come across any thin Santa Claus?), judges are cold sober and upright and so on. However for every positive stereotype there are innumerable negative stereotypes. For example, you may have heard that squint eyed people are devious, lawyers are only after money etc etc. Stereotypes are commonly used to characterize races, communities and professions. That’s where the troubles start.
The defenders of Bollywood forget that through their movies and sometimes their own conduct in real life, they has been in the forefront of stereotyping for decades. Perhaps now they are getting a taste of their own medicine! Through the use of social media like Twitter, ordinary people now have an opportunity to share their views. The Indian Express in January 2019 wrote of how people at large in India are calling out the stereotypes in Bollywood.
From the time I was a kid, watching Hindi movies for more than five decades I can recall how the Hindu bania was always the lecherous guy out to get his pound of flesh if the poor man ( usually a farmer) couldn’t pay back his interest on time ( leave alone the capital). The bania was prone to make advances on the womenfolk of the family indebted to him almost as a matter of right. The South Indian ” Madrasi” spoke Hindi with an atrocious accent typified by Mehmood in Padosan. The Police force usually were represented by the bumbling Havildar ( usually called Shinde) or the suave and often corrupt Police Commissioner sahib. The Army officer generally carried a big drink in hand and a bigger moustache. The Christian man was either a smuggler, drunkard, or priest while the women were promiscuous and wore short skirts. The Sardarji was an amiable fool, well meaning but the butt of many jokes. In all this the Muslim was seldom stereotyped – other than being of the Nawabi type who attended “mujras” held in his honor.
So, in India too, like anywhere else in the world, stereotypes created over the decades have taken deep roots. It is for us to realize that while there could be some characteristics we have in common with others, each of us is distinctly different. We have – every single one of us- unique personalities built on what we have inherited (nature) and what we have experienced ( nurture).
As I write this, Bollywood seems determined to make a fight of the recent goings on. Four cine associations and 34 production houses, including well- known Bollywood personalities like Aamir Khan, Karan Johar, and Farhan Akthar, have filed a case against the popular English news channels Times Now and Republic for damaging their reputation, tarnishing the image of the industry etc etc . However, the news channels seem to be ready to fight it out. Navika Kumar of Times Now tweeted ” If fighting for justice invites court cases, bring it on”. That case and how it plays out should be interesting!
In any case, Bollywood would do well to reflect on how stereotyping – used by them for decades – can also be used against them.