Asian writers: authentic, filthy and cheating


by Sunny
30th April, 2006 at 8:34 pm    

Writers of south-Asian origin are all the rage these days. My plans to to write something that ties together a few strings have been thwarted by Sarfraz Manzoor in today’s Observer. “Why do Asian writers have to be ‘authentic’ to succeed?” – he asks.

But before we get to that, it may be worth looking at events over the pond.

In America Kaavya Viswanathan is the author on everyone’s lips, if not exactly for the right reasons. The 19 year old Havard student bagged a $500,000 two-book deal when she was just 17 (a record in itself) and received plenty of publicity when her debut book, ‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life’ released a few weeks back. A few days after publication it turned out that quite a few passages from her book were very similar to another chick-lit book. The publishers have now had to withdraw unsold copies from shelves.

Our American-Indian friends at Sepia Mutiny were a bit too gleeful at her downfall for my liking, but the story does not end yet. Questions are being asked whether it was the ghost writer or the management company that had something to do with it.

Here, Gautam Malkani bagged a £300,000 two-book deal and the first one – Londonstani – has had largely glowing reviews, except a notable one by fellow author Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal.

All three have played on their ethnicity in different ways.

Kaavya’s character Opal Mehta is an aspiring Indian girl gone wild and is based on her own experiences. Gautam goes deep into the heart of Hounslow and studies the birth of the Asian counter-culture in Britain as they struggle to have some semblance of identity. Nirpal, meanwhile, has become a self-appointed commentator on race relations with a claim to fame that journalist Liz Jones has openly slagged him off for years for being a rubbish husband.

His book is apparently a “filthy, unflinching and politically incorrect take on modern Britain”. Each has been sold to different audiences as an “authentic” voice of modern Britain.

Another writer, Preethi Nair, has been down this road. Afraid to tell her parents that she left her consulting job to pursue writing, she pretended to go every day to work for months while she slogged hard to get noticed. In the end she succeeded and landed a book deal with HarperCollins. Her last book The Colour of Love is about an Asian woman leading a double-life to pursue her passion in art while keeping her parents happy.

Now we come back to Sarfraz’s article:

If you are white and middle-class, it seems, you are allowed to be an artist; if you are Asian, you must be authentic.

The media demands diversity and authenticity but writers are rarely capable of fulfilling this expectation. When a writer emerges who appears to be giving us the real deal they are immediately lionised, and when it is revealed that they are not they are criticised. The publishing world wants Asian writers it can promote as authentic. Can they not be allowed to have imaginations? Can they not be allowed to simply tell stories?

He mentions Monica Ali in this context too, and I agree with him. The problem also extends to Asians themselves, who demand that every Asian writer has to be authentic to their experiences. Monica Ali‘s biggest critics have always been Bangladeshis for example.

Sarfraz adds:

It is astonishing how many of the writers credited with telling typically Asian stories are in fact atypical – either Oxbridge-educated, mixed race, in mixed-race relationships or all of the above.

This is where we part company. While I agree that most ‘authentic voices’ in the mainstream have been that of middle-class and well educated Asians, the same applies to mainstream literature too.

Book publishing has always largely been the preserve of middle-class people. They know how to work and system and are able to get by on an unstable income. So in some ways Asians are simply fitting into how the publishing (and media) industry has always worked.


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  1. raz — on 30th April, 2006 at 8:48 pm  

    “Kaavya’s character Opal Mehta is an aspiring Indian girl”

    “Gautam goes deep into the heart of Hounslow and studies the birth of the Asian counter-culture”

    “an Asian woman leading a double-life to pursue her passion in art while keeping her parents happy”

    “Nirpal, meanwhile, has become a self-appointed commentator on race relations”

    How boring and predictable.

    Asian’s suck.

    They really fucking suck.

    Why do they write so many books about being Asian anyway. Fuck that. Who cares? Talk about a lack of imagination. Same goes for all the shit Asian-themed tv dramas we get here. How about some action/horror/sci-fi stuff, not the usual ‘Asian experience’ bollocks.

    ASIANS REALLY FUCKING SUCK.

  2. Rohin — on 30th April, 2006 at 8:52 pm  

    “Our American-Indian friends at Sepia Mutiny were a bit too gleeful at her downfall”

    Hey hey, not ALL of them. But admittedly a whole shit load of schadenfreude pouring out there – in fact Sepia’s longest ever thread and much of it people queueing to dig their claws into KV. Jealousy, it’s a nasty thing.

    She is EVERYWHERE. Top search on google and technorati last week. In the British broadsheets (we’re far more sympathetic here I must say), all the American media, gawker etc.

    I read this piece earlier, liked it, so I’m glad you mentioned it cos I’ve just got shat on by uni (sorry, can’t do that AiM piece neeva boss).

    Any writers here? Anyone want to give me a script for a short this summer? I feel like a project, what with all these young Asian things landing big cheques.

    Back to work for now…

  3. Rohin — on 30th April, 2006 at 8:55 pm  

    Too right Raz. That’s why the one scriptI have written has (almost) no mention of the characters’ ethnicities.

    ASIANS REALLY FUCKING SUCK.

    Actually, that could be a title for my other movie. I want to try directing porn once.

    Now stop talking about Asians sucking and let me work.

