It's not funny

Posted by Anantha | Posted in , | Posted on Saturday, June 29, 2013

When TOI had this ad of Chennai Express on the front page some time back, with SRK and Deepika in 'South Indian costume' and dark, fat lungi clad goons in the background, I said to myself  'oh no, not again'. Does the cultural stereotypes in films/ads/reality shows/daily soaps bother me? Yes, it bothers me, but as equally as any other stereotypes.

Talking about the cultural stereotypes - it equally bothers me when Hindi films have actors talking with 'that' accent when they are playing the roles of south Indians as much as a Nepali is shown as goorkha as much as a Punjabi is shown as loud and always ready-to-dance-for-a-bhangra beat or as much as a stingy Gujarati or as much as a Rasagulla and Mishti Doi craving Bengali. If these are inter-state portrayals, coming to Kannada movie, why does an old Coorgie gentleman always have to be a rifle wielding ex-army personnel with handle bar moustache and a Mangalorean has to start every sentence with 'enta maraya, manDe bechcha aagide' (an idiom in coastal Karnataka to say one is tensed) and a Uttara Karnataka guy always has to spout cuss words.

Though I never consider Rohit Shetty a 'thinking film maker', but these stereotypes irk a little when you see too much of them all around. Agree, comedy sprouts from exaggeration and the intention of many of these gags is to be funny, but these gags misfire when the exaggeration is remotely authentic and characters become mere caricatures. I know jokes are subjective, but for me it stops getting funny when the undertone is 'you are like this only' and becomes utterly funny when the undertone is 'we are like this only'. I hope that distinction summarizes what I find funny and what I find offensive. Now is the tricky question of who are 'we' and who are 'they' rather more precisely, when do 'they' become 'we' and ‘they’ fail to become ‘we’. The simplest answer I would like to give is - it's 'we' when we embrace all idiosyncrasies of all the languages and cultures across the length and breadth of India and make fun of 'our own' ethos. A good friend of mine – forget any effort to learn Kannada – he cannot even distinguish between Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam even after staying in many southern states for more than 10 years. Mind you, there is a clear distinction between ignorance and reluctance. This guy is plain reluctant. Isn't that a complete failure to understand Indianness and a missed opportunity to become 'we'? 

Enough of defining the offensive cultural gags. Let me also mention few nice playful characters where the director knew the nuances of the cultural barriers and successfully treads the tight rope walk.

1. The cultural clash of the Punjabi family and the Bong family in Vicky Donor. I found it funnier when a Punjabi friend of mine explained me some of the intricacies of the dialogues and the gestures.

2. The role of protagonist’s father ably played by Sundar Raj in the Kannada movie Pancharangi. Sundar Raj was the perfect middle class English loving Brahmin uncle, whose use of Kanglish and mannerisms are just too funny. We friends laugh our hearts out how many ever times we see that movie.

These are the ways to be funny without offending any one’s sentiments. I wish all the film makers were this sensible…

PS: Oh! by the way, read this post by one of my favorite film critic Bharadwaj Rangan which inspired me to scribble some of my thoughts on this topic.

Comments (4)

Very well put - especially the third paragraph on we and they. Can't agree more...

Thanks :)
So how is the foren country treating you guys? When will you be back?

enta maraya, manDe bechcha aagide.



He he.. :-D

Post a Comment