The Western Portrayal of India and Other Concerns

The recent music video of Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend has sparked an online row for cultural appropriation and misrepresenting India’s culture. Hence, as an 18 year old living in India, I’ve decided to write down my thoughts about the video and all the other music video shot by white people in India.

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Growing up, I had often heard the phrase “India is a land of snake charmers”. I’ve never seen a snake charmer in my entire life and I’ve lived in the country since my mom gave birth to me. But India has always been called that: A land of snake charmers, poverty, culture and colors. I’m not denying the existence of anyone of them (well…I’ve never seen a snake charmer so I don’t know about that). Everything that is said certainly has a hint of truth in it.

When I heard that Coldplay was shooting a music video in India I was thrilled. I like stuff like that. Who wouldn’t? I even liked the music video of Lean On by DJ Snake. I wasn’t even thinking about cultural appropriation or stuff like that. I was just enjoying the music video and the catchy song.

I didn’t even realize Coldplay’s MV was out until I saw a long rant of one of my friends on Facebook, slamming the video for being too clichéd. As I was curious about it, I decided to check it out and that’s when I began to think about all the other videos and movies short by westerners in India.

“So clichéd” was the first thought that came to my mind while watching the video. It had every stereotype EVER used in ANY videos shot by white people in India. Kids running around playing Holi (why are they so obsessed with holi??), sadhus walking, holi, levitating sadhus, kathakali dancers, more holi, and kid dressed as Shiva. Other than that, there was also Coldplay playing holi as kids danced around them, a 3 second cameo by Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor in a ghagra choli dress, Beyonce as a Bollywood actress called Rani, Chris Martin enjoying a movie starring Beyonce as ‘Rani’ in an age old theatre (because India doesn’t have any modern day theatres, right?).

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I’m not denying the existence of anything that was shown in the video. They do exist. And it’s different from anything you’ve ever seen, which is probably what people find attractive and exotic about India. But here’s the thing. We have things other than what India is represented as by the westerners. You must think that’s a stupid statement to make. But let me tell you about something that I was asked by a friend of mine from Britain. I was once telling him about my dislike for Subway sandwiches when he asked me, “India has Subway?”  I was just stunned. That was SUCH a ridiculous statement to make. I began an angry rant about how India had everything. Marks and Spencer, Zara, Vero Moda, Burger King etc. I couldn’t believe I had to explain this to him. I was so angry but then I began thinking that if he believes there is literally nothing in India except poverty, surely there are others who believe that as well. The mere thought makes me cringe.

I’m no patriot. There are several things wrong about this county and I’m one of the first ones to point those out. But I do live in India and there are things I love about it as well. And I think Coldplay MV captures that. Setting aside my slight problem with the stereotypes, it’s a beautiful video. I love how it captures India so beautifully. I love the song as well. And I don’t have anything against the video. It represents a reality we all know exists. But there are other realities as well. It has poverty as well as riches, age old theatres as well as modern ones, people dancing on the streets as well as people dancing in nightclubs. In other words, India is a country where several realities co-exist.

The perfect end statement to this would be the one I heard made by a girl in the Buzzfeed video about the Coldplay’s MV- “It’s like a Facebook picture that you’re tagged in. You don’t like it cause it’s not your best angle but it’s still you”.

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4 thoughts on “The Western Portrayal of India and Other Concerns

  1. Kay says:

    A very thoughtful response to the commotion over the video. One thing I quickly learned when becoming interested in other cultures was that they pretty much all stereotype and misrepresent each other, lol. I think artistically, like in the Coldplay video, stereotypes are more likely to happen because there are always certain key traits known more widely about a particular culture. Those traits are usually more well known and recognized and can easily set a scene for the viewer. Those platforms aren’t always the best to educate as to what normal life is really like.

    And most people really do have their heads buried in the sand. Few people bother to learn what other cultures are really like. It even happens to Western countries, though to a lesser degree. I know in Korean dramas, westerners and most other races are completely stereotyped most of the time. And I’ve definitely come across people who genuinely think everyone in America runs around wearing boots and a cowboy hat, lol. But things are changing all over the world, and people are slowly becoming more educated about each other. Hopefully, the understanding between different cultures will continue to improve in the future 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • amandaj19 says:

      Everyone around me was talking about the video. Some of them were really pissed off. I guess stereotypes will always exist no matter what. And yes, MVs are probably not the right platform to educate people about the right portrayal of a countries culture but as of now they do serve as something that reinforce those stereotypes.
      Setting that aside, i actually quite liked the video. So, it doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers some people i know.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lei T. says:

    You explained your stand about mispresentation of India really well. I hope people from other nation try to understand more about other country’s culture and its current state before portraying it in a very one-sided manner. I do feel the same about how other foreigners see my country and though sad as it may that some of these are true, some failed to see and appreciate what lies beneath the prejudices and misconception. That is why I love travelling, it makes me appreciate and learn about the culture and beliefs of other countries. Experience is indeed the best teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    • amandaj19 says:

      Ah thank you for your comment! Hoping people could begin to look at things differently or atleast open their minds to the possibility that everything is not as it seems.
      It’s amazing that you get to travel so much! Hoping i could do that soon as well 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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