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Bollywood And The Diaspora: Namastey London

April 12, 2011 | By

Namastey London offers intriguing insights into the hypocrisy of NRIs, who raise their children as products of their new environment.

Namastey London (Movie, DVD) is available on FlipkartThe Indian diaspora is possibly the fastest growing one in the world. It is roughly estimated at about 11 million – 1. 7 million in Europe, with about 1.2 million in Great Britain, 2.8 million in Africa, 4.2 million in the Middle East and 2.7 million in the United States among other countries.

The Indian diaspora is marked by two phases – the earlier, older diaspora that was characterized by the migration of indentured labour to the colonies and the later, the more recent one that is characterized by a voluntary migration largely due to better economic opportunities that the West affords.

It is this later diaspora, the NRI, the upwardly mobile, that is now an important market of popular Hindi cinema and also a site for its production. A recent case in point would be the greater box office success of My Name is Khan in the overseas market than the success it had in India. The new diaspora has closer links with the homeland, whether it is the diaspora population in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia.

Popular Hindi cinema has been a major factor in recreating India abroad. Bollywood films have a wide viewership overseas and are seen not only on home videos and cable but also in cinema halls. They even feature regularly among the top ten grosses on the UK film charts. Films like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994), Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) have been major box office successes overseas.

Bollywood cinema has often recreated its own version of the diaspora. Vijay Mishra in Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire (Routledge, London and New York, 2002) says that Yash Chopra’s Lamhe (1991), though not exactly about the diaspora, makes a point that diasporic subjects are not bound by Indian social norms (p. 249). Mishra considers Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge as a “seminal text about diasporic representation and consumption of Indian popular culture” and is of the view that its success in the Indian diaspora is due “to the ways in which it reprojects the diasporic subject by first internalizing him or her” (p. 250) The east/west binary is seen in Manoj Kumar’s Purab Aur Paschim (1970). Vipul Amritlal Shah’s Namastey London (2007) is a reworking of this theme.

She has a sense of independence, is a young working lady, enjoys partying and shocks prospective grooms when she turns up all Indian in her attire but then guzzles on vodka to the utter amazement of the young man.

She has a sense of independence, is a young working lady, enjoys partying and shocks prospective grooms when she turns up all Indian in her attire but then guzzles on vodka to the utter amazement of the young man.

It is a commonplace in Bollywood that the West represents all that is decadent while India stand for the pure, pristine, the good, and so on. Innumerable Hindi films have depicted this so often that this is now a cliché. Hindi cinema loves the contrast afforded by the lush green fields of Punjab, the huge havelis with aunts, uncles, children, all living in a wonderful camaraderie and the westernized lifestyle the west offers. London has been a backdrop for countless Bollywood films, but more often than not it is the landmarks of London rather that the locals that take centre stage.

In Vipul Shah’s Namastey London a hunky Punjabi farmer (Akshay Kumar) flies over to London to win the heart of his British Asian wife. The prominent themes in this film are the clash of cultures and the generation gaps are the obvious issues that surface, but the screenplay’s colonial references also plays a major part in this romantic comedy.
“I’m just the Indian father of an English daughter,” sighs Manmohan Singh (Rishi Kapoor) when confronted with his daughter’s westernized life.

His London-born and bred daughter, Jasmeet or Jazz as she prefers to be called is a young girl who is very much a Londoner. She has a sense of independence, is a young working lady, enjoys partying and shocks prospective grooms when she turns up all Indian in her attire but then guzzles on vodka to the utter amazement of the young man.

It is because of such behaviour that her father decides to take her to India and get her married to a good Indian groom. Jazz thinks of herself as British and wants to marry a man of British origin. The problem arises when her father declares that she should marry someone of Indian origin. Knowing that his daughter will never agree to such an idea, he decides to camouflage a proposed visit to India to search for a suitable boy under the guise of a tourist trip, so we have shots of the Taj Mahal, Badrinath, the Golden Temple, Haridwar and Rishikesh.

Once the tourist spots have been visited he launches into the real task that he came to India for in the first place. So, what follows is the meeting with prospective grooms, of all shapes and sizes, some weird, some strange and one deeply influenced by Ekta Kapoor’s saas-bahu serials, all resulting in a few laughs.

Finally Manmohan Singh takes Jazz to his ancestral village in Punjab. It is on the way to his village, midst lush green fields, a journey which the parents enjoy immensely but Jazz definitely does not that they encounter a young Punjabi who repairs their damaged car. We get to meet the extended family, everyone loud and happy, drinking glasses of lassi and eating rotis with generous dollops of butter, a stereotypical Punjabi homecoming, one that we get to see in many Bollywood films, like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

The young Punjabi hunk, Arjun, resurfaces here and turns out to be the son of Manmohan Singh’s childhood friend who almost immediately decides to get his daughter married off to this young man who seems to represent everything he once was. Jazz’s first reaction is to run off to London but then is advised against it by her friend. So, our poor heroine is forced into a marriage with a man who is so very different from her.

Namastey London (Akshay and Katrina)

Not one to be defeated, Arjun sets about winning her heart before she weds again.

Once back in London she dumps the husband Arjun for her boyfriend, the aristocrat Charles Brown (Clive Standon), a thrice divorced Brit, and points out to her parents that her marriage in India has no legal validity in London. Not one to be defeated, Arjun sets about winning her heart before she weds again. Jazz does get engaged to Charles and it is when Jasmeet and Arjun spend time together, as friends that Jasmeet falls in love with Arjun.

