Tamil Streotypes in Bollywood by Divya

Blog post by Divya Mani
Read a comment on my friend’s wall this morning, regarding how Alia was absolutely un-Tamilian in ‘2 States’ whereas Deepika did full justice to her role as a Tamilian in ‘Chennai Express’ & that comparison set me thinking.

To digress a bit here, I’m done unpacking my cartons, have set up my kitchen, decorated up the living room, done up my Poojai room & having arranged my home the way I want it – basically I’m free now and free time = FB time

Coming back to where I started, this one particular comment caught my attention because  it’s so typically stereotypical. To say we Tamilians are quite upset about our stereotyping, accent and  culture would be putting it simply. If Chennai Express stereotyped us Tamilians, it was not the first film to do so & unfortunately will definitely not be the last.

Shahrukh Khan’s apparent dream project Ra.One featured him playing a character that was a Tamil nightmare. He was being overly, typically, unrealistically Tamil. Never knew saying “aiyyo” in every second sentence, eating with hands and mixing curd in noodles were the basic requirements for playing a Tamilian on screen. Not to forget his abnormally long name. Perhaps the best known and most famous stereotype is Krishnan Iyer Yem Yey from Agneepath, the lungi-wearing nariyal-cutting, and “aiyooji’ speaking Tamil character. Little wonder that Iyer was missing from the film’s 2012 remake then, because for one, coconut vendors can speak a decent smattering of English/ Hindi and secondly, it is no longer 1950, thank you very much.

Why do we let it happen to us again & again? Agreed there are certain idiosyncrasies unique to certain communities & also specific traits & behavioral patterns people from a particular place adhere to. Play around with them; find humor in it if you want to too. But please for heaven’s sake don’t dish out caricatures in the name of creative/ artistic liberties.

I’m a Tamilian – a typical Iyer Tamil Brahmin & I don’t have an accent; not that I have anything against people who do.  But I have often come across “Aap South Indian ho? Par aap toh kaafi achi hindi bolte ho”, “Aap Chennai se belong  nahi karte? South Indians ki toh woh hi native place hai na ”, “Aap ne hindi ke liye classes kari thi?”, “You sure have an impressive dress sense, absolutely unlike a South Indian” , if you thought that was all, it gets better “Mumbai mein rehte ho, toh aapko Madrasi toh aati nahi hogi?” I explain where I need to & just smile & walk away when I feel a reply is unwarranted.

Like I said at the beginning, glamour at times wins over the basic courtesy of treating an individual as an individual and not a projection of where they come from? Why do we get so judgmental? It would be unfair to blame it on the big screen.Stereotypes exist in films because stereotypes exist in society; and cinema, as it has been said a billion times, is a reflection of society.

South Indians are dark, they wear either white veshtis or chequred dhotis, their accents are thicker than sambhar & they are a part of either the intelligentia or the mafia or the sidekick to provide comic relief (which is soooo not funny). At times the plots are hackneyed & the typecasts are typical,but the common denominator is the fact that the individuals are pigeonholed & the characters labeled.

I’m a second generation Mumbaikar. I speak Hindi & have even headed the Hindi cultural Society as it’s secretary while in college two years in a row while simultaneously being a Secretary of the Tamil Association too. I am fluent in Marathi & have a more than working knowledge of Gujrati & No; I’m not listing my achievements here but just reiterating my choice. Give me an Ananya over a Meenalochini anyday.

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12 thoughts on “Tamil Streotypes in Bollywood by Divya

  1. this has been a pet peeve of mine for years – am a tambrahm but have lived in Delhi for several years in the past, and ALL (and some more ) of those remarks resonate with what I have experienced! Am proud of my background , ethnicity, and who I am!

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    1. It’s all about being the best you that you can be. Go for it. Proud of you 4 all u stans for – unity in cultural diversity being one important aspect.

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  2. well said.. On the other hand, I’ve had quite the opposite experience in stereotypes. A born & bred Mumbaikar Tambrahm, I was literally borderline chastised by a student who was in my class at IIT-B. Apparently , people (esp girls) with the last name of Subramanian weren’t supposed to sport short hair , faded jeans & a Tshirt, and not to mention, I didn’t SOUND tamilian when I spoke English. Clouded up my opinion about ‘Madrasi’ tambrahms for quite a while after that!

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      1. Happened 2 me while in the Gulf.
        Often the person who questions ur ethnicity is usually one whom you’d consider one among your own.
        I just smile n move on

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  3. Well said. Born and brought up in North my Tamizh, Hindi, Punjabi, Mewadi, working knowledge of Chattisgarhi and of course English all are equally good and without any accent . So much so that Punjabis take me for a sardarni and at times even Bengalis consider me one of them. But ALL IN ALL I LOVE TO BE RECOGNISED AS A TRUE TYPICAL TAMBRAHM.

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  4. Very well articulated. Really like you I am a Mumbaikar and have very little or no accent. Also having worked in North India speak fluent Hindi. Also my English is surely better than most North Indians – especially as I can pronounce lawyer as it is rather than the North Indian adaptation that is closer to “liar”. So I hate these stereotyping as is done and when I have vigorously contested this with my colleagues from other parts of India they see the reason and stop. We need forums where can educate the uninitiated.

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