  4. squared — on 30th April, 2006 at 9:11 pm  

    Why do they write so many books about being Asian anyway.

    Because being brown is the only life experience they’ve had.

    I agree, it’d nice to see brownies write about other stuff (wooo go Simon Singh, we love youuu!), but fictional writing will inevitably draw on your own experiences.

    If you’re brown, your experiences are brown.

    What I’d like to see is something a bit more interesting about what these experiences have taught a writer… Other than I’m a repressed brownie blah blah blah…

    P.S. Wow @ this comment preview thing.

    SO COOL.

  5. Sunny — on 30th April, 2006 at 9:27 pm  

    Vikram Seth’s big novel after A Suitable Boy was nothing to do with being brown – An Equal Music – though it was a bit pants.

    Fictional writing usually draws on your own experiences, hence that is what brown writers are likely to do. Or actually – that is what book publishers will pay lots of money for. Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi (who has written lots of non-brown stuff), Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, Hari Kunzru, Zadie Smith, Monica Ali – stories by brown people about brown people have been quite popular, hence that is where the money will flow.

    Incidentally Rohin – you didn’t think Second Generation was all that, but Bradford Riots is pretty good, am gonna write a review soon… so you may change your mind.

  6. Chris Stiles — on 30th April, 2006 at 9:47 pm  

    There’s a fair subset of fiction that does *not* draw on immediate life experience, even apart from the merely contemporary.

    There are some laughable trends though. Mostly centred around trying to make the novel novel – ‘an electic, picaresque romp through the life Saffron, a girl between cultures and hiding a secret sorrow, narrated through the eyes of Huitzilopochtli – her pet iguana’ – or trying to doing a third-rate take on the second-rate genre that is magical realism – aka Borges done very badly.

    Unfortunately, all present asian authors seem to fall into one or another of the categories, depending on whether they are chasing the Marian Keyes or Ben Okri market.

  7. Zak — on 30th April, 2006 at 9:49 pm  

    I’ve read a few British “Asian” authors work..and i have to say I find it a very cultural thing…it always seems to me like a urdu translation in spirit..very adjective prone ..very descriptive and a bit stifling..when it’s British influenced the sex sequences tend to be rougher as well..all in all at the end of many of the books I feel like I’ve come out of a 2 hour urdu poetry recital..while wonderfully made it’s depressing as hell!

  8. Rohin — on 30th April, 2006 at 10:05 pm  

    “If you’re brown, your experiences are brown.”

    So Arthur C Clarke’s gone into space? Michael Crichton’s brought dinosaurs to life? Come on! It’s fiction, i.e. not an autobiography.

    Fine, it’s a starting point, write what you know, but I’ve always lamented the dearth of desi sci fi writers. Why aren’t there any (well, a few)? Where are the rest? We have more than our fair share of nerds, there must be some creative types. I KNOW there are, but sci fi is a neglected direction. They all want to do this life boring crap, even the directors. So big up M Night, your movies are hit and miss but at least they’re not rooted in some gritty reality about being a brown boy. And no love either! Huzzah.

    It doesn’t have to be sci fi, I just want to see a bit of band wagon-dismounting. Whilst I couldn’t bring myself to read more than a few chapters Londonistani, at least he – no, sorry, I can’t pay it a compliment, it’s just too shit.

    I shall watch the Bradford Riots ol fella, if you say so. I’m not basing my opinion on Neil Biswas just on Second Gen though. I’ve seen his dreadful Laila Rouass thing.

  9. fridgemagnet — on 30th April, 2006 at 10:24 pm  

    Did anyone in London see the tube adverts for “How Opal Mehta…” and think anything other than “great, another chick lit tube book, just this time they think that there’s some sort of Asian angle making it special”? I was happy when I heard about the plagiarism thing because I hoped it would help stop that crap being advertised everywhere.

  10. isha — on 30th April, 2006 at 11:03 pm  

    They’re two kinds of Asian writers those living in the sub-continent and the other kind that reside across the globe (more so the “western world”).

    Asians living in the UK and America seem to bitch and moan about being brown. I’m not saying they don’t bitch and moan in the sub continent, but there is a lot of literature that gets published there, that’s not found in global book stores. A lot of it is mind numbing, intelligent and original. India more so that Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka has been given an international platform but I’m sure as the rest open up and publishers go in, the stereotype that Asian authors propagate will change.

    “The Suitable Boy” was written by an Asian and it is the best piece of fiction I’ve come across.

  11. Dolores Haze — on 1st May, 2006 at 12:04 am  

    I wonder if anyone asked Philip Roth or Saul Bellow or Franz Kafka why they had to write about being Jewish or Ralph Ellison why he wrote about Black American life or James Joyce about Dublin and the Irish.

    So why shouldnt Asian writers write novels about their experience as Asians? It is the way the material is handled and how original the writing is that counts, not the social context or the ethnicity of the characters.

  12. Dolores Haze — on 1st May, 2006 at 12:07 am  

    Rohin

    Don’t sit there complaining about why no Asian writers are writing Sci Fi – do it yourself. Write your novel and try and get it published.

