If all the paparazzi videos from last month’s Ambani shindig are any indication, the celebs who landed in Mumbai must have been talking a lot about the charter flight back to Los Angeles. From poor Zendaya’s utter misrepresentation of her name on the red carpet (“Hey Zendaya, turn left, turn right, look center”) to Gigi Hadid being roughhoused by Varun Dhawan on stage (which she later clarified was a plan) to the sheer horror of it… of course. Americans earned their pay-days for visiting.
I hate to sound like a cynic, or someone shamed by my people, but you have to admit that our behavior around white people is often appalling. The post-colonial hangover manifests itself in one of two ways: as a complete contempt for the foreign, or as a desperate need to fit in. I have myself to blame. I don’t know how the accent works when I’m interviewing a Hollywood actor – I like to say (and I believe) that it’s an involuntary induction mechanism that comes from a place where people want to be understood. You don’t speak like us. But there’s no denying that it’s all kind of oh. I’ve read “she’s such a wannabe” comments below YouTube videos. I have no defense.
A few years ago, while interviewing Dwayne Johnson in Los Angeles, I remember being asked the token Indian question: his favorite dance move. “Horizontal hula”, he replied with a straight face. Without a moment to consider his reaction, I asked if he could show us the move on camera. He smiled: “Not today.” Pat came my (again) imprudent hint: “Maybe you’ll show it to us when you come to India.”
You couldn’t miss the muffled giggles from his team. It wasn’t until later, when I went over the chat in my head that I realized he was describing a sexual situation. Face palm. (Don’t waste your time trying to find the clip on the internet. I cut it from the interview!)
When Will Smith visited Mumbai many years ago, I remember the MC asking him to repeat a bunch of phrases in Hindi. The room was hilarious, both because of his American accent and because he was made to say stupid lines that he would never say if he knew what they meant. After Tom Cruise left India after attending the premiere of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation in 2011, he returned with a heavy heart after a major newspaper ran a story about the host studio hiring 200 ‘extras’ to pose as screaming fans. The frenzy surrounding the arrival of a global superstar. The idea of paying people to cheer for Cruise sounds outrageous, of course, but ironically it’s also a reflection of a complete ignorance of his appeal.
We Indians can get overwhelmed easily, but we know how to bounce back. After a picture surfaced of Shah Rukh Khan posing with Spider-Man star Tom Holland from an Ambani event, Shahrukh’s fans took to social media to message and tag the 26-year-old actor…or so they thought. English author and historian Tom Holland pleaded on Twitter: “Please shut it down”. Fans mistakenly tagged Tom Holland, who complained: “Looks like I have the whole of India on my timeline!”
From HT Brunch, April 22, 2023
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