India in Hollywood Movies

By Sonali Chowdhury in Hollywood Tags: India, Hollywood, India In Hollywood, Hollywood Movies

From the classic era of black and white cinema to modern times of the superhero, India has surprisingly maintained a niche for itself throughout Hollywood’s history. Two of the earliest movies about India are The Elephant Boy and Mowgli, black and white classics starring Sabu, the first true Indian Hollywood star. Ever since then, there still have been some singular moments of magnificent inspiration as well as times of sheer frustration when we saw India through the Hollywood lens.

Here are some of the most memorable ones:

THE GOOD

Many movies choose to limit their India to a few scenic shots of Goa, Varanasi or Leh- beautiful but pointless. It is Richard Attenborough’s Oscar winning Gandhi which remains the most accurate and respected depiction of India ever. With its extended Indian cast, the exclusively Indian shoot and a brilliant performance by Ben Kingsley the movie has won the heart of every Indian who has ever watched it Classics such as Bhowani Junction and the Merchant- Ivory movies also appreciated the Indian way of life and showcased itin a real and sympathetic way.

Who here can forget Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, a movie so real and moving; that we forget that it is a Hollywood movie at all!Of the more modern movies, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was flattering in its own way, with its entire climax shot in a decidedly modern Mumbai and it’s up market and rich society (no beggars and snake charmers here!!).

And Cinema fans would do well to check out the new Dev Patel starrer The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as well, which opened to rave reviews in the UK recently.

THE BAD

There are few movies about India as downright stupid and offensive as the Steven Spielberg directed- Amrish Puri starrer Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The blockbuster depicted a strange India of magic and child sacrifice with preposterous scenes (including one where monkey brains are served in a ‘traditional’ north Indian feast!) The movie was denied permission to shoot in India and decades after its release you will still not find the movie screened on any channel in India due to its offensive content.

It is not just Hollywood. Even Jackie Chan’s The Myth starring Mallika Sherawat is an extremely sorry portrayal of the country where India in its present day avatar is more backward than the China of Jackie Chan’s centuries old past life (they could practically fly back then whereas India is still a backward kingdom with veiled girls and dhoti clad villains!)

Most Hollywood movies choose to focus on a painfully clichéd image of a India plagued with poverty and illiterate simpletons. Even the recent The Avengers depicted Kolkata as something similar to a Somali warzone. Ironically the ‘Indian’ scenes in the movie were shot in Mexico.

THE WEIRD

And then there are the strange ones. Those who defy all logic and common sense and are made with what seems like no research at all. Wes Anderson’s critically acclaimed The Darjeeling Limited is a strange tale of an India we don’t know. Trains getting ‘lost’, a Darjeeling train that runs completely in the desert near Jaisalmer and sexy train ‘attendants’ willing to jump in bed with our gora heroes, this art house flick baffles us all despite having some big names like Owen Wilson and Irfaan Khan in its cast.

James Bond’s Octopussy was another logic defying India-centric movie. With countless scenes of poverty all around including the mandatory shots of a cow in the street and a sadhu baba doing a rope trick along with a strange band of golden haired female assassins in a lake palace and a auto rickshaw chase sequence with Ashok Amritraj and Kabir Bedi made the movie a classic case of Hollywood’s myopic outlook of India.

Have we missed any portrayals of India in Hollywood? Tell us what you think about India’s interpretation by the west.

About the Author: Keeping her eyes closed, with long breaths and a gentle sound many mistake for snoring, actually helps Sonali think better. Or so she says. People question about these daily “thinking sessions”, mostly conducted on a comfortable couch or bed, while she claims that the long overdue best-seller she’s been working on (for quite some time now) will silence all the cynics. Till then she dreams on...


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