11.8.10

Racist Hollywood?

Did Dev Patel play James Bond in his first film? Has any non-mainstream Hollywood actor enacted significant roles? What is he cribbing about? He got to play a poor slum boy who appears on a reality show and wins a million. Now, he is jobless and calls Hollywood racist. There are several reasons for Hollywood to be called names, including reverse racist for weren’t there howls of protest when Angelina Jolie portrayed a part-Black woman in A Mighty Heart? It has a lot to do with the kind of films being made. Any mainstream institution will cater to archetypal ideas; if it did not, it would cease to be mainstream.

Dev says:

“Because Slumdog was such a big hit there was a lot of pressure in terms of what I did next. For my second film I wanted a role that would stretch me, but all I was getting offered were stereotypical parts like the goofy Indian sidekick. Asian actors tend not to be sent scripts that are substantial or challenging. I’m likely to be offered the roles of a terrorist, cab driver and smart geek. I want to show that I have versatility.”

If we look at Bollywood, it too sticks to the tried-and-tested formula when casting. In the few period films that are made, the White guy is invariably a caricature. What substantial roles have been given to the outsiders in India? We have had a surfeit of women from mainly East Europe and they perform the backdrop in dance sequences. This has caused resentment among what are still referred to as ‘junior artistes’ or, worse, ‘extras’. It just adds exotic value to the oomph and in some ways reflects urban India where many of them have come to work and live and end up in the party circuits as the more prized arm candies than the local girls.

I wonder who was pressurising poor Dev after the success of the film. Its female lead, who did precious little in the movie, suddenly got catapulted to the big league; adjectives flew fast and furious: she was sexy, stylish, the ‘in’ thing. To be honest, she would never have made it in Bollywood and if she has been accepted it is not because she is getting the roles as a mainstream character.

Besides, if we look at the adaptation of Indian themes in Hollywood, do they cast foreigners in those roles? Who acted in The Namesake? Most of the other films tend to capitalise on the ethnic aspect and indulge in far worse stereotypes, cramming the screen with loud clothes, over-the-top festivities, marriages, funerals, religious rites…it is like giving a guided tour of colourful India bookmarked in Lonely Planet.

One might want to know about Dev Patel’s aversion to portraying cab drivers, terrorists or geeks. Don’t they exist and aren’t they for real?

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