Stereotyping of communities in Bollywood was more prevalent several decades ago than now
Lisa Antao (DNA; March 12, 2017)

Last month, the Supreme Court refused to pass any order on a writ petition seeking a ban on jokes on Sikhs by advocate Harvinder Choudhary. Choudhary argued that the Sikh community needed a “vigorous” law to protect themselves from being the butt of jokes and asked the court to prosecute websites that carry ‘Sardar jokes’. The court questioned, “Why should the Supreme Court issue guidelines on how people should conduct themselves when they hear jokes?” and also argued that even if any order is passed, it’s impossible to implement it, asking, “Even if we issue guidelines, who will control it?”

If counted as a crime, then Bollywood has long been guilty of portraying and in the process, propagating community stereotypes. Sardar jokes and the stereotype of the goofy dim-wit Sardarji are found aplenty in countless Bollywood movies. However, in Bollywood, it’s not only the Sikh community, but also many other communities, which have been stereotyped galore. For example, the loud over-the-top

Punjabis, all South Indians are shown as idli-dosa eating Madrasis, mad- hatter Parsis, alcohol-swigging and plunging neckline-wearing Catholics to serious, argumentative rasgolla-gulping Bengalis.

Stereotyping of communities in Bollywood was more prevalent several decades ago than now. However, Bollywood doesn’t seem to be entirely purged off it. In recent years, stereotyping of communities has been done in movies like Kal Ho Naa Ho (2013), Finding Fanny (2014), 2 States (2014), Shaandaar (2015). We won’t state the obvious by naming the communities, you can do the math! We asked trade experts for their take on the subject.

A purpose for stereotyping
Amul Vikas Mohan, Editor Super Cinema says that stereotypes in Bollywood have always been there and are not limited to communities. The reason for them being there is to cater to the larger Pan-India audiences, and that they work for the movies. He explains, “Stereotyping works and it’s the reason filmmakers connect with the masses. If it’s an inside joke, everyone won’t get it. It’s never the intention of a filmmaker to hurt a particular community. Certain jokes are made about mannerisms about a particular community. For example, besides being known to be cheap, Sindhis are also known to be loud, rich, flashy and wearing lots of gold. And in the movie Shandaar, director Vikas Bahl has shown this. It made sense because everyone knows this.”

No exclusive targeting
Film critic, Raja Sen adds that there is stereotyping of communities in Bollywood movies, there are various cultural biases that tilt towards the North, which are inevitable. “However, Bollywood being an equal opportunity offender, has stereotyped various communities be it Punjabis, Bengalis or South Indians across the country. It’s not like only a particular community is being targeted. It’s nothing personal and doesn’t need to be taken so seriously,” he says.

2 States
Taking offence at the drop of a hat
Amul points out that nowadays people get offended too easily. “If a villain from a movie belongs to a particular community, it doesn’t mean that everyone has begun hating that community. Targeting a particular community is not the motive here. If there aren’t stereotypical jokes in movies, it won’t be funny for the masses,” he says.

Sen says that stereotyping has been going on for a long time now in Bollywood. However, the bigger sin is making bad jokes in movies. Being unfunny is worse than being politically incorrect. “Today, people are taking offence for anything and everything and filing PILs. In that case, even we film critics should file PILs against filmmakers for making bad jokes, bad movies and incompetence. In this quest to please everyone, freedom of speech and creativity is being curbed,” he laments.

Purely for entertainment purposes
Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor and distributor minces no words and opines that movies are made for entertainment and not for spreading social messages. “Let’s be absolutely clear that movies are not meant for education or to urge people to not to smoke, not to consume alcohol and so on. Movies are purely meant for entertainment. Take the example of displaying those ‘No Smoking’ health warnings before the screening of movies. Has anybody actually quit smoking because of those disclaimers?” he questions.

“Movies are a form of entertainment for the masses. It’s a route for escapism from reality. And let’s just leave it at that. Even these No Smoking health warnings is just tokenism. It has no impact on people. It’s unfair to microanalyse movies like that,” says Rathi. He goes on to cite examples of stereotyping of communities in movies like Kal Ho Naa Ho, of the Gujarati community and in Shandaar, of the Sindhi community in a light-hearted manner. He further adds, “In a comic scene, there’s a joke on a character and that character belongs to some community or the other. Nobody wishes to make a movie to target any community in a negative light. People need to take this with a pinch of salt! It’s entertainment after all!”

Need intelligent humour
Amul does acknowledge that filmmakers and the audience too, need to grow a sense of humour. “Having said that stereotyping does work in Bollywood, personally, I feel that it’s not the right way to go. Filmmakers today need to do away with stereotyping. They need to raise the standard of humour by cracking intelligent, smart, witty jokes,” he says, adding that today’s younger audience is into intelligent humour.