Globally, films are one of the most prominent tools of the modern pop culture that generate diverse cultural artifacts and reflect the traditions, morals and values of any society. They are also a means of how others become aware of various cultures from all over the world. The impact of Hollywood’s hegemonic appeal worldwide penetrated in Bollywood movie industry as well and there seems to be a great impact of the American dream which is now represented in Bollywood movies as the Indian dream. The Indian dream is inspired by the American dream and the results show that NRI depictions have a great impact on culture and identity. It is investigated via the following key representations of the NRI figure: missing the motherland, Identity in general, how NRI genders are represented and the shift from traditional values to modern way of living.
In today’s contemporary world, globalization has paved a way for distant countries to be inter-related and connected through trade communication. Various media texts act as mediums for cultural inflows and outflows within and between different societal boundaries. Film is one such medium which is a mainstream and mass vehicle for globalization because movies as well as the internet act as cultural representations and symbolically speak volumes about specific locales existing in and shaped by the globalized world. Such mediums expose people in the developing countries into direct contact with the Western media products. “This causes culture imperialism which is a process by which one country dominates other countries media consumption and thus consequently dominates their values and ideologies.” It has been argued that this also causes ‘cultural homogenization’ which dangers local cultures because they may be diluted or replaced by a single ‘standard’ culture as well as result in shared ideologies and values globally. Although, reception theory tells us that the audiences are not just passive consumers or observers, they too play a major role in giving meaning to these texts, critics still argue that American values and ideologies are imposed on the rest of the world through their media texts, especially Hollywood. “The very first exposure to motion pictures for India was in the year 1896, when Lumiere Brothers’ Cinematographe unveiled short films in Bombay (Bose, 2006) Before 1920’s, almost 85% of movies shown in India were American. However, especially with the arrival of talkies in 1930s Indian film industry was able to free itself from foreign influence and produce movies within the million-dollar industry it is now that were related to Indian social and culture system which is quite impactful in itself (Nayar, 1996).
Nevertheless, one of the ideology that has had a huge impact on the Hindi cinema industry and has also been global ever since 1931 is the ‘American Dream ‘ which was a concept first introduced by a historian called James Truslow. He credited the dream with having “lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores.” Although, this dream of intergenerational mobility is shared by a huge percentage of humanity regardless of their nationality, but it is called the American Dream because when the post-cold war spending cuts left a vacuum, it was dominated by America’s greatest cultural export to the world immediately i.e. the American commercial entertainment which has successfully been an open ended inspiration for millions who related it to their own dreams and hopes for a better life. In today’s era, everywhere in the world US content is viewed on some kind of screen, may it be a movie theatre or a TV or even a smartphone. “And what appears on those screens has the power to shape foreign opinion of the American dream and what it stands for.” Other major film producing countries also produced their versions of the American dream. One such dream is often recurrently seen in the Hindi cinema i.e. Bollywood where films are made on NRIs to represent the ‘Indian dream.’
Initially, this Indian dream was represented in Bollywood via NRI figures who had moved to the US within the narrative and in order to enhance the reality of the dream, these films were also shot abroad, especially America, for a long time. However, after 9/11, the US situation became a problem for the producers. George Bush came in power and made some fundamental changes in the US Legal Rights such as the Patriot Act which bestowed the immigration authorities with immense power to deport or detain any immigrant. In the light of this law, producers and actors faced racial profiling issues visa problems and consequently Australia became the new favorite of Bollywood producers. “Paranjape points out that thematically in Bombay cinema, Australia seems to stand for a non-American or European but nevertheless advanced western even White Anglo-Saxon society. Bollywood which has usually resorted to the negative framing, stereotyping and homogenizing of the west began to show it in more complex colors.” Thus post 9/11, the concept changed to the ‘Australian dream.’ However, when Bollywood traveled to Australia, this foreign space not only offered a safer dream that is the extension of the native dream, but also represented itself as a space where these dreams come true.
Post-independence, Hindi films can be categorized in “3 main eras: Hindi cinema in the “nation-building” Nehruvian era in the 1950s, Hindi cinema during the crisis of the state in the 1970s, and Hindi cinema in the period of liberalization and satellite television after 1991 and up to present day. (Ganti, 2004: 23-43)” The Nehru-vian idea of a self-reliant nation represented the NRI figure negatively but gradually, a new vision of the nation was crucially represented by the NRI figure by portraying them as a resource of the nation in order to aid India be part of global economy which means that the NRI now is someone who inhabited the time-space of global modernity and plays part in shaping the global economy. The emphasis on representing the NRI figure as a positive, dynamic personality is one of the key cultural sites for evoking Indian traditional values, construction of national as well as cultural identity and re-inflicting the ideologies of gender, religion, class with a transnational modernism. “However, in some of the most influential, successful and trend-setting films of the 1990s and the 2000s, West with its immoral and materialistic culture is contrasted to the cultural superiority of India.”
