Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aishwarya Rai and Delhi Belly

Since the release of Ready, it seems all Hell has broken loose in Bollywood media circles. There are two things that have come up that I want to address in a longer form than just spats on Twitter.

1. The picturization for “Switty Tera Pyaar” from
Delhi Belly.
2. Aishwarya Rai being majorly photoshopped to be skinny in advertisements.

1. The picturization for “Switty Tera Pyaar” from
Delhi Belly

I had delayed in watching this video because the music of the film was really not to my taste (yes, I’m still playing “Dhinka Chika” on my iPod) but I was initially concerned when I saw reports that the picturization was going to feature Imran Khan doing a parody of a ‘rapper’ and he would be doing ‘rap dance moves’ in it. Being a huge hiphop fan, I had my doubts that the crew of
Delhi Belly would be able to make a parody of a hiphop video without delving into really poisonous stereotypes of African-Americans - the kind of thing discussed at length here.

Once I saw the video, I recognized this was not the case - “Switty” is not mocking hiphop or rappers in general.

But I didn’t find it as amusing as everybody else seems to for a couple of reasons. The best parodies are ones that remain true to their material. You can’t effectively parody something if you don’t understand it - one of the reasons that American artists like Weird Al and Lonely Island are so effective. These guys really study and understand the tropes and songs they are making fun of. I think Lonely Island, especially, are so successful because they really
get what makes songs like the ones that inspired “I Just Had Sex” work. They aren’t just dancing around spouting nonsense lyrics.

The types of songs that “Switty” is trying to parody are part of a long tradition of
Herogiri. The song is designed to make sure the audience knows that the Hero is the coolest, most awesome guy on the planet. A really effective parody of this type of song was done in the 2000 comedy film Hera Pheri. “Jab Bhi Koi Haseena” shows the khiladi, Akshay Kumar, engage in really over-the-top actions, like riding a horse in the water. The whole thing is played completely straight and it’s really, really funny. Recently, Bollywood has adopted some of the outward trappings of hiphop videos for these cool songs. The look is incredibly dated - we’re talking styles from when Sean Combs was Puff Daddy - lots of video babes, shades, stylized sets, gold chains, and a word done up in lights. There was nothing subtle about Nelly’s video for “Pimp Juice” and Bollywood has taken the lack of subtlety and run with it.

Like the hiphop videos they are inspired by, these Bollywood picturizations are aspirational and aimed at a lower class mass market. And like the hiphop videos they are inspired by, these picturizations are frequently called out by the scolds for being vulgar, tacky, and worthless. Well, I disagree on the worthless part.

I like the flash and energy of both the hiphop videos and the Bollywood picturizations. But then I am like a magpie and attracted to shiny things. If I had my way, I would be wearing leopard print pants and a black tube top right now. Maybe it’s because society won’t let me dress in sequined booty shorts for work and having a sound effect that is just my name show up whenever I did something awesome would be frowned upon makes these so-called worthless songs something that I enjoy seeing them on screen.

(Note to the universe: Where are my hype men?)

The picturization for “Switty” only really understands the surface of these songs - the fancy car, shades, and (white) video girls. And worst of all, they made the joke about the kind of people who make those songs instead of turning the joke on themselves, like Weird Al did in “White and Nerdy” or Lonely Island in “I Just Had Sex.” Do you know what I would have enjoyed? If the song was set in their parent's living room with the parents sitting right there or in an office and the three guys were acting "cool" in the middle of a bunch of people in khakis and powder blue shirts. That would be funny.

“Switty” is lazy and it left a bad stink.

In fact, the whole promotional campaign for Delhi Belly has left a bad smell, as far as I’m concerned. From the first promo, which featured a man literally shitting all over the previous achievements of the Aamir Khan production company (way to endear yourself to your target audience who liked those films) to these mocking songs, it just seems like the film promos, much like a spoiled teenage boy going to the mall with his mother, are trying way too hard to seem edgy and cool by hating on everything. ("Mom, you know I don't watch tele-vision. I'm not one of the sheeple watching American Idol.")

