Exception to the rule: Bollywood breaks stereotypes!

By HT

How delightful it would've been if Saif Ali Khan's character had fallen in love with Deepika Padukone's flawed one in Cocktail or if her character in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was more rounded than her glasses. Since exceptions prove the rule we list out some sweeping stereotypes that Bollywood just about managed to break.

The Madrasi

Free candy for all those who thought of Rohit Shetty's Chennai Express! (Okay, maybe Mysore Paak.) The mother of South Indian stereotypes, the Shahrukh Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer has gained much criticism for getting it painfully wrong. From Deepika's Kerala Kasavu sarees in the song Titli with Kathakali dancers prancing about in the background (still not Tamil Nadu) to her bokwass accent, the trailers have left South Indians and sympathizers seething.

From Bengalis in Bhansali's Devdas to Gujaratis in Karan Johar's Kal Ho Na Ho, the problem is endemic.

Wait, but you were here for the exception to the rule. Both Mani Ratnam and Priyadarshan get it right. But remember, they are recreating South Indian films in Bollywood.

Vikramaditya Motwane nailed the post-partition Bengali zamindar character in his recent film Lootera. Zamindar Roy Chowdhury, (Sonakshi Sinha's father in the film) played by Bengali actor Barun Chanda is every bit the feudal lord who lost everything to Independent India.

Delhi Punjabis and punjabiisms were realistically portrayed in the Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Vicky Donor. The humour, refreshingly, came more from reality than exaggeration. Anu Kapoor as the slimy sperm doctor stole the show.

The Woman

Bollywood is guilty of giving women a short shrift. From the wayward, alcohol- loving and sexually liberated woman Deepika's (stereotypically) Christian character in Cocktail turns into a salwaar-kameez wearing, shy bahu all for the love of a man.

Even 'liberated' women barely pass a test that identifies the potential of a female character in cinema. The Bechdel test is a tool that asks a very simple question: Find two women characters who talk about anything other than a man.

Take your time.

No, the woman seeking liberation from patriarchy doesn't count.

One instance could be the equation between Rani Mukherjee and Vidya Balan in No One Killed Jessica which is, for the most part, based on reality. Rani's character is also, interestingly, no-nonsense throughout the film.

The Muslim

Rachel Dwyer, a professor at SOAS, University of London writes in Critical Muslim: Love and Death, "Muslim characters in Bollywood, as it is known since the 1990s, are doomed to minor roles fated simply to represent their community and conform to a series of well-established stereotypes".

Listing all of ten sub-categories, she points out how Amitabh Bachchan's Coolie is the only film that narrowly misses the train. "Indian cinema's understanding of enlightened, tolerant Islam is best seen in Coolie," she writes.

Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor starrer Ishaqzaade's portrayal of a Muslim family is also well within the gamut of reality.

The Homosexual
The first thought associated with this stereotype would be Bobby Darling, dressed in frightening pink or blazing orange, cooing inanities in a supremely high-pitched voice. And yes, every man is attractive to her (because of course 'gays' have no taste.) But Bollywood has its moments of realism. And Dostana doesn't count.

I Am, a film that is made of four short films shows Rahul Bose playing a man who likes men. However, he doesn't squeal in ecstasy at the sight of Arjun Mathur's character. The film also makes a poignant remark on sexual abuse faced by men at the hands of police.

But, a void exists. Homosexual romance is still a political phenomenon. Normalising it in Bollywood would mean a step closer to reality. One baby step a time?

The Couple

Gorgeous, carefree and brimming with youthful energy makes the ideal Bollywood couple.

Akshaye Khanna and Dimple Kapadia made a breakthrough couple in Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai. The film also showed the conflict between friends after Akshaye's character falls in love with an older woman. Unfortunately, Dimple had to die.

Shabana Azmi-Boman Irani in Honeymoon Travels Private Limited and Dharmendra-Nafisa Ali in Life In A Metro were two Bollywood pairs who made us think that romance isn't for the young alone. Of course, Nafisa Ali also dies. Age begets tragedy? That's another stereotype.

A tongue-in-cheek film with central characters who love unapologetically and the romance is just the right amount of sweet is Cheeni Kum. Starring Amitabh Bachchan and Tabu, the film intersperses comedy with moments of sadness. The film also breaks the age stereotype effectively. Take it with a pinch of cheeni, folks!

chennaiexpressposter4.jpg