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For The Eye Of The NRI

For The Eye Of The NRI

July 13, 2011

Is Bollywood imposing boundaries on the borderless global village?

We are told that much of the success or failure of a film or tele-serial depends on whether the non-resident Indian community buys it. So in the making of such a product, there is a conscious effort to woo that audience. However in so doing, does the Indian visual media reflect contemporary reality to the non-resident community spread across the world, or does it cater shamelessly to its psychological need to be reassured that the India they left behind years ago has not moved an inch?

Thousands of people tune in to watch the serialized soaps [the ‘K’variety for example, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, Kasautii Zindagii Ki, Kkusum, Kasamh Se and so on] showing joint families living under one roof, bound by some unwritten code of loyalty to a legacy. There is of course the unmistakable matriarch or patriarch who is put on a pedestal and worshipped, the sacrificial daughter-in-law, the scheming sister-in-law, the prodigal son who is forgiven all sins of straying and invited back into the fold, the moment he shows the slightest signs of nostalgia for the savory aromas of home-cooked meals, the inane cacophony of children playing in the yard under the supervision of loyal servants, and so on and so forth. Nothing can be further from contemporary reality.

Here are some reality bytes for the dewy-eyed NRI to chew on.

In urban India, the joint family has died a natural death. It does not exist any more.

The older generations live lonely lives, either in facilities such as ‘Old-age Homes’ or in apartments that their offspring have set them up in. Living lonely lives that can at best be described as a prolonged wait for the end; they have little or no share in the daily lives of their children or grand-children. It would, however, be incorrect to thus construct an entirely sorry and marginalized image of this generation. In many instances they like it this way, valuing their individual space in their golden years and not exactly looking forward to the travails of re-parenting their grand-children, while their sons and daughters pursue the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow. The media however shies away from portraying things and people as they really are. Isolated attempts like the films, Jogger’s Park or Pyar Mein Twist fail to catch the public imagination. Instead we have a much-hyped tear-jerker called Baghban that does not fail, I am told, to roll the TRPs at every telecast.

Belying expectations created by telling titles of soaps such as Ghar Ek Mandir, in real life, generation X has given up the need to maintain the pretty picture of the happy Indian family with doting parents and cute kids. When cracks begin to show in marriages, couples are much less inhibited in modern India to go their separate ways. Separation and divorce are options now and not necessarily taboo words (the perception of stigma not entirely eradicated though). Kudos to attempts at sensitizing Indian audiences to such inescapable reality-checks by the film Life In A Metro and the mini-series Saans that aired a few years ago.

Believe it or not, to have kids or not is also an option for urban Indian couples, and not seen as an inevitable eventuality of tying the knot. More so, because living-in is fast catching up as a more hassle-free way to experience the pleasures of a conjugal life with no strings attached. Thus the ‘double-income-no-kids’ is a commonality in urban India. At the same time, single-parenting is more visible than ever before, be it a result of failed marriages or single women and men deciding to bear/adopt kids. Has the visual media come forward to embrace such contemporary themes? Well, in films like Salaam Namaste and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna we saw attempts being made but the Directors evidently lacked the courage to choose India as the locale and relocated the lead pair to Australia or the US instead, thus keeping a safe distance from the Indian attitude of ‘we don’t approve of living in sin’ that has been perpetuated by the same medium.

There are however some differences in generation Y in India and elsewhere in the world. Due to India’s huge population and relatively scarce jobs in the market, this generation is less assured of an easy life and therefore perhaps more focused on their future than their contemporaries in the West. Notwithstanding the differences, statistical data on drug abuse, drunken driving and teenage sex are on the upswing. Another remarkable development amongst this generation is the acceptance of alternative sexual orientations. Thankfully, the youth-oriented movies of recent times have been attempting to broach contemporary subjects, albeit very often in caricaturist ways. [Dostana, Wake up Sid, Jane Tu Yaa Jane Na].