  13. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 12:15 am  

    Meh, I don’t buy this criticism of criticism, when people always say “Oh well if you think it’s so bad why don’t you do it?” Cos I’m not a writer! This logic means only authors can criticise books. I’ll assume you’re being encouraging as opposed to anything else, but whilst I would love to write a book, it’s one thing I just know that I probably won’t be that good at. I’ll try, but I’d like to concentrate my efforts on screen. And no one’s saying Asian authors CAN’T write about their experiences as Asians Dolores, but we just don’t want that to be the extent of it. I’ve loved several books written by Asians, all about Asian characters. It’s just there doesn’t seem to be much else.

  14. Sunny — on 1st May, 2006 at 12:16 am  

    I agree Dolores – I don’t see the problem with writing about being Asian either. The only worry is that publishers ignore Asian writers who want to write about non-Asian topics. Or that they get caught up in this ‘authentic voice’ crap as Sarfraz points out.

    Zak – I know. Arundhati Roy’s novel was especially painful, though I was glad I persevered.

    Isha – Not sure if British Asian writers bitch about being brown. Gautam (I declare a bias – I know him) is being critical but ultimately celebrately about Asian sub-culture I’d say, going by his article in the FT last week.

    fridgemagnet – heh, well the London launch is pulled now apparently. I hate chick-lit as it is, no matter whether it is brown or otherwise.

    Rohin – what Laila Rouass stuff?

    Chris – are you referring to Mistress of Spices?

  15. Dolores Haze — on 1st May, 2006 at 12:20 am  

    If an Asian writer wrote a novel that was not about ‘being Asian’ and you liked it, what difference would it make to you that it was written by an Asian?

    I don’t buy the criticism that novels should be dismissed simply because of their subject matter – and it was actual encouragment – if you are passionate about sci-fi and have something to write do it, dont complain – after all if you are writing screen plays I’m sure that you have enough imagination in you to construct a narrative and do something original (at least I hope so)

  16. Dolores Haze — on 1st May, 2006 at 12:21 am  

    My last comment was for Rohin.

  17. Taj — on 1st May, 2006 at 9:31 am  

    Re: Philip Roth and Jewishness

    From Guardian, Dec 14 2005:

    http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,,1666780,00.html

    ‘Jews appear everywhere in Roth’s books, but this one seems to be Roth’s great Jewish history. “Jewish?” he says. “It’s my most American book. It’s about America. About America. It’s an American dystopia. You would never tell Ralph Ellison that Invisible Man is his most Negro book, would you?” He looks at me. “Would you?”

    “Maybe not …”

    “Those kinds of considerations are newspaper cliches. Jewish literature. Black literature. Everyone who opens a book enters the story without noticing these labels.”

    “But you are seen as an American-Jewish writer. Does that mean anything to you?”

    “It’s not a question that interests me. I know exactly what it means to be Jewish, and it’s really not interesting. I’m an American. You can’t talk about this without walking straight out into horrible cliches that say nothing about human beings. America is first and foremost … it’s my language. And identity labels have nothing to do with how anyone actually experiences life.”

    I am now talking as quietly as him. Whispering, I say that he himself writes about identity in his books. In Operation Shylock it is about who is a Jew. In The Plot Against America, it is about who is American.

    “But I don’t accept that I write Jewish-American fiction. I don’t buy that nonsense about black literature or feminist literature. Those are labels made up to strengthen some political agenda.”‘

  18. El Cid — on 1st May, 2006 at 10:43 am  

    Such a passionate book club!
    Soooo if someone was to recommend me a book — just one book — that just happened to have been written by a South Asian (British Asian), what would it be?

  19. Dolores Haze — on 1st May, 2006 at 10:55 am  

    El Cid

    British Asian novels are as varied as British Asian life. The first British Asian novel to make a real impact in the literary world was ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ by Hanif Kureishi. Along with his script for ‘My Beautiful Launderette’ he was a ground breaker as far as writing about specifically British born Asians and their experience is concerened. Actually, read his novel ‘The Black Album’ which is my favourite of his work, set in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair.

    One novel I liked (although some have said it is over-written) is ‘Maps for Lost Lovers’ by Nadeem Aslam about a murder in a Pakistani community in the north of England.

    You could do worse than to try ‘Londonstani’ and ‘Tourism’ – both are related to Southall/Hounslow and examine the lives of Sikhs/Punjabis from West London and are the most recent major novels to have been published by young Asian writers.

    One of the first significant novels to be written by a British Asian woman was ‘A Wicked Old Woman’ by Ravinder Randhawa and since then there have been a few decent novels by Asian women dealing with British life. My advice is to forget Meera Syal’s chick-littish ‘Life Isnt All Ha Ha’ – her novel ‘Anita and Me’ about growing up in the West Midlands in the 1970′s is quite cute. There is also, of course, Monica Ali’s bestselling ‘Brick Lane’

  20. Jai — on 1st May, 2006 at 11:02 am  

    El Cid,

    I don’t know if this was written by a British Asian, but the writer is of Indian origin: “Red Earth & Pouring Rain” by Vikram Chandra.

    It does veer into “magical realism” occasionally a la Rushdie, but personally I found it comparatively more readable. If you like sweeping epics crossing centuries of Indian history, then you’ll love this.

    Rohin,

    Re: Asian sci-fi writers

    Maybe they are around but they just don’t publish under their real names.

