Bollywood goes mainstream on American Tv

psych162USA Network’s Psych is on my DVR. The show about a fake psychic and his sidekick is harmless fun and a good way to unwind from office stresses on Friday (it’s back to back with Monk, which may explain why I’m a loyal viewer). This week featured an episode with a Bollywood twist and was heavily promoted throughout the week. I ended up watching it with my teenage son last night.

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that for some reason, Bollywood, once a simple term to describe the Hindi movie industry, has now got conflated with the entire idea of Indian culture. I’m sure we have no one to blame but ourselves, given that the songs and dances are captivating and instantly identifiable. Also, to many second generation Indians like my children, Bollywood is Indian culture (okay, maybe Diwali as well). It’s not surprising that when they end up as consultants on TV shows, that’s what they bring to the table. The theme song for yesterday’s show is an execrable mix of sitar and bhangra, but my son was quite bowled over. “My goodness, that is Indian,” was his response, and he was quite delighted.

The writers also find themselves unable to avoid the cliches of the crotchety granny (Bollywood Hero, anyone) and the spicy Indian food, and of course, there’s the inevitable dance number thrown in. The entire premise of the episode is based on a “curse,” proving that the western view of India as a land of snake-charmers and elephants still flourishes.

But….mercifully the actors are straight up second generation Indian Americans, who speak and act like the Americans they are. Sendhil Ramamurthy does a fine job as the cursed lover and he gets able support from Madhur Jaffrey as the grandma and the Lisa Ray as his troubled sister-in-law-to-be. It’s all a bit silly but not disrespectful, and if Bollywood is what captures the American viewer’s imagination, then I’m glad to get a foot in the door.

Here’s the trailer and repeats of the episode run throughout the week. Check it out.

4 thoughts on “Bollywood goes mainstream on American Tv

  1. Seshu

    I have a problem with this ‘Bollywoodization’ of Indian Culture, regardless of who takes the blame. I am not disagreeing with what you wrote Vidya, but just the concept of Bollywoodization…I was heavily surprised when Saif Ali Khan and Aishwarya Rai were sent to Australia to represent Indian Culture at the inauguration of some games (about 10 years ago). Then I was equally surprised when I read that Indian ministers were gifting IPods with bollywood music to trade partners (about 5 years ago in Europe)…

    I mean who amongst us follows Bollywood culture? Hardly anyone we know, right? We know that the movies are unreal and life begins where the movies end, then to legitimize it is painfully sad. Coming from the land of Vedas, dance, music, art, culture and language, that is centuries old, it is a little difficult to digest. However, I am not against the bollywood dance and music, maybe we will end up redefining it for the future generations…

    Let’s talk about fusion music, fusion dance where in we bring the classical elements as well, make it modern but retaining the essential elements. Sorry to digress, but just felt like voicing my opinion here.

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    1. Vidya Pradhan Post author

      Seshu,

      You would be surprised at the pervasiveness of Bollywood in the Indian Diaspora here. It is an icebreaker at parties. Even when people come from different parts of the country, chances are they’ve seen the same movies and enjoyed a lot of the same music ( Rafi, Kishore, Lata). Bollywood, Amar Chitra Kathas, Enid Blytons, these define childhood for a whole generation of Indians.
      For the younger generation, Bollywood is a great entry point to Indian culture. It is not just exotic anymore, it is acceptable, even desirable. Of course, kids here are probably growing up thinking that all weddings have sangeets and mehndis and everyone speaks some bastardized version of Punjabi, but hey, it’s a start! I know for a fact that both my kids began to love India because of the colorful movies and foot-tapping songs. Then it was an easy step to introduce them to the rest of the culture, telling them stories about my own childhood and taking them around the country to highlight the differences.
      The younger one is heavily into Amar Chitra Kathas these days, makes my heart feel good. She also swings a mean hip and was the star of her summer camp thanks to a performance of “Desi Girl.”

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  2. Seshu

    Along similar themes, about three weeks ago, ‘America’s best dance crew’ had asked its participants to include forms of Gidda, Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Bhangra and Garbha in their dances.

    Anybody watching Big Bang Theory??? Not only it promises to be good, it also has Kunal Nayyar as an Indian graduate student..

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    1. Vidya Pradhan Post author

      We were watching Dancing with the Stars yesterday and were wondering when Bollywood Dance would be added to the list of approved dances. I think the problem is that it is not codified enough. Shiamak Davar, Vaibhavi Merchant, are you listening?

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