The Bollywood-isation of Indian Kids

Baby_doll

So I was at this event that my wife and her colleagues organized at a local mall – Piah Dance Studio, in case any of you are interested – and I was suddenly struck by the number of kids that were hooting and tapping their feet to Bollywood numbers. At the end of the event we cleared all the props off the stage and invited the children over to show us some moves. One of them, a light-haired five-year-old girl in a pink frock and shiny blue shoes, danced to ‘Baby Doll’, lip-syncing to the words and emulating Sunny Leone’s gyrations well enough for the crowd to shower her with claps and whistles.

While the rest of them fawned over her – and she was good – something rankled in me. This is a five-year-old, I thought, and she’s dancing to Baby Doll. And the adults around her are egging her on.

A few months ago my wife went to Delhi to perform at the Folk Festival. On the way she met a couple and their two-year-old son. When asked to sing a song, he jumped off his mother’s lap, stood in the middle of the compartment, held up his four fingers and went: ‘Char bottal vodka…

Call me old if you will, but not too long ago children just learning to speak were taught poems and nursery rhymes. My mother made it her mission to upload into me her entire library of Telugu poems before I was two. (She did the old-fashioned way, by blackmailing me with starvation if I refused to learn.) Many of my friends first heard the word ‘vodka’ after they turned eighteen.

Our awakening was so painfully slow that I remember a certain conversation we had on the day of our high school graduation. It was a light, heady evening, so one topic led to another until we were speculating about the mechanics of the child-making process. All of us were pretending to know all about it, all of us were guessing, and all of us were wrong. Now at reunions there is an unwritten rule never to mention that day.

Then television spoke about the coming together of voices (mile sur mera tumhaara), while today it’s you, me, engage.

Without going into whether it’s good or bad, Bollywood seems to have taken over our lives. It’s not just a movie industry any more. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of art. Our role models come from there. We try and mold our lives into images of what we see on the screen. It wasn’t like this when I was younger; yes, movie stars were still famous, but the average Indian seemed to understand that it was all fantasy, that real life was different to what was happening on screen. But now, for all of us, whatever we see in our movies is real, and we aspire to the same values, to the same motifs.

The optimist would rubbish all this, of course. He would say that this is just the march of time, and I am hopelessly clinging to the past. Maybe I am. Maybe at age twenty-nine I am experiencing a back-in-my-day moment. I am yet to have children, so I don’t have any personal anguish over it, so I am quiet eager to hear from those of you who do. What do you think of this Bollywoodisation of India? Are you happy with your kids growing up with role models such as Yo Yo Honey Singh and Sunny Leone?

Comments

  1. Great post and I’ve been thinking about this a lot myself. In my youth we were exposed to so much classical dance and that’s what we learnt. I learnt a bit of Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Odissi and enjoyed them all. Nowadays its all died down and Bollywood songs seems to be the only avenue to learn ‘dance’.

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    • Hi Gargi,

      Thanks for stopping by. Not so long ago, ‘dance’ meant Indian classical dance. But today we see a lot of parents actively putting their kids into Bollywood. My wife is part of a dance company and they regularly get more interest in their Bollywood and hip-hop classes than in any other form. Maybe the proliferation of reality dance shows is another reason for this, because now the road to celebrity-hood through dance is clear?

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      • Yes, reality shows are a part of it, but there is a distinct lack of interest for the classical dance forms as well. In our school days, dance recitals were common and people were interested to attend. Now the same thing continues, except the classical dance is replaced by jhatkas and matkas unfortunately 😦

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      • Hopefully it will change with time, Gargi. But then maybe what we have is a different kind of bias towards classical dance. Maybe there is no right or wrong about it at all and we must all just go wherever the tide takes us.

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  2. This is something that keeps bothering me nowadays, more so since my lil one is three yrs old and is probably quite impressionable now. Thankfully she doesn’t enjoy TV as much as other kids and enjoys her books more, which makes me hopeful of her not being Bollywoodized, as you term it 🙂

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    • You’re lucky! We put off buying a television for almost a year, but caved in last month and got cable television installed on the same day. Ever since then conversations have literally disappeared around the house. All I hear is laughter track from this sitcom or the other. Amazing how we buy things that literally snatch time from our hands, and then we whine about it. Like I am doing now 🙂

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  3. 5 year old kids may not even understand the implications of their actions. They just do what catches their fancy. And that’s perfectly fine, IMO. Forced “classicalization” happens in many places, especially the ones that are ‘conservative’. I don’t understand why anyone should be forced to learn classical music/dance, if they are not interested in it. Classical-anything needs to evolve according to the tastes of the current generation, and Bollywood is one such evolved form. IMO, once again.