  21. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 11:37 am  

    Hmm…I doubt it Jai. Gone are the days of author-race-snobbery. Especially sci fi fans, we’ve always been a chilled out bunch.

    I forgot Naren Shankar, one of my heroes. Not necessarily an author, but one of the most creative (and rich) sci fi minds around. Star Trek and CSI – now that’s a CV to be proud of!

    Dolores, I shall definitely try! Thanks for the encouragement.

    Sunny – it was called Two Minutes.

  22. El Cid — on 1st May, 2006 at 11:39 am  

    Especially sci fi fans, we’ve always been a chilled out bunch.
    (snigger)

  23. Jai — on 1st May, 2006 at 11:42 am  

    Rohin,

    Are you a BSG fan ? If so, then I’ve just stumbled across some interesting info while doing some surfing-shurfing. I’ll post it on the “Weekend” thread (Geezer will also probably be thrilled).

  24. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 11:52 am  

    El Cid, I didn’t say cool, I said chilled out! I.e. we don’t get our knickers in a twist over most things. Except shit like just being told I have to pay VAT and a clearance fee on my crazy Japanese watch. F*cking Parcel Force.

  25. Jai — on 1st May, 2006 at 11:57 am  

    Funny Rohin.

    I think that “chilled out” in this case basically means “open-minded” — probably a factor of the genre itself.

    It can have knock-on effects in other areas of life as you know — ability to think for oneself, being analytical, considering different options and possibilities.

    And so on and so forth.

  26. Missjy — on 1st May, 2006 at 12:32 pm  

    FAO: Rohin

    >Any writers here? Anyone want to give me a script for a short this summer?

    Were you serious about this? I’ve gone round in circles on here trying to find contact details for you!

  27. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 12:50 pm  

    It’s not hard Missjy – look up top, ‘Contact’!

    Hmm…you’ve lost initiative points already ;)

  28. Sid — on 1st May, 2006 at 3:06 pm  

    Upamanyu Chatterjee – Indian writer writes in English. English August was a great book.

    The literature in Bangla is an amazing world of its own. Like Cuban or Peruvian literature I imagine – rich and vibrant and
    not very well translated into English.

    But the ultimate Indian book on Indian manners in English is still Vikram Seth – A suitable boy. I still think is a worth a sprawling, beautiful, camp film production by Merchant Ivory. With screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jabhvala. Eesh!

  29. shiva — on 1st May, 2006 at 4:49 pm  

    “Our American-Indian friends at Sepia Mutiny were a bit too gleeful at her downfall”

    Following the advice of wingnut ‘critical gender/race/identity theory’ professors and slacking off at school and then college many of these clueless ‘south asian’ types end up nowhere in particular as chronic underachievers. The smart kids not just the Kaavya Ivy League kind, but also the many pre-meds, pre-laws and pre-banker types; stick to the basics, make it big and patronise these opinion-rich airheads. When one of the bright young things falls with a thud out come the glee and mirth. Expect the loony professariat to whip out its “I told you so”s.

  30. El Cid — on 1st May, 2006 at 6:20 pm  

    Sid,
    Talking of bad translations, have a look at something I wrote this weekend at my little site.
    (Now I know I’m not allowed to talk about footy, but if you allow me this one exception Sunny, I’d be grateful. Which brings me onto something else: Jay, in light of Rooney’s injury, I think I will have to revise my recent assertion that England can win the WC).

  31. El Cid — on 1st May, 2006 at 6:21 pm  

    Oops, did that link wrong — should be http://www.zones2and3.com

  32. Rakhee — on 1st May, 2006 at 6:52 pm  

    Hmm. To a certain degree, I have to say that I’m so pleased to be seeing Asian writers both being recognised in the mainstream publishing world and also writing about ‘Asian’ experiences. The authenticity issue is complex and sensitive, but I for one am kinda happy to see that at least something is happening and support stunning novels produced by Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy et al.

    This cannot be said for the film world. I went to see Mistress of Spices on Saturday. Bloody awful. I’m sick of the same typical storyline of Good Little Indian Girl and Bad White Boy falling in love. Bhajhi on the Beach, Bride and Prejudice and now this. When are we going to see a powerful film depicting British Asian life with jaw-dropping performances from Asian actors? Bah Humbug.

  33. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 7:20 pm  

    To be honest Rakhee, you’re just mentioning films from the Gurinder Chadha camp. Many Asian directors cling desperately to the brown girl white boy formula (here we can mention Neil Biswas again! But also stacks of low budget shorts). But the almighty waste of space that is Gurinder Chadha (and her obedient husband) has made a career out of it.

    Most of her films centre around an Asian girl falling for a white knight in shining armour. If one takes a look at her early career, she clearly felt a sense of self-loathing and insecurity, declaring in interviews “I didn’t want to be seen as this nice little Indian girl”. No chance of that tubby. More evidence in her flitting from one social scene to another, and her unrequited desire to land a handsome white chap comes across in all her movies. Even What’s Cooking is about Asian-white cross racial love, snore. In real life she just ended up with a fat American, poor dear.

    People feel they have to have some sort of desi angle, but they seem to come at it from a white mentality. They’re filmschooled. They have lost their individuality, it’s so easy to spot it from shot selection to editing. Take Chadha againg – a wholly stereotyped view of Asians. All the other detritus that floats our way seems to have ‘Bollywood’ somewhere in the title or synopsis.

