Indian Entertainment — Progressive or Regressive?

Movies : Abundant sources of stereotyped characters

Stereotypes aid us to “fill in the blanks” when we are devoid of the “total picture”. Over the years, minorities have achieved a long overdue media presence. Films perpetuate harmful and obsolete sexual, racial and gender stereotypes. Such standard and repetitive portrayal of certain groups of minorities has been prevalent in Indian films since its inception.

The Phantom of Stereotypes overriding Indian Film

Characters hailing from the LGBT community are shown as sexual predators or objects of ridicule; in movies like ‘Kya Kool Hain Hum’, ‘Partner’, ‘Style’, ‘Masti’, ‘Student of the year’. They are portrayed as people having a hilarious sense of fashion, devoid of public etiquette and social skills. They are also represented as horrifying villains in some films – ‘Murder 2’, ‘Sangharsh’. Muslim men are always clad in white throbs with a topi and flaunting a long beard. And Muslim women are covered in black burkhas or hijabs. Though this dressing style is true to Muslim ethnicity, not all Muslims around the world abide by it. Adding to this customary dressing style, Muslim families are shown to be narrow-minded, orthodox and strict in their mindset. For example in the films like ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘Iqbal’, ‘Veer Zaara’, ‘3 Idiots’ – characters hailing from a Muslim family are held back from pursuing their dreams and leading a happy life with freedom of choice. We often notice how people belonging to Parsi community are portrayed as comic relief; arriving in an old grand car packed with kids and steered by a bespectacled man garbed in a black conical hat. Such scenes are also seen in 21st-century films like ‘Shirin Farhad ki toh Nikal Padi’, ‘Ferrari ki Sawaari’ (2012). Bollywood movies also tend to highlight the dark complexion of South Indians while also drawing attention to their thick oily hair and exaggerated accent. In recent movies like ‘Chennai Express’ (2013), ‘Ra One’ (2011), 2 States (2014) – the South Indian characters are found to be using the phrase “Aiyoo” quite frequently. Punjabis or Sikhs are always presented as people who spend most of their time dancing, singing and of course eating elaborate meals. This is predominantly identifiable in films like ‘Jab we met’, ‘Dill Bole Hadippa’,’Vicky Donor’. There are Christians often leading a modern lifestyle accustomed to western luxuries and habits. Their dressing styles contrast the characters belonging to other communities. Example – Rani Mukherji in Black, Deepika Padukone in Cocktail, Hritik Rohan in Guzharish, Priyanka Chopra in Saat Khoon Maaf. All thanks to films, now we offer labels and tags to people who belong to certain groups with whom we have never had any contact.

The Big Picture

Media provides us with clues for shaping our thoughts and reactions towards diverse groups. Issues concerning racial discrimination, inequality and injustice still prevail in the society and the media is the key host of such an idea. Films create volumes of notions about race and ethnicity that play a significant role in shaping our understanding of race and ethnicity as part of our identity, our history, our social institutions in our everyday lives. Portrayals in the mass media affect the way people see themselves and others: when over-represented, you see yourself as gaining many opportunities, respect and popularity, but when under-represented, you see yourself as having the opposite.

The tendency of films to misrepresent visible minorities is particularly problematic in a culturally diverse country like India where more than 2000 ethnic groups reside. Films seldom include visible minority characters, and even if they are a part of the script, their behaviour and lifestyle differs from the rest of the characters and shown with an unusual aura throughout the film.

Detrimental Effects of Generalizations by the Media

Stereotyping of minorities in films prevents the mass from accepting the evolution and growth that a particular minority group has undergone. As a result of stereotyping, the audience continues to view certain sections of the public as adhering to definite conventions and confirmatory practices. We consider films are an extension of reality and accept the information we derive from films as references to our society. We try to gain knowledge about those people, places, activities, experiences and situation to which we don’t have any connection. Thus when we identify characters in films as belonging to a particular minority group, we consider those characters as representatives of the entire community at large. And since films develop the character hailing from the minority section based on stereotypes, the public learns to hold on to these stereotypes that they exposed to from films and use them to judge others. Hence stereotyping of minorities in films has only resulted in prejudice by widening the differences between communities.

Picture Credits : india.com

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