I am Indian, and Bollywood does not define my culture! — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Srijita Kar
Since I came to the US, on multiple occasions I have been asked, “So do you have elephants walking around on the streets?” or “Do you actually start dancing wherever, whenever you feel like it?” My usual response is a polite no or a hearty laugh. I am pleased with people’s interest in learning my culture, but Bollywood does not define it. Just like Hollywood’s extreme action scenes, Spiderman’s existence, and remakes with newer, more unrealistic enemies,Bollywood is also just another entertainment industry. If people realize that what Hollywood offers is fiction, why stereotype other film industries? We don’t have millionaires and billionaires at every tenth step. We are a developing country with the second highest population in the world and a very high poverty level. I was once faced with the statement, “I love how they make everything so dramatic! All the crying and dancing and love scenes….” No, that does not happen in real life. No, we don’t always wear such gorgeous and heavy attire and jewelry. My culture is The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, The Geeta, The Quaran, The Bible, The Revolt of 1857, The Civil Disobedience Movement, and Independence Day. It is all the cultural celebrations that we have—Id-Ul-Fitar, Durga Puja, and Christmas. My culture is full of diversity, and we celebrate our culture by celebrating our diversity. The only way to learn a culture from afar is by making an effort to accept everything that it has to offer. Don’t isolate, because my culture is what defines me!
For all of the North Star Project Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
The North Star Project Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Duluth Denfeld High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Project Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU
Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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28 responses to “I am Indian, and Bollywood does not define my culture! — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Srijita Kar”
I felt this was a great article. I can verify myself as one who thought like most that all people from India dress like they are in bollywood movies. I guess in the past I never really knew much about the Indian culture. I’m glad I read this and I now know a little more about the Indian culture.
This essay was wonderful at showing how people can be unaware of microaggressions and how we should all strive to be more polite in our everyday interactions. I was stunned while reading this essay at the blunt comments individuals made towards the writer. My question to the writer is have you ever corrected the people who make those comments towards you in order to help educate them on what is polite and impolite to assume? Thank you for the insightful essay and best of luck in the future.
Thank you for your question. Yes, I have tried correcting people, but it is not always possible. I try my best and all I can hope for is that people remember what they learn so that someone else doesn’t have the same experience.
I would agree that your culture does not by any means define you as a human being. However; where you come from is an important piece of who you are. Do you think the media creates these stereotypes that are placed on a certain culture, or just reinforces societies underlying stereotypes that have been around for decades?
I agree that where I come from is an important piece of who I am. However, Bollywood is not a piece of who I am, just like Mean Girls is not exactly what all US girls are. My essay is just to emphasize the fact that media, even though a good start, might not always be the best source of learning a culture or its norms and people need to be more sensitive while making blunt comments as stated in the article. To answer to question correctly, media is doing both – creating as well as reinforcing. However, the creativity is what makes a successful media and creativity with some contributions from reality seems to be appreciated by many. What the media uses from reality is exaggerated for the most part and to me sometimes it seems to be so far away from reality, that it is difficult to relate.
Thank you for your comment. Please feel free to leave more comments.
I found this interesting in that I feel like most people get that Hollywood isn’t real, but it’s hard for people to expand this concept to other cultures. Sometimes it seems as if people are only stuck in fantasy when it comes to others cultures simply because they only know what they hear or see on movies.
After reading this I would really want to visit Bolleywood. Even after you laughing at the questions they asked you I’m certain that it would still be an eye opening experience for me. Thank you for your nice article.
I really enjoyed reading this article. My favourite part was, “The only way to learn a culture from afar is by making an effort to accept everything that it has to offer. Don’t isolate, because my culture is what defines me!” at the end of this submission. The reason that I like this ending so much, is that you are aware of how much (sadly) it occurs to so many peoples. I do not have a lot of knowledge about India (and multitudes of other countries and cultures) and reading this helped me understand the stereotypes that one may face. Thank you for sharing your insight; it helped broaden my own.
“Do you actually start dancing wherever, whenever you feel like it?” That was probably my favorite part of the article. The straightforward questions would have made me very annoyed and displeased with them, but it sounds like you could handle them well! It is important to remember that movies do not define a culture.
Very insightful. In this day and age many will get immersed in other cultures through their entertainment industry, so it’s very important to keep in mind that one cannot learn everything from a single source.
“If people realize that what Hollywood offers is fiction, why stereotype other film industries?” is, to me, the best line in this article. As Americans, I think we get too caught up in our world. It doesn’t matter if we know about other cultures, not just the stereotypes. Or so it seems. People should want to get to know the other aspects of the culture, and be able to ask less hurtful (in some cases) questions.
A highly insightful and honest article! I agree that there is a big difference between Bollywood and Indian culture. Bollywood is not Indian culture, it’s pop culture. As mentioned as an entertainment industry, like Hollywood, Bollywood movies tend to glamorize India – showing a make belief world of fashion, clubs and the elite. Sadly, this takes away the fact that India has a very high rate of poverty. In Bollywood films we see dazzling lights and glamour, rather than the raging slums or even the real beauty of the country.