    At least East is East was authentic. Oh but there I go with the authentic thing! What I mean is, if you’re going to depict Asian, do it right. Somebody above said if an Asian writes a story with no Asian element, why’s it important that he or she is Asian? It’s not really, but we’re coming at this from the point of view that we want Asians to have success in the arts. Asians were proud of Swami when he was making completely non-Asian music. But Rishi Rich can only repackage the same thing again and again because he’s one dimensional. Same goes for writers – change up your game.

    What I’d love to see is a new story explored (there are PLENTY) from an Asian perspective, but not making that the main focus. You know, a story, which happens to have an Asian character or two. The fact they’re Asian can or cannot come up, I don’t mind – like in real life. There are days I talk about my ethnicity and days I don’t.

    Man this is some massive rant. I’ve done more coherent ones before, please excuse please excuse, I am like this only.

  34. El Cid — on 1st May, 2006 at 7:44 pm  

    Yeah, but East is East was good.
    It was also authentic on several levels (i.e. Northern English as well as British Asian).
    Some Asians have also already shown that they can extend their cultural horizons — e.g. Ang Lee/ Brokeback Mountain, Kazuo Ishiguro/Remains of the Day, Asian Dub Foundation (just to show that I can stick to the topic!).

  35. raz — on 1st May, 2006 at 7:57 pm  

    So many of these dramas make all Asian men look like sexist wankers.

  36. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 8:11 pm  

    I like East is East El Cid, I was praising it for being more realistic than Chadha’s effluent.

    East Asians are plenty diverse. This is another topic entirely. Their homegrown films are a million times better than Indian (I watch a lot of Japanese and Korean cinema, and increasingly Chinese too). But the overseas-settled East Asian film scene is fledgling.

    Interesting you mention ADF Cid, when it comes to music there are LOADS of artists I like because it’s more accessible, tinkering with music is much easier than making a film. But if only some of these people drifted into movies, they’d be some mash up crazy films that I’d watch. I’m awaiting Gaddafi, ADF’s opera. Sounds interesting.

  37. xyz — on 1st May, 2006 at 8:11 pm  

    I agree mostly with what Dolores Haze said. It’s the telling or the execution that matters the most, rather than who did it and what the subject matter is. The same Asian subject matter can be cliched in the hands of one and meaningful in the hands of another.

    And the criticism of Asians who don’t explore beyond their own cultural roots also applies to Western and other artists who also don’t expand beyond their roots, but seem to garner less flack for being singleminded about their influences. There’s nothing wrong in sticking close to home (whatever home means) as long as you do it well. It’s the reason why Satyajit Ray said he felt comfortable doing mainly Bengali-language and source films, although he got numerous offers to do other regional and English-language films and was criticised for not expanding his borders.

    As for Mistress of Spices, I haven’t read the book so can’t tell if the movie merely reflects a mediocre novel or Chadha’s husband messed it up. But when it comes to the Indian woman-white man angle, he was merely following the book. It may seem trite, because it isn’t done especially well in Bride and Prejudice and Mistress of Spices, but that doesn’t mean it’s not of interest to others, especially Asians. When the New York Times did a piece on how the younger generation of educated, upwardly mobile Indian-Americans are surprisingly going for “introduced” or “arranged” marriages with people from their own backgrounds, several Indian-Americans wrote letters, huffing and puffing that the paper should have concentrated on the “more progressive” “less trite, more imaginative” Indian-Americans who shun this practice and have married non-Indian (usually white) Americans. They said they wanted to see more of this reflected in the popular culture. So the stereotypes go both ways.

    The Asian experience is a multifacted one, and there is no such thing as authentic and each art work should be taken on its own merits and not put forth as representative of a diverse and complex diaspora (not even including India’s complexities) (although some experiences are more representative than others).

  38. Sunny — on 1st May, 2006 at 8:24 pm  

    Rohin – I will have to disagree with you completely.

    Asian men shown as sexist wankers? Guys, welcome to the real world. This is how most Asian women (and non-Asian) view us. Given that they’ve endured thousands of years of patriarchy then you have to expect some backlash. Panjabi families are notoriously sexist and maybe GC came out of that.

    It also annoys me when people say GC is not authentic. Hell – she doesn’t have to be! That is the whole point of this article. What is authentic? Constantly doing the Indian boy meets Indian girl films? Sure GC’s films have had a sort of a similar formula but then inter-racial relationships are the best way to get a wider audience. People are more likely to watch who they connect to.

    In real life she just ended up with a fat American, poor dear.
    That was a low blow.

    The adage about “make it yourself instead of complaining” applies because GC has no real necessity or even need to reflect me, you or the vast Asian population. She could make films about dogs humping dogs for the rest of her life if she wanted to – that is her choice. As consumers we simply vote with our wallets. I thought Mistress of Spices was rubbish but I enjoyed Bride and I liked Bend It even more. End of story.

    You want to read lameness? Check out Dhaliwal’s article in yesterday’s Sunday Times on why Asian boys like hip-hop culture. He is desperate to pretend he “gets it”.

