Indian women, body fascism, Bolly/Hollywood

Here is a response I wrote to an article by the journalist Barbara Ellen,

Whilst I fully commend Barabara Ellen’s damning of current trends towards body fascism and the wholly inappropriate media fueled stigmatisation of mothers who have recently given birth, I am also rather bemused by the strange curiosity she has over why India should take this cultural route. Ellen uses great Indian cinematic icons such as Zeenat Aman and others to make her point that this transformation of Indian societal attitudes to bodies is both sudden and surprising, and outside the limits of what this country should be aspiring to. This seems to be locating India – the largest industrial democracy in the world and one which is by most accounts is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, in a golden age of Bollywood cinema, somehow fixed in time and through its links to religion, mysticism and exotic philosophy able to resist the charms of that other great goddess: Hollywood.

It also places India in a rather, if I may say, patronized position. To argue that it is shocking and disappointing that Indian mores have taken this unsavory route is infantilising the nation and its people. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that India, and indeed any nation on earth should not fall under the spell of the great capitalist, modernity mediated American spell: body fascism. One only needs to take a look at the transformation of cinema in India over the last 30 years for evidence of this trend – entire films are based on the exposure of the great holy trinity of body capitalism: young, fit, white (or at least as close to white that one can get). And although punctuated by some remnants of traditional themes – honor, marriage, love, in/justice, etc  there is very little indeed to separate a Hollywood blockbuster from a Bollywood blockbuster.

India shouldn’t be singled out in this analysis though,  it is simply doing what a former colony in post colonial society would do when infected by the industrialization complex of dissatisfaction – they want a ‘piece of the action’. And if  the action is unhealthy, bitter, and leads to an unrivaled level of inequality in society, then unfortunately celebrity Indian mums who manage to somehow resist the vacuous trend and remain independent of media mongering are always going to be collateral damage. The more important questions lie in the unseen impact of these global forces, for while Aishwarya Rai-Bachan is a highly visible target at the moment, she has at her disposal wealth beyond the dreams of most of India’s poor – who always have been and remain today completely in awe of these capitalist generated gods of the silver screen, whilst enduring incredible hardships. I’m afraid we have to face the fact that film making which refuses to fetishise bodies and instead make real stories about real people, is losing this battle. And that can be applied to any industrialized nation on earth, not just India.




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