    Arts need to be enjoyed. Not preserved.

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    • I agree with you in saying that the kids probably don’t even know what they’re doing. But isn’t it likely that a kid who dances to a Sunny Leone song will at some point look up at her as a role model for life? If so, it is for the parents to ask themselves if that’s okay for them. If not, perhaps they should begin impressing upon their kids the fact that what they see on TV is not real.

      Classical dance is really only an example. The point is basically about role models. If you have a child, will you be happier if she picked M.S.Subbalakshmi as a role model or Yo Yo Honey Singh? For me the choice is obvious. Not saying mine is the right choice, but as long as parents make that choice, it’s good.

      Right now I am not sure they are even having this discussion with their kids.

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      • If a child reads a murder mystery in which the protagonist is the murderer, do we worry that the child will consider that character as their role model?

        Why should parents choose the role models for kids? They can suggest (max), but the decision is ultimately with the kid.

        If the kids enjoy Yo Yo’s songs better, then why not? Kids are not even bothered with other aspects of the song – they just enjoy the music, rhythm, and the dance. It is we, parents and elders, who look at the song with perverted thoughts. Not them.

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      • Hmm. In a novel or a murder mystery, the murderer is only one character, and ‘justice’ prevails in the end. In fact, in almost all fiction, the underlying theme is of justice and moral law. What is the theme of the babydoll song? I would suggest it’s objectification of women, which is why Sunny Leone was picked for it in the first place.

        I do agree with you, though, in saying that it’s a personal choice. If a parent is happy with their kid looking up to Sunny Leone and implicitly believing the messages that lie under these songs, who am I to object? But my worry is that people are not thinking that deeply about it. Maybe they should.

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    • The kids are innocent but those watching them may not be. Full batches of kids dancing to hyper-sexualized Bollywood dances would be a paedophile’s dream. I don’t think parents should encourage it.

      No-one is saying that classical dances should be forced on the kids, but if not classical then its better they don’t learn Bollywood dance either. If parents have a choice between showing a decent cartoon and Bollywood hits, I pick the cartoon everytime.

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      • Can’t speak from experience of having kids, but I agree with every word. There is something ‘icky’ about watching a four-year-old dance to Baby doll, I tell you.

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      • Then it is the problem of the pedophile.

        Bollywood dance reaches every living room in this country and it is perfectly tolerated as “family” viewing material, or even enjoyed secretly, but when kids dance to it, suddenly the thing becomes wrong.

        Is it because, we think that we (adults) can be anyway they want, but perfection is expected with kids? For example, Indian parents keep lying but expect their kids to be ultra-honest. Parents will pay later on for this attitude.

        Bollywood (more boldly) reflects contemporary society and it doesn’t hurt to know (some) truth. Kids will anyway not understand. It’s adults who are (generally) vulnerable. This is only my opinion, I may very well be wrong.

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      • I don’t know if you’re wrong but it sounds like you’re not a parent. The pedophile looks at our children so that is our concern.

        >> Bollywood dance reaches every living room in this country and it is perfectly tolerated as “family” viewing material, or even enjoyed secretly, but when kids dance to it, suddenly the thing becomes wrong.

        Disagree. If it is considered as family viewing then its probably an issue. We don’t consider it family viewing nor do we watch any of those programs. There are enough intelligent programs to watch, and even Doraemon cartoons are better. If I want to watch programs I can’t see with my kid, I’ll see later after she sleeps or record and see. I’ll have to question why you think that kids dancing the same way as an adult is acceptable. But I guess this is a losing argument so I’ll leave it here.

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      • Kids will try to imitate adults – it’s engineered in their genes.

        Forget kids, if a friend/relative of yours (19 year old girl – adult) wants to become a bollywood dancer, would you look at it as an extension of the moral degradation of the society, or the person’s individual right to choose?

        I know these are complex issues, but it’s important to get to the root. Why do people dance with minimum clothes? Why do people want to see such dances?

        If you try to understand that, you’ll not find bollywood item numbers “disgusting”.

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  4. Fun reading this one

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  5. indianshringar says:

    You can’t escape Bollywood even in the cartoons they show on TV these days. There are some extremely annoying ones (Oggy and the Cockroaches, Zig and Sharko, Pakdam Pakdai etc) in which the characters voices are dubbed imitating SRK, Amrish Puri, Sunny Deol and others. I detest those (you need to catch an episode of that to understand why) but the kids love them. And it is super exasperating when the kids sing along to Yo Yo Honey Singh. But what’s the solution?

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