Nevertheless, the media has consistently remained a useful tool to re-connect with Indian heritage and culture but the early portrayals of the diaspora, in the 1950s-70s were unflattering and stereotyped as outrageously wealthy cultural traitors. As Malhotra states, the NRI was seen as a materialist subject, and considered “a bit of a sell-out as s/he has supposedly abandoned his/her homeland, culture and family in order to get ahead in life” (Malhotra 2004: 26).
“During 1921, Bilet Pherat the first Bengali silent film, dealt with loss of one’s roots and the corruption of Indian values after living abroad. But the expatriate Indian did not gain currency on the big screen until 1967 with An Evening in Paris and Purab Aur Paschim.” “However, the NRI’s figure was represented as someone who belonged to the outgroup whose identity is dubious. But during the next few years, the diasporas gradually acquired a different connotation.” “This new generation of neo-traditional films combining ethnic nationalism and the praise of materialism therefore also seek to champion a patriarchal structure that idealizes the woman sublimated by either virginity or motherhood while insisting on her submissiveness. In addition, the emigrant is no longer accused of forgetting his roots and values: it is the host country or its culture that are held responsible if at all.”
The first key representation views NRI as missing the motherland. The first major Bollywood films involving an NRI figure portrayed the NRI as morally corrupted and in need of a “Mother India” symbolizing his desire to re-affiliate to the motherland, connecting himself to his cultural values. United States has always been of great interest in the Indian films and society. Mainstream Hindi film directors have explicitly indulged in American iconoclasm with broad strokes in order to show the “West” to Indian and NRI audiences globally. The allure of the “American Dream” is so attractive for some Indians that the word ‘abroad’ is sometimes used as an implicit reference to the States as opposed to the rest of the world more generally.
They second key issue is Identity in general. “Bollywood enacts India as multimedia spectacle, shows how ethnic, regional, national identities being reconstructed in relation to globalized process of intercultural segmentation and hybridization.” Some people decide to remain loyal to their roots and live their life within the traditional fence, “while the rest opt for their westernized lifestyle and not feel the need to connect with their old life at all and aspire to blend in with the new culture of their new country completely. However, these are just the two ends of the scale: “There is no longer any stability in the points of origin, no finality in the points of destination”2 and people might not only have one, but two or even more ethnic identities. The difficulties that arise from living in two worlds, adapting to two different sets of values and the question of identity.” NRI figures identity is undergoing a constant process of re-negotiation, and all this occurs within the filmic space. Now, instead of simply portraying the notions of good and bad NRIs, filmmakers began developing more complex and hybridized representations of the diaspora. “Helweg labels this position as a misconception, attributing the generation gap to media hype. He argues that an underlying respect for the migrant elders and the native culture still exists, and the family and kinship network is still strong, albeit somewhat morphed from the first generation diaspora.” Shukla offers a view that acts as the middle ground where she states that the second generation of the diaspora represents a transformed relationship to the homeland and the host country, one that is more comfortably established between two or more cultures.
The re-birth of films portraying the NRI figure into a certain light led to essentialism in the films produced 1990 onwards. There have been countless films especially in the early years of Hindi cinema where films depicted near perfect families with fully ingrained patriarchal power structures that then go through some challenges, but eventually end up together and content (Dwyer 2005: 113). The 1990s shift within the narratives has given audiences an insight into the less perfect families, usually with a single parent or foster families. Regardless of this, the great Indian wholesome family has always been placed on the higher platform. “Stuart Hall’s ideas about conceptions of cultural identity through film are important to this understanding of the representations of genders as well: he argues that identity is the product of multiple representations”
“The question of “Indian” identity as represented in new Bollywood films is thus increasingly transnational in outlook, with the meaning of the Non-Resident Indian shifting from the villain who needs to be saved from Western corruption to the new Indian aristocrat.” “The key change was to glamorize the role of the young male NRI, who in Hindi films of the 1970s and 80s was seen as selling out to the corrupt and dissolute values of the west; and to give him greater moral stature: By making him capable of becoming a national figure (i.e. subscribing to national or Hindu ideology)”
The third key issue is how NRI genders are represented within the filmic space. In the last few decades, Bollywood cinema has shifted from the orthodox understandings of moral and sexual female boundaries to emphasizing a more liberated, diasporic female figure. “The genre has traditionally found ways to restrict feminine sexuality within the confines of a nation-state, and only in a post-nation-state world, within transnational cultural spaces, can the female figure achieve some degree of liberation.” “However, Bollywood frequently uses the increasing sexuality of its films as an attempt to relate to Indian women in the diaspora, relying on the assumption that these women will only be able to relate to this hyper-sexualization.” “This is based on the notion that, by leaving India, these women have essentially left their traditional roots, and therefore are now more “sexualized,” having lost their true Indian virtue by leaving their homeland and also that the lifestyle of NRI women cannot possibly be as “pure,” “chaste,” or “traditional” as Indian society because they are too Westernized.”