Perhaps I am mistaken but the tone of the author seems to me one of annoyance by what she perceives as ignorance on the part of people who refer to the only point of reference they have regarding her culture, that being what they see in movies. We all have to deal with stereotypes of one kind or another so why not be grateful when another person has enough interest in us and our culture to engage us in conversation. We need not take offense when their perception of us is based on what they see from Hollywood/Bollywood, rather use it as an opportunity to separate truth from fiction. In the process you might make a new friend.
I don’t believe you are mistaken. The tone is annoyance but with good reason. Watching a Bollywood movie does not constitute genuine interest in Indian culture. If someone is only interested in Indian culture because of Bollywood, then the interest is superficial. Asking stereotypical questions shows that a person isn’t interested enough in India to look beyond the appealing, glamorous aspects like Bollywood. You make a good point about not taking offense, but it’s easier said than done if you’re receiving repetitive questions.
Really nice article! It shows we shouldn’t stereotype cultures because of what we see on tv or read about. There’s so much more to other countries and cultures than what the media shows.
Hollywood projects an image of the United States, however stereotypical it might be it is still a representation of US culture. What our entertainment industries (here in the USA or in India and beyond) produce is a projection of our cultures whether we like it or not. I agree that it is not right to judge a book (culture) by its cover (movie) but at the same time it isn’t always a negative thing. Often a film can be a window into a new interest and learning opportunity. I spent a good portion of my childhood interested in and learning about Russia and Russian history because of the film Anastasia (while not produced by a Russian company it still has its fair share of cultural stereotypes).
Culture is a complex entity. There are many different ones, and even variations within the same group. I think you make a great point, no person should be defined by one identity or stereotype. Thank you from sharing your thoughts.
Our society has developed stereotypes for different cultural groups. After reading this article I realize how much media effects the assumptions people may have about other cultural groups.
It is very true that Hollywood does not always portray realism. We may view a culture one way, based on what we are exposed to. However, having the first hand experience of visiting India, for example, would prove to be beneficial. We may then not be so quick to stereotype.
Very interesting article about stereotyping. I find it interesting that people would actually ask questions like that without realizing they could be offensive. Personally I’ve never considered movies to accurately portray a culture as the media often latches on to specific moments in time and pieces of a culture while leaving out a large amount of other parts.
I know that America is stereotyped by Hollywood as well and I think everyone would do well to actually look into a culture and place before jumping to conclusions about the people who live there.
Nice article and it’s true sometimes people forget that a country is much more than what they see in the media. In this case Bollywood is the last thing that pops in my mind whenever I think of India, there are just so many wonderful things and places I wish I could go there sometime in my life and get to know a little bit of such a beautiful country.
It is true that people sometimes forget that the media no matter what area of the world they are from will not give an accurate depiction of anything. When I was traveling in France my host family told me that their perception of the United States was that every town or neighborhood looked like the show Desperate Housewives. I’m sorry that people judge you and perceive you for this stereotype of your culture.
I believe that to some extent, the media plays a vital role in enlightening people on various elements of different cultures but at the same time, it is one’s responsibility to find out what is true and what is not. You article does a very good job on enlightening people on that fact. Thanks.
I really like how you respond to people who ask you about your culture, and i feel you are very brave for this. I really like your last comment about how your culture defines you. I have the same feeling and i hope your stay here in the United States is wonderful
I really enjoyed your article and it helped make me more aware of how common it is for someone to stereotype a culture when they have a limited knowledge about that culture. I especially liked your comparison between Hollywood and U.S. culture and then Bollywood and Indian culture.
This was a great article. This was interesting because i have definitely heard stereotypes about many cultures and makes me upset because people have no clue what is actually going on in certain countries. Movies based on a country do not define that country.
I appreciate your insight in the way you expressed how the media can reinforce stereotypes. I also tend to believe that at times the media can be very distracting and avert attention from what it truly happening around the world. Although it sounds as if many people have made disrespectful comments to you, you still remained patient and respectful with them, which I find extremely noteworthy! I was struck by the sentence you wrote, “The only way to learn a culture from afar is by making an effort to accept everything it has to offer.” You made a wonderful point about acceptance. This does not mean a person should accept everything they experience in the media as fact, because often times, it is not. However, one should be willing to take the time to open their heart and mind to new ideas so that they can appreciate people with differing backgrounds. This was a fantastic read, I learned a lot. Thank you for writing this!
Thank you for sharing! Your article really shows the problem of stereotyping when it comes to not knowing someones culture. Judging a culture by a movie or even a news article is not okay like you said, you need to look deeper into “my culture” before you judge. the main thing is to be respectful and to take time to learn more about someone’s culture before you start to stereotype. I have to say my favorite part was how someone actually asked you if you actually start dancing whenever you feel like it. Great Article!