Thursday, 3 January 2013

Selling Stereotypes


Stereotypes are everywhere. From the first day at primary school depending on what you wear to first day of college, depending on where you sit, people judge you. They judge you for the color of your skin, the accent of your voice, the color combination of your dressing and the place you call home. It is natural. It is life.

I have been prey to my fair share of stereotypes. Tam Brahm, nerd, geek, Madrasi, ass-hole, etc. To be honest, stereotypes hurt. Each person prides on being so many things. I believe that each human being is so much more than the some of his/her parts but stereotypes do not allow for that. Stereotypes insist on reducing a person to a few crass terms. But as I said before, stereotypes are not going to go away because to judge is a primal instinct of our species.

In some ways, stereotypes can also be fun! Among friends, stereotypes often become affectionate terms of endearment! They stand for the exclusive bond we share with that person. For example, in college we used to call one of our friends as 'Thambi' (the derogatory term in NIT Trichy for a Tamilian). This was appalling because many of us who were calling him that were also Thambis, but we never used that term in a hurtful manner! Yes, if that person did something outrageously Tamil, then we will pass a remark or two but as I said before, he knew it and we knew it, it was in good humor and respect.

But when stereotypes are passed and accepted between people who don't know one another, then they become recipes for disaster.

The shocking case of Sunanda Sen in NYC chills one's bones. A man whose only fault in life was waiting for the subway train to take him home after a hard day at his copying business. Little did he know, that right behind him, an evil woman had judged him from the color of his skin and assumed him to be a Muslim terrorist. He was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time and had fallen prey to a wrong stereotype! A life was brutally crushed under the weight of stereotypes and train wheels.

Stereotypes are dangerous! They are just a stone's throw away from racism. Especially in a country like India which is a melting pot for every caste, creed, religion, color and language, stereotypes are like ticking time-bombs. As a country, we must realize that stereotypes are not worth the few moments of baseless laughter that they seem to give! Sadly, we seem to be doing the exact opposite of it! Today stereotypes sell films. From Punjab to Tamil Nadu, stereotypes are the staple for 'masala' films.

It is a pity that even the so-called Badshaah of Bollywood seems to need picking on Tamil stereotypes for his movies. No, Mr.SRK, we Tamilians do not eat noodles with curd. And we certainly do not insert ayyos into every line. And, I can't believe I am saying this, but we do not all wear lungis and go bare-chested.



Unfortunately we don't take such stereotypes at face value and often end up judging an entire race of people by such silly antics that you chose to magnify in a distorted manner.

I consider actors to be ambassadors of a country and her people to the whole world. But more importantly, you are bridges that connect people within the country. India is a diverse land with very few common themes connecting us. One of the bridges that joins us as one people is our joint celebration of talent and genius. We never cheered for Sachin as Tamils or Marathis or Bengalis. We cheered as Indians. We did not celebrate KBC for just Big B - the Hindi superstar. We loved the show for its quality and the over-whelming humility of that great man.

Reducing people to a few terms may appeal to the baser sentiments of the masses and sell you more tickets, but remember, you will never be cherished for it. Nobody will remember Rani Mukherji for her revolting Dreamum Wakupum song, instead we will cherish her poignant performance in Black.

We Tamilians love our stereotypes. We bear a man who is the grand capital of stereotypes - Rajnikanth as our mascot and our face. Even when the bulk of the country chooses to club entire races of people, each with cultures stretching backwards to thousands of years, as 'Madrasis', we just choose to shrug it off and move on. Some of us even share with a chuckle.

To conclude, in the words of that lecherous dwarf - "Let me give you some advice, bastard: Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you."

Ayyo, so my Tamil machas-a, let us-a go-a bare bodied-a with-a lungis-a to office-a tomorrow-a.



Okay? Mind it!