The film is full of dialogues which emphasize India’s greatness and the script is never subtle when referring to and pointing out the underlying cultural differences between the east and west. Hackneyed scenarios and patriotic speeches do not paint a very realistic picture of the Indian Diaspora or the British, who are seen sipping tea with Prince Charles when not playing cricket or hanging around Tower Bridge. Inspite of this, the repartee between Jazz (Katrina Kaif) and Arjun (Akshay Kumar) are entertaining.

It is not sure whether the main concern of the director is the generational and culture gap between the father and daughter or the confusion present in modern day relationships. The film is also ambiguous on whether its concern is about identities that are confused and insecure.

The problem with Namastey London apart from a trite screenplay as already mentioned is also the ambiguity of any genre, which seems to account for the films’ confused narrative. There are too many issues and none of them have been properly delved into. Jazz’s mother, for instance gets angry with her husband when he begins to question the upbringing of Jazz and she blurts out that she did not want her daughter to be ridiculed (the way she had been by her husband) and hence brought her up as a thorough Londoner. Manmohan Singh had married his wife on a trip to India, left her there for sometime and then called her over to London.

Thus, a simple village girl from Punjab is thrust into an alien land and asked to speak English and dress like the westerners and her attempts at trying to incorporate all this into her new life are often criticized by her husband. The climax of the movie where Jazz decides to marry Arjun is the weakest link in the entire story.

The film has another track which deals with Imran, Jazz’s friend who is of Pakistani descent and is similar to Jazz in that he too has been born and bred in Britain. He is in love with a Christian, Suzanne, which also upsets his parents and here lies the similarity with Jazz’s story.

Arjun is Jazz’s best man at her wedding to Charles. As Arjun starts to leave, he stops and turns back. He walks to Jasmeet and Charles and shocks everyone for he speaks in English and asks Charles to keep Jazz happy. It is at the point when he beings to leave, that Jazz/Jasmeet runs away from her wedding as she finally realizes that Arjun is the one she loves. The movie ends with Jasmeet and Arjun happily married, in Punjab, on a bike discussing about why Arjun pretended that he did not know English and Arjun clarifying Jasmeet’s query.

Namastey London (Katrina and Akshay)

The repartee between Jazz (Katrina Kaif) and Arjun (Akshay Kumar) are entertaining.

Namastey London offers intriguing insights into the hypocrisy of NRIs, who raise their children as products of their new environment – so that this younger generation can escape the awkwardness of adapting to new clothes and newer accents – and yet insist on Indian spouses when its time for marriage. The film treats India and Pakistan as being part of the same sub-continental mass.

But these digressions do not amount to much, because the characters driving home these points are clichés. The British are shown as insensitive snobs, the Indian-born kids are debauched smokers and drinkers and party/disco-goers just waiting to be enlightened about the glories of our 5000-year-old civilisation. The hero is a reincarnation of goodness and representative of Indian values who sees the heroine in a towel in her bedroom, and preserves her modesty by pulling the door shut.

The film abounds with such and many more stereotypes. All white people are mean to Asians. The fight of cultures is not properly treated – all the second generation immigrants do is drink, shop and party and the first generation Indian immigrants make no attempt to socialize with the natives of the country they migrate to.

The film depicts Hindu Pakistanis and Indians as brothers, and shows all Indians behaving with utmost tolerance among themselves. As usual, all these British-based NRIs are shown living in lavishly furnished homes, highly successful in business and other professions, and feeling perfectly at ease in the West, as seen in a range of other recent Bollywood films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Hum Tum , Kal Ho Naa Ho .

Namastey London was number 9 at the UK box office and was successful internationally. The story draws elements from many Hindi films like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (the sacrificing husband) and Purab Aur Paschim (the patriotism). Cinematically, the parts shot in Punjab remind one of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. The trope of return to the homeland, so very characteristic of diaspora narratives is absent in this film.

The opening visuals where the sights of London are presented suggests a sense of belonging where Asians are shown going about their work with a familiarity and could be seen as a contrast to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge where the opening shot reveals a Punjabi feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square and a voiceover saying that inspite of having lived for years in London, he is still an outsider.

What Bollywood actually presents in its treatment of the diaspora is actually a misrepresentation, a reading of the diaspora as it understands it, a reading that is wrong. I end by referring once again to what Vijay Mishra says about the way Bollywood represents the diaspora. Bollywood films, Mishra says, “comes ‘pre-textualized’, it comes with its own ideology, its own apparatuses of production.” (p. 268) Bollywood’s representation of the diaspora does not have much to do with the actual diasporic experience. In its presentation of the diaspora, what Bollywood does is replicate its “own form” (p. 269). There is nothing diasporic about Namastey London except perhaps the fact that it is located outside India and does bring in the idea of migration without addressing the other more serious issues that come up in any study of the diaspora.

Works Cited
Mishra, Vijay. Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire (Routledge, London and New
York, 2002)

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Nishi Pulugurtha is Reader in English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Kolkata. She was a UGC Research Fellow,University of Calcutta and earned her Ph.D on Coleridge’s poetry. Her post doctoral work dealt poetry written in English by Bengalis in the nineteenth century (UGCMRP). She is now working on diasporic literature and has been awarded an Associateship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.
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