Remember that song: ‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want, cry if I want, you would too if it happened to you!” And it has too many times. Okay so I am being dramatic but we are entering the realms of the melodramatic. Welcome to Bollywood.
I am not sure what happens to Bollywood filmmakers when they try to depict British Asian stories – you get the feeling that they have no idea of who we are or what we are. Although I have not seen the film – many people have spoken to me about the much awaited Ashwariya Rai vehicle ‘Provoked’, portraying Kiranjit Ahluwalia, an Indian woman who was married to a British Asian of East African origin. She killed her abusive husband by setting him on fire. Many have talked to me about its pockets of misrepresentation. Provoked is an important film to have been made and has raised the issue of domestic violence internationally, particularly in India. Most people who have spoken to me were taken aback by the representation of Southall Black Sisters. In the film, I am told, this group of women are shown to be sitting in pubs, drinking pints and plotting the release of Kiranjit, if only it would have been that easy!
From what I’m hearing, it appears to be such a pity that the director and producer’s of the film missed an opportunity and failed to pay homage to a group of highly intelligent and intellectual women who campaigned and brought Kiranjit’s plight to the public; they engaged a legal time, in turn they had to argue with that legal team to put crucial points forward and drive the argument, thereby helping win the case, changing British case law and made history. Hundreds and hundreds of women were outside the law courts throughout the hearing, and on the day of Kiranjit’s release the entire street was closed off. I recall news images of a sea of women walking forward in victory. Apparently in the film, there were only a handful of women at any give time.
‘I…Proud to be Indian’ is another interesting Bollywood take on British Asian experiences depicting the activities of the National Front in East London. Here we have Sohail Khan who lands up at Heathrow airport and its all down hill from there. There is a scene where an elderly Asian man is trying to catch a cab and a callous white man just walks in front, pushing the elderly Asian man out of the way, taking the cab for himself. Hmmm. Then Khan lands up in the East End amidst a group of skinheads (the producers can’t decide what kind of Nazis’ these are – but for the time frame they should have been neo-Nazis, in the film they were shown as skinheads, the hardcore types from the early seventies who took no prisoners). Anyway, to cut a long story short (excuse the pun), after a brutal attack on the local East End community, Khan stands staring at a meek and mousey local Asian population, that is the British Asians, (sometimes the Bollywood types refers to this group as NRI’s but we’ll let that one go).
Khan passionately implores this frightened motley crowd, by roaring and screaming, frothing at the mouth, imploring, begging for action: “What are you doing sitting on our butts????? You should be fighting the sons of bitches!!!! We are proud to be Indian – get up fight! Saallo!!! Fight!!! Hello Bollywood – anyone home? For a start we don’t push old frail people out of the way to get a taxi – and nor does any white person in this day and age, and if they did there would be a race riot, followed by public enquiries with huge rambling legal teams, apologies from the Prime Minister, visits to temples, gurudwaras, mosques etc. Am I being melodramatic? Sorry. But I must say that I have seen it happen in India and Pakistan quiet often – with the rich pushing the poor around because they can – no riots – no apologies. Some rich and famous Indians even drive over and kill frail old poor people and then pay the judges to get off – but these could simply be dirty malicious rumours.
Dear Bollywood, for your information, as a community we have had hand to hand combat as well as political lobbying for racial equality across the board since the 1970’s. So much so, it is now possible for you in Bollywood to cash in on tax breaks, reaping the rewards across the board, and pocketing the brown pound. Reportedly a famous Bollywood director declared not so long ago that: “I’m no longer interested in the 10 Rupee, it’s the £10 I’m after.”
But in the final analysis I don’t mind if the Indians/Bollywood need to feel whiter than white – after all one should be able to feel morally and spiritually superior from time to time – it helps deflect the fault-lines within.