  39. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 8:25 pm  

    xyz your comparison to Ray is erroneous. We are not saying Asians MUST tackle alien topics, of course not. In fact we started with books – but the same applies to film. It’s not that Asians are tackling myriad aspects of what it is to be asian, it’s that they are doing THE SAME THING over and over.

    What Ray did was new to Indian cinema. He did not initially win popularity from other filmmakers as they felt he portrayed a negative view of India which the rest of the world would see. But he also did kid’s movies, period pieces, love stories, tragedies, thrillers, fantasies, political pieces… He played with timescales, framing, focus – he was remarkably inventive.

    But what do we get now? The same cross cultural drama, who am I? Indian or English?! I’ll mince around and fight with my parents and boyfriend for 2 hours, then I’ll find a middle ground and realise that they’re both right, I’m Indian AND English and everyone’s happy. Oh chuck in a bit of misogyny, bhangra and lazy stereotypes while you’re there.

    My gf says Mistress of Spices is a fairly nice novel. And for the record, I think introduced/arranged marriages are pretty smart a lot of the time.

    You’re right, the Asian experience IS multifaceted, so why aren’t Asian films or NRI books?

  40. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 8:29 pm  

    Sunny I never said I wanted Chadha to be authentic. But if she is going to have an Asian family, why not ground them in some sort of reality? Do you know any Sikh families who would call off their son’s wedding because they saw their future daughter-in-law’s sister hugging a white boy?

    Come on, what complete tosh.

    Plus I didn’t say anything about sexism, I know there’s plenty of sexism in Asian culture – portraying that’s fine if you want.

    I don’t expect anyone to represent me and GC can continue making whatever she likes (hey, at least she has branched out now with Jeannie and Dallas) but I’m lamenting the one dimensional view of Asianness Asians possess simply because that’s all they’re exposed to. They should know better. And low blows don’t bother me here, I can’t stand the woman.

  41. Rakhee — on 1st May, 2006 at 8:57 pm  

    Rohin – I take your point (rant ;-) ) and yes, I liked films like East is East too. As I did Bend it Like Beckham.

    The point is that both of these films were about either depicting real life in a ‘non-escapism’ manner or about breaking a stereotype. For whatever reason people enjoy films like Mistress of Spices, I for one am crying out for films which go beyond the typical scenarios as they are a refreshing change.

    I also know that being a British Asian in my twenties, I am not alone.

  42. xyz — on 1st May, 2006 at 8:58 pm  

    Rohin, I knew when I mentioned Ray that it wasn’t the best example, but I couldn’t think of another at the moment to make my point.

    I understand what you’re saying, but I will still go and watch an Asian film or read an Asian novel about the usual boy meets girl, identity crisis, family is conservative, I’m going to rebel stuff, hoping that it will be done better or illuminate these issues (which still exist in many Asian families at some level or the other and won’t be going away anytime soon) better than another product did. Perhaps I’m not being imaginative then. I know there’s more to Asian life than that.

    But I would rather see an entertaining and well-made Bollywood/regional song-and-dance movie about the usual themes than some pretentious rubbish that pretends to be “new” “hip” “more progressive” and doesn’t entertain or educate me but bores me to death. I’m reminded of Khaizad Gustad (spelling?) who said he didn’t want to make movies for the “oily haired” people. With hubris like that I expected him to come out with something more earthshattering and “progressive” than the junk that was “Boom.”

    Yes, Asians should tackle more aspects of what it is to be Asian (in the subcontinent and out of it) but an oft-repeated subject matter that’s well done is better than “progressive” or “new angle” crap.

  43. Rakhee — on 1st May, 2006 at 9:06 pm  

    xyz -take your point but films, books and media are highly influential in forming opinions amongst the British public and we’re not just about falling in love, singing in fields and arranged marriages!

    Speaking of Bollywood films though, I loved Black. This film was a huge hit around the world but no songs in sight. Different films can have an impact!

  44. xyz — on 1st May, 2006 at 9:38 pm  

    Rakhee, I agree. Books, films and media should explore more than love, singing and arranged marriages. But neither should these be automatically dismissed as unworthy of further exploration or experimentation.

    I hated Black! Sorry. I think its one of the most overrated Indian movies. I found it even more unrealistic than a typical Bollywood movie. It took itself way too seriously. And I wanted to knock Rani Mukherjee on the knees and tell her to stop that ridiculous Charlie Chaplin walk and to stop Amitabh from making a fool of himself.

  45. Sunny — on 1st May, 2006 at 9:56 pm  

    Bachchan lost all credibility with that hilarious train-wreck that was Boom.

    Rohin – you seem to be full of contradictions in this one. You say in your earlier post:
    Take Chadha againg – a wholly stereotyped view of Asians. All the other detritus that floats our way seems to have ‘Bollywood’ somewhere in the title or synopsis.

    Yet later you say you never asked for authenticity. Like I said GC can make brown girl meets white boy for the rest of her life if she wanted to…. that is really her prerogative. Bollywood has been recycling that crap for decades now and audiences don’t seem to have lost their desire for it.

    My point is that an alternative genre can also exist, but the vast majority of stuff is going to be middle-of-the-road love stories. Bend IT was HUGE in the USA, and it has been one of the biggest films to ever come out of the UK.