“Shoma Chatterji identifies a few characteristics of what she considers to be the central characteristics of the traditional cinematic woman. First and most importantly comes the value of female chastity; secondly, if the woman suffers, it must serve a metaphorical purpose to create a resultant new reality; lastly, a fight for justice usually translates to a defense of her honor and chastity.” “Mythological conceptions of the woman also inform Bollywood’s representation of “ideal woman” figures; these conceptions extend to interpretations of not only benign figures like Sita, Ram’s obedient and docile wife, but also the powerful (Kali; Shakti).” “Violation of the woman’s chastity is a violation of her honor—which implicates the male in control of her, her husband or father, rather than the woman herself.” “Prema Kurien notes that the modern diasporic woman (if she has chosen to migrate on her own, without a male counterpart) in reality is often quite transgressive and hails from a more progressive family.” The NRI gender roles are defined in two distinct ways: “the male NRI is wealthy, an archetypal knight in-shining-armor, and most importantly, he protects female sexuality from the moral groping’s of the Western world—his female counterpart is simply chaste and often lacking personality. ”
The last key issue talks about the shift from traditional values to modern way of living: “Marriage in Indian culture is traditionally disempowering for the women, particularly in the case of arranged marriages. For most Indian women it means leaving home to serve a new family—but with the advent of migration it goes even further to imply migrating across continents for a new husband in hope of a new life.” Brides were “imported” from Hindustan to be brought abroad so that “they can serve as vessels for the transportation of Indian Values.” Therefore, two types of NRI women are represented in such movies: ” one who is independent vs the other who is a subordinate to her husband,”
herefore, in reality we see two diasporic women: one who travels independently and is therefore fiercely non-conformist, and the other who travels to follow and is subordinate to her husband. “In many modern films, especially Salaam Namaste (2005) sexuality manifests itself in the development of a more equal male-female relationship as opposed to within the hierarchy of a patriarchal system. Within these films, which follow a popular Western genre of romantic comedies, the female NRI figure at last achieves autonomy from the nation as an oppressive force; these films are post-colonial by nature because they ignore the existence of a colonial past—even of the motherland in some instances—and therefore the woman is no longer the subject of essentialist interpretations of the nation or cultural elements.” This does not mean that these films support feminism and are empowering for women, however they manage to incorporate elements of multi-culturism as well as transnationalism to a certain extent.
This study employed stratified and random sampling technique. Three methods were used: expert interview via email, focus group and online survey/questionnaire. The sample size of online survey was 30, 18 females and 12 males of different age groups so that the results can be generalized. The focus group consisted of 6 total students; 4 students of Media sciences and 2 from BBA from SZABIST. They were chosen on the basis of their knowledge and common interest in Bollywood movies because they were questioned by showing various movie clips as well as images from 4 movies: Dilwale Dulhaniya Lejaengay, Pardes, Salaam Namaste, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. This study is qualitative in nature.
Finding and Analysis
This primary research was conducted to see the representation of “Indian dream” in Bollywood movies and its effects on identity construction and culture. According to Sumera Niaz, a social psychologist “…due to globalization, maintaining one’s own culture or identity is tough because when there are opportunities worldwide for an individual, they seek it and often bring cultural artifacts of other societies with them back to their homeland.”
