Bollywood is a leader in perpetuating stereotypes – if you are a money grubbing businessman you are a Gujarati or a Marwadi, if you are dark and talk funny you must be a South Indian, if you’re loud, expansive and not terribly bright you’re Punjabi, if you are a strange talking, paan-chewing bumbler, you must be a Bengali – and so on.
But some of the most misrepresented groups in films would have to be rural folk, tribals or indigenous people. Firstly they are lumped together as one amorphous mass of indistinguishable homogeny and secondly they are shown as having such bizarre characteristics as to render them caricaturish, hilarious and utterly unrecognizable.
1. They wear very skimpy clothes
Hindi films conveniently dispense with superfluous things such as sari blouses and innerwear when it comes to dressing anything vaguely resembling a native woman or a female of rural extraction. The female being ‘tribal’ is a great excuse to divest her of normal clothing and to put her in the most revealing of clothing.
2. They wear short skirts; even the guys
The video of this Chhayageet favourite – tere sang pyaar mein nahin todna – is utterly hilarious. Apparently there are communities of people who dress like that – feast your eyes on Jeetendra in a leather skirt with suspenders and Reena Roy dressed like something straight out of Khajuraho temple art.
3. They talk gibberish
This is absolute classic of a song; a haunting, unforgettable melody. It is also the progenitor of “Jhingalala hu” and strings together nonsense syllables of complete gibberish. As to what the ‘tribals’ are wearing… the costume designer was clearly having a severe attack of over-the-topness.
4. If they are ‘banjare’ they are all circus people
Otherwise unidentifiable cultural groups are lumped together under the epithet “Banjare” or gypsies. Said ‘Banjare’ are shown to be dressed in fanciful costumes as demonstrated by this video: some are dressed like Spanish matadors with identify crises whereas other outfits appear to be those of Egyptian belly dancers crossed with Flamenco performers. And Dharmendra in a giant parrot cage togged up in what appears to be a frock (Bollywood’s idea of a toga if one is to hazard a guess) is not to be missed.
5. They have bizarre rituals involving snakes
They are tribals so they must be animists, right? And of course they transform into various serpentine forms and back again because….. well because! Snakes clearly are very fascinating for Bollywood film makers and have been a recurring theme in Hindi films – Nagin (1954), Nagin (1976) and Nagina (1986). There is apparently something called a ‘snake girl’ (vish kanya) and she is never able to resist the allure of the “been”, the sound of which habitually generates paroxysms of writhing and slithering.
6. They are always dancing or singing
Unlike folk in the city who have work to do and stuff, the simple gaaowalon have little to do, so they sing on the way to the river or pond to fill water (apparently one pot-full if enough for the whole family for the entire day). They dance for a celebration in the village – happy lot the tribal people are; living idyllic lives featuring days of fun and frolic and nights of heavy duty partying.
7. It is always the ‘sheheri babu’
The simple but drop dead sexy girl instantly charms the young man from the city. He proceeds to fall in lust with her rustic charms, long unclad legs and acres of alluring cleavage. She in turn falls for his supposed sophistication and always, always, always refers to him as ‘Babuji’.
8. They engage in activities that cause them to get wet frequently
Because in the village there are no bathrooms and so on, so all the women end up at convenient waterfalls where they proceed to get wet and wild in a white sari.
9. They’ll believe anything
Akshay Kumar’s whole film, the inexcusable Tees Maar Khan, with its ‘bina sar pair ki’ story was predicated upon the assumption that village folk are not very bright and that they’ll believe anything. Anything at all!
By – Reena Daruwalla