The point I am trying to make is that India has also boarded the bandwagon of globalization. Therefore, it is pointless to keep on maintaining the image of this land as a haven of spirituality and family values. It is perhaps time to demystify and move on. Having said that, for the NRI, India will always be the home that s/he cherishes in her/his memories; the only plea is to learn to love the real India, with all its flaws, the India that often escapes the eye of the camera. 


  • Alfred Jones
    Alfred Jones
    16.07.11 07:00 PM

    Rest assured, the NRI community is as clear eyed about what life in India is really as someone immersed in it. In fact we're a pretty savvy lot, not exactly doe eyed atavists steeped in generational regret the moment we set foot in India. Its just that we tend to like our Indian entertainment to be completely divorced from Indian reality just like the rest of the millions that consume it back home. I'll leave it to contributors like yourself to get into the psychology behind that. But that shared sensibility for the kind of pop entertainment you're talking about is one of the things we share with our family and friends back in India. That said, the "we" I'm talking about is a very specific demographic in NRI Land - at least here in the US. My generation of professional NRIs (early 40s with young families) has a very eclectic appetite for our TV entertainment that usually doesn't include any shows produced in India. There's the occasional Hindi/Kannada/Tamil/Telugu/etc movie but that's about it. It is the older generation or two that came before us that gobbles up this stuff like its going out of style. (This is all very anecdotal of course - I'm not a social researcher and can't back it up with actual data.)

    Re your larger point that Indian shows *should* portray more of what life in India is really like, well, hear hear. But that sort of change usually happens when the economic incentives fall into place. Which for TV shows means good ratings for shows that break the mold and chart that new course.

  • varsha
    14.07.11 09:31 AM
    While I agree with your observations about soap operas and Bollywood cinema, I would not go so far as to generalise about the entire NRI or the resident Indian community for that matter. I believe that the NRI community is as heterogeneous as the residents here, and one has to agree that these movies and soap operas wouldn't be such roaring hits without a sizeable population following and watching them.
  • Susmita Sen
    Susmita Sen
    14.07.11 08:29 AM
    It is reassuring to hear that your Indian friends do not subscribe to the so called 'values' and 'culture' on sale in the soaps and movies.
    You are so right about the regressive aspect.
    Sai & Meera,
    There are a lot of good things happenning in modern India, but these are seldom the themes of such endeavours, the reason being as long as there will be demand for a certain product, the industry will respond by churning out more of that thing. So the way forward is in consciously avoiding watching these, thereby adversely affecting the TRPs.
  • Meera
    13.07.11 10:14 PM
    You are spot on! NRIs who left India years ago fail to understand that the country has moved on and it is no longer the one they left behind (or ran away from). I have relatives who live abroad and who still think that we would be crazy about " phoren" things. So they bring us lots of chocolates which are loathe to consume. The brands which were available only in those countries are very much in the market today and in terms of culture and customs too things have moved. I think Bollywood as you say has more than its fair share in keeping these myths alive.
  • Shalini Puthiyedam
    Shalini Puthiyedam
    13.07.11 12:25 PM
    Talking of family values, the ones that the soaps portray are so regressive and demeaning, that as an Indian (not an NRI)I find it abhorrent. In fact I would be surprised if the NRIs bought the message in the soaps.
  • Sairam
    13.07.11 10:11 AM
    Yes,Its high time that movies and television soaps portray reality.

    And I don't understand why such movies/soaps are so popular with Indians.
  • Ashley
    13.07.11 06:22 AM
    Preach! I mean really, it's about time SOMEONE was honest about it. My husband is Indian, and I'm American. There are many things I love about Indian culture. But let's be honest, it's no more the "purist" society than the USA anymore! Sure, in my grandparents era, society tended to uphold the traditional spiritual values here, and it's the same in India. I don't have a problem with the aforementioned soap operas really. I am just as much a fan of old American films that depict a simpler, more family oriented, seemingly more fulfilling way of life. But that doesn't mean I expect society to behave that way when the film ends. I doubt most NRIs are naive enough to believe that modern Indian society is like that either. I know my Indian friends and family here in Florida aren't. It only take one brief visit across the ocean to realize that!

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