India Diaspora
Up next: Shades of diaspora on Indian marquees
Mar 18, 2007 - 5:30:06 PM

New Delhi, March 18 - Even as films based on trials and tribulations of the Indian immigrant have morphed into an entire genre better known as 'desi' flicks, the depiction of the diaspora has remained largely stereotypical in the Hindi filmdom.

The difference seems blaring with 'The Namesake', an American immigrant saga by Indian-born director Mira Nair, going on the marquees in India at the same time as Bollywood production 'Namastey London'.

While Mira Nair's cinematic adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's much-praised 2003 bestseller is a thoughtfully enacted tale of culture clash that asks questions about assimilation, identity, and what we choose to call ourselves without much melodrama, the Vipul Shah film reportedly pitches western and Indian cultures against each other yet again.

'The Namesake' is among the many better 'desi' flicks and unlike the dozen others it has charmed critics in the US. Indian American Kal Penn has put in a commendable performance as Gogol alias Nikhil, the protagonist.

Kal has effectively essayed the transition from uneasiness of not belonging to the comfort in just being as his character grows into 'The Overcoat'. Irfan Khan and Tabu essay the role of first generation immigrants to perfection. Tabu excels as Ashima, who is transported into a different world immediately after marriage, goes through the identity arc and tries to fit in with American society.

Mira is superlative after she had a botched attempt at adapting literature. The expatriate filmmaker had burnt her fingers with William Makepeace Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair'. She has made a handsome comeback and fruits of her labour will be there for all to savour as the film releases in India Friday.

'Namastey London' is also slated for release Friday. The preview of the film starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif says the film will determine whether love is more about giving or taking? Whether Indian values must surrender to Western culture?

Katrina plays the role of confused London-born Jazz who loves everything Western. Her father forces her to marry Akshay. The rest of the story is dedicated in getting Jazz to see the bright side of Indian culture. If you already know the answer, then watch the film for its good-old song and dance routines.


The bourgeoning Indian diaspora around the world rarely gets a glowing representation in a Hindi film.

Starting from 'Pardes' to 'Mujhse Dosti Karoge', to 'Ramji Londonwaley' and even so-called art house films, dream merchants of Mumbai studios have depicted most NRIs as not so good compared to Indians. Invariably, they are shown as people who get cleansed when they return to their roots and once in India they never leave.

Additionally, more often than not, it takes a hardcore character from India to teach 'these Americans' what the true values of life are and how only Indians understand them. In 'Pardes', the goody two-shoes character of Arjun, played by Shah Rukh Khan, is characterised as the 'pure desi' at heart who is so moral he does not smoke or drink like the other, immoral Indian-Americans around him.

In 'Kal Ho Naa Ho', we witness Aman Mathur - coming from India and teaching Naina Kapur how to 'have fun' in her life, which consists of drinking shot after shot of hard liquor, stripping her clothes off and dancing provocatively with several men at once. When Karan Johar made 'Kabhhi Alvida Naa Kehna, his first film on adultery, he had to set it in New York.


'Namastey London' comes close on the heels of a series of movies dealing with life after marriage. Even this week's releases - 'Just Married' and 'Hattrick' - start off where most Hindi films end. Earlier release, 'Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd', was on the same lines. Hopefully, the similarities will end there.

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