    I think she deserves some credit for that and I may not like all her films but the point is this – one on the hand you want her to be different but on the other hand you say she doesn’t have to be authentic. So fine. She is consistently making what is authentic and real to her. It really has no bearing on what other British Asians want to see about themselves.

  46. Rohin — on 1st May, 2006 at 11:24 pm  

    I’m sorry if I came across as contradictory, (although the example you give doesn’t really contradict me does it?) I’ll try to be clearer.

    I despise Gurinder Chadha as a filmmaker, not as an Asian filmmaker. Same goes for Karan Johar or Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I don’t care if they’re authentic or not, they just make awful, awful movies. Real gangsters aren’t really like Samuel L in Pulp Fiction, but it’s still a great film. Authenticity isn’t the be all and end all.

    So that’s why I dislike GC, she’s rubbish. I did not mean to say I blame her for the dearth in British Asian films. As you rightly say, she can make what she likes. I was just pointing out that what she makes is poor. But she is not the cause of NRIs making shite, she’s more a symptom. She’s like the rest – unoriginal. I am perfectly willing to credit her for being successful, I never begrudge that be it GC or Rupert Murdoch, success is admirable.

    xyz I’m completely with you! Black was ersatz Hollywood at its worst, that’s not where Bollywood should be going – Lord knows they’ve copied everything else, we don’t need this sort of stuff. I found it not only overrated but genuinely offensive to the disabled. Again, tosh.

    The bottom line – in case I’ve been misunderstood: No artist, be it film or literature, has a duty to anyone but themselves. I made this same point the other day. I’m simply berating the vast majority of Asian artists who insist on treading the same path, and GC is just one of them. As people have said, when done well anything is acceptable (eg DCH covered familiar ground but was great) but most is rubbish and offers nothing new.

    (NB: Bend it took $32,543,449 stateside with a budget of £3.6M. That’s not bad but not ‘huge’. Crouching Tiger, for example, which is in Mandarin, had a budget of about twice Bend it but took $128,067,808 in the US. Oh an Sunny, if you really liked Bride and Prejudice, I may have to re-think our friendship. This isn’t a joke! I’ve stopped talking to people because they haven’t seen Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters or BTTF)

  47. Sunny — on 2nd May, 2006 at 2:08 am  

    Ha ha! I’ve watched most of the mentioned films (what’s BTTF?) so you can’t get rid of me that easily son.

    You say you despise GC as a filmmaker, not an Asian filmmaker. Fair enough and I have no problems with that. Except the criticism you cite is all about race. For example:

    If one takes a look at her early career, she clearly felt a sense of self-loathing and insecurity

    and
    People feel they have to have some sort of desi angle, but they seem to come at it from a white mentality.

    and
    Take Chadha againg – a wholly stereotyped view of Asians

    and
    What I mean is, if you’re going to depict Asian, do it right.

    you also said:
    But if she is going to have an Asian family, why not ground them in some sort of reality? Do you know any Sikh families who would call off their son’s wedding because they saw their future daughter-in-law’s sister hugging a white boy?

    First, the demand for ‘reality’ Whose reality?

    And yes, I’ve known some hardcore Sikh families. A mate of mine, Harps – his had refused to have alcohol and meat at the wedding (fair enough, I refuse to have meat at mine). But then he also switched off the music at the party and did not want people to dance. :|

    That happens VERY RARELY but shit happens. Depends on how conservative some Asian families are and I’ve heard of some crazy people.

    In anycase… if she wants to portray a Sikh family dancing around the fire and singing khumbaya – that is up to her. Like I said above… way too many people Bangladeshis than was healthy laid into Monica Ali because “she was not authentic enough”.

    I feel as if you’re walking into the same trap.

  48. Rohin — on 2nd May, 2006 at 2:36 am  

    I don’t think it’s wrong to desire reality in books or films which are based in the real world. I haven’t read Brick Lane, but if Brick Lane-ites thought it was innaccurate, surely they’re allowed to complain about that. Forget race or culture, when a medical drama is completely unrealistic doctors object. In fact if you have any medicine in your TV show/film/book, you double check things now because you can’t get away with getting it wrong anymore.

    So why should people be sloppy in their story-telling? Fine, funda Sikh families exist. But then don’t complain when I decide to make a film about a gang of Muslim suicide bombers bent upon murdering every infidel in Britain, raping all the women and making it an Islamic state. Or a family of black people who go out mugging and selling drugs all day long.

    Stereotyped? Unrealistic? Sorry, that’s not valid criticism, I’m not listening!

    And the lines of mine you quoted all say the same thing: less stereotypes please. Apart from the first one about self-loathing, that’s just me being bitchy and laughing at her disastrous back catalogue and punk phase.

    BTTF = BACK TO THE FUTURE! Thin ice Sunny, you’re on thin ice!

  49. inders — on 2nd May, 2006 at 2:53 am  

    I’m going to coin a new term :-

    pak-ploitation

    or perhaps

    indo-ploitation

    rolls off the toungue don’t it

    (asian-ploitation doesn’t have the same ring to it)

  50. squared — on 2nd May, 2006 at 6:17 am  

    I like pak-ploitation. :)

  51. squared — on 2nd May, 2006 at 6:19 am  

    Rohin – I see your point.

    I personally wanna write a popular science book when I’m old and frail (providing I’m actually still in academia and can type).

