Bollywood’s Misconception about South Indians and other Cultural conflicts
Deepika Padukone’s Meenamma in Chennai Express is supposed to be a Tamilian. But it does not come across as a surprise to see her wearing Kerala kasavu saree in some scenes and Andhra saree in some.
People in the fictional town where the movie Chennai Express is set, speak a mix of Tamil and Malayalam and I don’t know what other languages. Using south Indian stereotypes in scripts is not a new thing in Bollywood. It has been used as a subject to instigate humor for a long time in many movies.
South Indians speaking English and Hindi in highly distinctive, exaggerated punchlines, a nerdy Tamil Brahmin are some of the most evident stereotypes in Bollywood movies. Chennai Express is just the last addition to such films.
While promoting his film Ra-One, Sharukh Khan requested his south Indian audience to see this film as he plays a south Indian and that we all would find it extremely relatable. No, we don’t find eating noodles with curd relatable! No south Indian ever would!
Often associating Tamil to some gibberish language is thought to be really funny, like you can evidently notice in Aiyya (that one film I wish Prithviraj hadn’t done). Also, the song Dreamum Wakeupum in the film is nothing less than an exaggerated visual of an 80s Tamil film.
The idea of generalizing the entire south of India is unfair to a great extent. Narrowing down citizens of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh to “Madrasis” is an age-old tradition not just in movies but in real life as well. There is a scene in Chak De India where the receptionist asks “What’s the difference between Tamil and Telugu anyway?” to which the girls reply “the same difference that you will find in Bihar and Punjab”. Exactly!
Bollywood’s idea of south India is more than 30-40 years old it seems. You don’t find actors today speaking in an atrocious accent and no, we don’t say ‘aiyyo’ every now and then. All the preconceived notions about south India will be destroyed the moment Bollywood comes to the south of India and see for itself how the culture here stands much different from that they show in their movies.
However, there have been a couple of films that attempt to see the culture and languages of the south ruling out stereotypes. Two States, Gori Tere Gaon Main would be a few to name.
This kind of cultural conflict exists not just for south Indians but also for people from Punjab and other parts of the country. If you observe any Punjabi characters you would see that they are depicted as loud and mostly un-educated. Looks like Bollywood’s idea of Punjabis and South Indians is way outdated. Similarly, a Nepali character is always a watchman (Gurkha as we call them) or a low-wage laborer.
With time, cultures change, and so should their depiction.