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Southern stereotypes in Bollywood

Today, October 12th 2012, marks the release of Hindi film “Aiyyaa”. Starring Bollywood beauty Rani Mukherji and popular South Indian actor Prithviraj, the film follows a Marathi girl who falls in love with a Tamil artist.

As soon as I heard about the story, a part of me was filled with a bit of dread – there have been many South Indian/Tamil characters in a number of Hindi films, and they are almost always exactly the same – stereotypically Tamil – and quite frankly, it gets a little tedious to see these same ‘jokes’ repeated over and over.

The trailer for Aiyyaa, as well as song “Dreamum Wakeupum” both reek of the same stereotypical portrayal of Tamil people – bright, clashing colours; the word “ayyayo”; idli/dosa talk and of course, plenty of hip-thrusting dance movements. In the trailer, Rani’s character says “How do I say ‘Give me love, I’ll give you idli and dosa’ in Tamil?”, as well as “I don’t like fair people, I like dark people”.

Of course, this isn’t the first Hindi film to do so and it probably won’t be the last. Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan’s character Shekhar in blockbuster “Ra.One” was a Tamil software developer who did everything “typically Tamil” – he said “ayyo” a lot, he ate everything using his hands (even noodles), and other characters made dosa references in conversations with him. Even Sridevi’s recently-released comeback film “English Vinglish” had a Tamil character who talked of his love for idlis (though the Tamil characterisation was a little more tastefully done than in Ra.One).

Will Aiyyaa be any different? According to Rani Mukherji, the answer is yes: “In this film, we have gone against the stereotypes attached to South Indians. In a Hindi film, you don’t see a South Indian as the hero of the film … I don’t think we have ever shown a Tamilian being looked upon as an object of desire either.” Fair point – most of the Tamil characters in Bollywood films tend to be added in for comic value, to be laughed at rather than to be lusted after. Perhaps Aiyyaa will be a film that’ll put a new spin on things. It would certainly be a welcome change!

I know I’m not the only South Indian/Tamilian who is bored and a little frustrated with the over-the-top way we’re almost always portrayed in Hindi films. What do you think? Aren’t the jokes wearing a little thin by now? Or should we all sit back, take it lightly and laugh at ourselves?

"Aiyyaa" releases in theatres across the world on October 12th. Check out the video for "Dreamum Wakeupum" below!