In order to understand what an audience feels about certain movies, without giving out the main research questions, some questions were asked to understand what these films mean to them in general. When asked about what themes the following films seem to have, 24 people seemed to think that DDLJ was a rom-com love story where in the end, love conquers all whereas only 2 people commented that it is about culture and traditions and family values and one person said the movie proves that “no matter where you are, your origin brings you peace.” The second film mentioned in the survey was Pardes. The response for the theme on this movie was quite scattered. Some seemed to think it was an “exaggeration of Indian morals and western vices” while some thought it is about traveling. While some people still thought this movie was about love and some comments said it is about “honoring your in-group people no matter which caste you belong to.” One interesting point of view said it is about “elite people taking advantage of the middle class.” Moving on to the third film, Salaam Namaste was recognized as a modern movie that targeted youth and comprised of catchy music that everyone can still hum while enjoying this romantic comedy where love bounded even a playboy figure to a lifetime commitment with the mother of his child. But the responses did not seem to think this movie was based on Indian traditions, instead, they argued that this movie is all about how “it’s cool to have a live-in relationship” vs how the “Hero leaves the Heroin after impregnating her.” The theme of fourth and it would be fair to say one of the most popular films of all times, Kabhi Khushi kabhie Gham was unanimously love, family values and strong bonds.
Secondly, it was important for the purposes of this research to understand what Pakistani audience knows about the NRI figure. When asked to describe what the abbreviation NRI means, only 12 people seemed to know the full accurate form while some thought it is something related to a bachelor man while others said it meant non represented Indians. The next step was to understand what image do these movies create when representing an NRI, it can be concluded that an NRI is “hard working, well behaved”, “either filthy rich or extremely poor with a life full of crisis”, “western with a touch of their own culture”, or “people who get very critical about the conditions of their own country”, “rich, spoilt and patriotic”, “handsome”, they are” very different from the residing Indians in attire in attitude in language” and “they are portrayed as equal to foreigners.”
The social psychologist also said that culture is an important element in contributing to a person’s identity. Due to influx of Bollywood movies as well as confused diasporas identities, it seems like there is constant exposure to one’s homelands culture as well as there are immense host culture influences thereby causing a dual cultural identity. It affects one’s sense of self as there is an inner conflict and it can be said that they are in search of a stable identity and thus when they consume Bollywood movies, especially those who want to move abroad, feel a sense of gratification from such films. According to the survey, Bollywood tries to define the luxurious lifestyle in movies that were made after the 1990s rather than focusing on the real struggles and that money and success is all there is about being an NRI. They also try to give the message of unity globally and cultural heritage. Another interesting fact was that for men the perfect partner is an Indian girl imported from India and in the same way the perfect partner for a woman is an NRI man. Some responses also pointed out that these movies reinforce the idea of Indians being better, smarter, versatile and most attractive people. Also, these movies also convey the rich Indian culture, values, customs, traditions that connects the diasporas and makes them cherish them over anything in the world.
Although movies as well as other communication possibilities have made it easy for the NRIs to stay connected to their homeland and gain satisfaction with feeling like they can maintain their self-identity, the survey asked what these NRI movies are about, 16.67% said it was about Missing ‘mother’ India, 0.00% said it was to promote Capitalism (multinational brands investing in Bollywood/India’s economy), 33.33% thought it is to promote Indian Traditions/ Culture, 8.33% think it is to promote Tourism, 12.50% said it was to show an Ideal representation of how an NRI man/woman should be and 29.17% aimed that they are Promoting the Brand “incredible India.’