The songs that it’s mocking are uncomplicated mass-market songs and consumed in an uncomplicated way by mass-market kinds of people.
Delhi Belly (which from what little of the actual film I’ve seen in promos totally looks like a ripoff of 99 and The Hangover) is positioning itself as a boutique film for discerning audiences that get it. In other words, Delhi Belly is gleefully shitting all over everything that your average mass market audience likes to see in films, and to me, that’s really distasteful. This film is coming from a major production house and has a lot of star power and money behind it. This isn’t a low budget guerrilla film appropriating mainstream film tropes to make a point, it’s a major film company making fun of mainstream audiences because they can.


2. Aishwarya Rai being majorly photoshopped to be skinny in advertisements.

Okay, so obviously I think Aishwarya is perfectly gorgeous as she is. Aishwarya Rai is NOT FAT, although she is heavier than she was a couple of years ago. This is probably due to the fact that she is getting to be in her late 30s and women naturally put on weight then - emphasis on the ‘natural.’

For all the scolds telling her to go lose weight, go to Hell. Do not pass Go; do not collect 200 dollars.

Seriously, this kind of weight policing is really harmful. The more we narrow our standards for what true beauty can look like, the worse off we all are. Aishwarya has become a wonderful actress and if anybody saw
Action Replayy, you know that a little extra junk in the trunk has not affected her ability to turn heads.

Now, the question that remains is how much responsibility does Aishwarya have for her photoshopped image in those advertisements. I have heard one argument that says that Aishwarya has complete responsibility for her image and that the photoshopped images send a message as negative as if she was actually starving herself to be that thin.

While I certainly agree that the photoshopped images send a bad message, I don’t think Aishwarya is to blame and I certainly don’t think it’s as bad as starving herself to be thin. For one thing, those starving girls often don’t admit to starving and very often promote their diets as “healthy” and within reach of every girl if she just ate less and exercised. Aishwarya is not doing that. Secondly, we don’t know how much control over the images Aishwarya has. I think the ad used as an example was for L’Oreal, which is a major international brand. Aishwarya is a famous celebrity, yes, but there is A LOT of money tied riding on these deals and I highly doubt that Aishwarya has the clout to say, “No, don’t photoshop me” in an ad, even if she wanted to.

To a certain extent and all female celebrities are photoshopped to look thinner - in Hollywood, you can find controversies on this on ladies ranging the alphabet from Jessica Alba to Kate Winslet. Do they have any control over this? Probably not. We think these women are all-powerful but in reality, to a large extent, they are just hired faces. Models have publicity but they don’t have much power. L’Oreal is powerful brand and I’m sure they have an image of beauty and perfection that they want to project and they are going to make advertisements that reflect that. Does Aishwarya agree with it? Disagree? Is she beating herself up over gaining weight? Is L’Oreal putting the pressure on to make her lose it? Was it some underling who decided to “fix” her image by making her thinner or was it an executive decision? When was the photo even taken? We don’t know.

Unless Aishwarya says that she is the one who insisted that she be photoshopped to look skinny in the advertisements, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that. Those upset over photoshopping should widen their scope of outrage and look at the pervasive culture of airbrushing perfection. L’Oreal should be the target in the crosshairs, not Aishwarya.

To my mind, Aishwarya Rai is an excellent role model. She is a woman who is naturally beautiful but who was worked hard to grow her talent and her career instead of just coasting on looks. She doesn’t talk about her private life for the media; she doesn’t use her celebrity to sell some idealized lifestyle; she just does her work and tries to do her best at it. And now, she’s 37, married, gained a little weight, and doing the BEST work of her career - all without selling a diet book or tearing other people down on
Koffee With Karan.


Ness said...

On Delhi Belly - I agree with veraciously's take on the matter and I respect your take, but respectfully disagree. But also share some of your reservations about some of the other promos, and have said elsewhere (prob on Twitter) that I'm unsure about the movie as a whole.

As far as the Aish/body thing goes: this thing irked me a lot when it was brought up on Twitter and I'm glad you've tackled it, because 140 characters is not enough to argue coherently what is a complex issue, I think.