When asked if they think the industry has changed its NRI representations overtime, only 12 people think there have been significant noticeable changes. Some said that the representations are now more realistic while a few responses pointed out that in the past their main focus as to restore their authentic culture and values whereas now it seems that it has faded or mixed with the western values so there is less to distinguish within the narrative. And there seems to be more tolerance in most narratives now. But on the other hand, a majority of people think that Hindi movie representations of NRIs have remain unchanged. DDLJ, according to one of the focus group members, changed the way NRI’s were represented as it painted the NRI as an ideal subject. It was all about Indian values and traditions while all the major characters lived abroad thus returning to India was not the highlighted and emphasized factor in the movie, the “NRI could remain NR and be the I that is Indian.” (Mehta 2010: 2)
Another opinion from the focus group discussion stated that the main hero of DDLJ, Raj, was first represented as someone who had immoral western traits for e.g. when he steals beer from Baldev and flaunts his flirty womanizing traits to his friends however when later Simran wakes up in Raj’s clothes after being drunk and passing out in his bed, he reassures her that he is ‘Indian” and respects women and knows the value of their honor just because the girl is Hindustani. It also is a comment on a woman’s ability to protect herself because at the end of the day, a man protected her sexual purity as if he was in charge of her. Further, every main life changing decision is being taken by men. Baldev, Simrans father decides she has to get married to an Indian man whom she has never met and later when she asks Raj to elope with her he refuses because he wants to maintain a sense of honor and agreement between two men or maybe he is the perfect self-sacrificing NRI figure who values and understand Indian morals. In the same way, Simran, when she wanted to go to the Europe trip with her friends, she had to take her father, a man’s, permission which reinstates the patriarchy in the film and in order to impress him she changes her surroundings and attire to become an ideal Indian woman and please her father so that he allows her to live her own life. Further, throughout the film Simrans mother tells her to follow her dreams but while staying in her Indian limits and so when it comes to being with Raj, she asks Simran to forget Raj and says: “When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to tell me that there is no difference between a man and a woman. Both have the same rights. But once I grew up, I understood that it was not the case. My education was stopped…. I sacrificed my life; first as a daughter and then as a daughter-in-law. But when you were born I took a vow that you would never have to make the same sacrifices as I did. I wanted you to live your own life…. Women are born to make sacrifices for men, but not the other way round. I beg you, give up your happiness and forget him the boy. Your father will never allow it.” Although here she in a way speaks against the patriarchal norms but instead she tells her daughter to submit and give into such traditions. So all the NRI figures in a way maintain an essence of India with them abroad. Women in the movie successfully remain a property of men, Baldev keeps Hindustan alive in his ability to assert his control in the house and Raj will accept her only if Simran’s father agrees to get them married. This representation of feminity is continued in another film, made 2 years after DDLJ but it steps back in the 1970s era in portraying the NRI figures so it is a major conflict between the West and the Indian nation. The films narrative revolves around Kishorlaal who is a rich NRI living in US but his heart longs for India. It can be seen in the song sequence “I Love My India,” in which he declaims, “I saw London, I saw Paris, I saw Japan…there isn’t another India in the whole world.” He however, wants Ganga, an Indian girl to marry his spoilt rich NRI son, Rajiv. “We NRIs need girls like her very badly,” he says, “we’ve pushed our kids so deeply in English books and manners that somewhere or the other even after seeing so much success we feel as if we’re failures.” It connotes that the NRI may have earned a fortune abroad but he regrets leaving the moral cultural values of India which he identifies with. Again, the girl is married off to a man she doesn’t know at all or love and he sexually assaults her and is saved by Arjun who loves her. Ganges character represents the purity of India as a nation which is also a holy site i.e. the river Ganga.
Upon discussion another most important feedback that was highlighted that the research should also include the movie Swades (2004). The title itself is about “Our Country”, however the English subtitle is about “We the People”. The character of Mohan Bhargav played by Shahrukh Khan is a fully assimilated character who is working in NASA as a scientist. In the start he is shown conducting a very reputable high-tech conference in English which doesn’t gives the idea of him being an Indian born. Soon after the character is established within the first 10 minutes of the film, his actual motivation strikes in of going back to his homeland in search of a woman Kaveri. This motivation drives this character throughout the narrative. Upon reaching back to his homeland he discovers many problems that are embedded in the Indian culture not only normative but also societal as well upon which the NRI reacts more than the resident Indians and the idea is out forward that the Indian man will stay loyal and it’s the motherland that makes him a human and touchy towards its people.
However, Salaam Namaste paints a completely different picture of NRI identities. It comments on the idea of live in relationships, premarital sex, pregnancy, children outside marriage, abortion, etc. and stirs a pro-choice and pro-life debate. Set up in Australia, Ambar is a radio jockey who speaks to her listeners as well as Nikhil in Hindi throughout the film. Nikhil however identifies himself as Nick in an attempt to westernize himself but this movie still manages to give liberty to the protagonists as to what elements they are choosing to adopt from both diverse cultures without being confused about their identities. Although, they at the end of the movie make moral choices but the fact that the consequences of impregnating an unmarried woman might be a lot less in the west than in their homeland. Ambar is an independent woman who is living in Australia on her own because she does not want to give in her liberty and submit to the patriarchal norms.
It is important to understand to what extent globalization and various representations result in cultural homogenization or hybridization and how much does it undermine cultural or national identity. There is major emphasis on west and its globalization effects on the rest of the world due to the fact that it dominates cultural hegemony and affects ethnicities and identities to a great extent. However, Bollywood industry has become impactful and its constructions and representations of the NRI seems to adhere to the dichotomy between the Western ideologies and the eastern ones. However, the representations have evolved overtime and are more liberal as well as transnational in their depictions of the diaspora.