Personally, I think there are a lot of assumptions made about how much responsibility any of the starlets/models/actresses have over photos of themselves once they are taken. I think the level of control is likely to vary depending on the level of fame, the skill of one's PR team, and how focussed one is on one's image. Like you point out - why is ANYONE placing unneccessary focus on a healthy woman who is NOT actively promoting an unhealthy lifestyle (unlike models who endorse unhealthy, unrealistic diets) because someone photoshopped her pictures? whether she knew about it or not, the public is not stupid enough to see 'real' Aish and photoshopped Aish and not understand the difference between the two, on the whole people understand advertising and image manipulation, and that actors have to portray a certain look or style as part of their job; or that magazines have an agenda to push a "look".

Or is that too generous a view of the public?

maxqnz said...

I guess we all see what we want to see in anything. What I see in STP is fun parody of an element in BW that makes me cringe every time I see it done unironically. What I *DON'T* see in it is enough to make me want to see the movie.

As for the Aish cloud, I only heard about it all because of one person's jihad on Twitter. That person's crusade against Aish was the final spur to my writing that LJ bit, actually.

Filmi Girl said...

@Ness I accept your respectful disagreeing since (I think) we agree on the main point - that poop promo did not make me want to see the film.

@maxqnz Very true - I like the unironic songs, therefore I see it differently. And I'm glad that we, too, agree that the promos are not doing much to sell the film, which should be the main point.

Ness said...

Well I think the point of the promos are to sell the film - you knew from them that you weren't interested/not the target market - so they're doing their job. Maybe not how they necessarily would ultimately want (ideally don't they want everyone to see the promos and be all like "YES! BEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME EVER I MUST SEE IT NOW AND THEN OWN THE SOUNDTRACK AND DVD - LEGALLY - AS SOON AS I CAN" ?)

We're all agreed on that part anyway, though I think, right? It's just the hip hop thing that was at issue - ultimately, personal feelings about the politics or not don't matter when it's business and the filmmakers don't get your/our dollar(s).

Filmi Girl said...

@Ness You're right about that - the promos did their job by telling me that I was not going to like this film and should avoid, yaar forever. Which is REALLY what I should have done with the songs but I was way too curious after all the talk about hip hop (because I LOVE HIP HOP!)

And we are 100% agreed that at the end of the day film is a business and the point is to make money. And I'm voting with my pocketbook: DB is not getting anything from me, including any more attention.

I'm so tired of this film already and it's not even released yet.

maxqnz said...

Actually, having watched two other songs from the movie, nakhdewaley disco (a not umamusing qawwali parody) and Bhaag DK Bose, I don't think the movie itself is likely to be anything more than a string of unoriginal ripoffs, a la Scary Movie. Yawn

Archee ologist said...

@ The Ash debate: thanks for bringing it up!
Even when Aishwarya was being complimented for her toned body (dhoom 2 et al), she always maintained that she didn't go to the gym. She instead said that it was dance and work that was keeping her slim. Even on the 60 minutes show (or one of those shows) she orders so much food!

She does not look at all apologetic about her weight. She has flaunted her curves at Cannes, and in some of her most aesthetic appearances!

eliza bennet said...

Yes, Aish never claimed to be ripped and she is not one who hides her flaws (like her back rolls) since those flaws actually enhance her beauty.

She is the woman with the best career and more importantly her husband is a man who has no problem with her being the bigger star and one that supports her in everything.

There is a saying in my country "a tree that grows fruit gets stoned" I guess this is what's happening with Aish.

One more thing, is there a thing called "non photoshopped magazine pictures" anymore? Everything is photoshopped, even it is not necessary.

pixel pitz said...

I have to say that I enjoyed the "poop" promo for Delhi Belly mostly because irony is such a rarity in B'wood. I thought it was a clever build up for a scatalogical punchline. Gross, but effective.

Jess said...

I haven't paid much attention to the Dehli Belly promos, but I do have a question. Is Switty supposed to be a parody of black/western rap or of other Indian rappers? I think if they are trying to parody Indian rappers maybe it works, but American rap? Yeah its just a terrible attempt. Either way the song is just ok.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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