    Then I can make money out of shit theories that nobody else has published. :D

  52. flygirl — on 2nd May, 2006 at 7:27 am  

    Rohin,

    Sci-fi/fantasy? Samit Basu comes to mind, an Indian author writing in English.

  53. SajiniW — on 2nd May, 2006 at 9:26 am  

    Rohin – my mate’s brother has written some sci-fi. I’ll find out his pen name for you.

    Being an author/filmaker should give you the license to create as you like. It’s not fair to burden minority creators with the dictat to ‘represent’ – they’re just creators, not role models, historians or spokespeople for entire nations.

    Like Rohin, I am sick of seeing the same themes over and over. GC is just the Nisha Minhas of filmmaking.

  54. Rakhee — on 2nd May, 2006 at 9:33 am  

    Whatever your feelings about Black Rohin, nobody can deny that it proves that Bollywood films can be highly successful without 17 songs and the typical formula of lovers from opposing families falling in love. It broke boundaries and was still successful.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are some great Bollywood love stories made in the past – Devdas was a brill film to watch if you wanted to be swept away with fantasies, costumes and something which was completely over the top. It doesn’t all have to be ‘real’.

    However, I still think that in today’s modern British age, it’s time for Asians to be depicted in other, more realistic lights. This just isn’t happening enough.

  55. Jai — on 2nd May, 2006 at 10:27 am  

    Rohin,

    =>”What I’d love to see is a new story explored (there are PLENTY) from an Asian perspective, but not making that the main focus. You know, a story, which happens to have an Asian character or two. The fact they’re Asian can or cannot come up, I don’t mind – like in real life.”

    What about “Life Is Not All Ha Ha Hee Hee” by Meera Syal ? I haven’t read the book, but I thought the recent televised dramatisation was pretty good.

    “Anita & Me” was also entertaining.

  56. Rohin — on 2nd May, 2006 at 11:38 am  

    OK I’m going to have to withdraw from this soon or I’ll never get any work done!

    Thanks flygirl – I couldn’t remember his name but I have heard about him. He sounds like the kind of guy I’d like, Bengali, IIM drop out, educated in London and only a bit older than me. Must check out his stuff – he’s one of India’s youngest successful authors.

    Rakhee, because I’m quite militantly anti-Bollywood, people assume I’m anti songs. I’m not at all, I love musicals (I’m freee!) and I don’t think Indian movies should be judged by the same sensibilities as Western. So people (not you) who say that “Oh that film’s good, it has no songs” make me laugh. I know that’s not your point, but Black was successful because it was a) a rip off and b) saccharine codswallop. It was only popular with Indians, NRIs and Richard Corliss, TIME’s resident Indophile. It was not a cross-over hit like Lagaan, which had lots of songs. All my white cricket-playing friends love that film!

    In addition there have been stacks of Indian movies without songs. In fact, Black simply represents a realisation on the part of big time filmmakers that they’re having to change their game a bit. Indie films and so-called ‘arthouse’ has been a continual part of Indian cinema for decades, albeit a poorly funded one. So as box office sales started falling for the standard Ash-SRK barf-fests, indie cinema and multiplex films have grown in popularity. Go to Cineworld now and at least one of the desi films won’t have songs.

    Oh and Rakhee – I hope you’re talking about Devdas 1955, not 2002! That illustrates my point again, Devdas 2002 decided to play up to Western stereotypes of Indians as it was deliberately made for a world audience. Gone was the reality of 19th century Bengal and in its place came Abu Sandeep opulence (and truly atrocious camerawork).

    Jai I thought Life…was tragic. Oh man it was bad. Anita and Me was quite cute and had promise, but overall was so-so. I preferred it to Life… as Life tried to take on too much. I hear the book’s much better. I think women may appreciate it more than me.

    Enough!

  57. sonia — on 2nd May, 2006 at 11:50 am  

    oh well. the whole ‘minority’ thing isn’t it. it’s like interviews with gay people isn’t it – oh the only reason we ( the mainstream) want to give you ( the minority) a voice is we’re so curious about you ‘different’ folk. Do tell us! You can choose to play that up ( get some attention) or play it down. or both. as long as people are floating around with ‘us’ ‘them’ attitudes – and includes asians – well what else can you expect!

  58. Jay Singh — on 2nd May, 2006 at 2:11 pm  

    Whatever a British Asian writes there will always be someone unhappy with the ‘representation’!

  59. Gertrude — on 2nd May, 2006 at 3:17 pm  

    FWIW, I have a Sri Lankan-American friend who has published extensively in the erotica genre (Mary Anne Mohanraj, see her page for a complete list of publications). However, her one contract with a major publisher was indeed for a collection of short stories mostly based on her family’s history and about the Asian immigrant experience, etc. (Bodies in Motion, Random House). On the other hand, it’s not as if a lot of major publishers handle erotica anyway, so I’m not sure if her experience is grist for your mill here or not.

  60. Jay Singh — on 2nd May, 2006 at 3:19 pm  

    Good point that Gertrude makes – maybe the publishers only want to publish one kind of book by Asian writers and the ones who do other kinds of stuff just dont get published.

  61. Sunny — on 2nd May, 2006 at 3:53 pm  

    South Asians writing about erotica? :o
    There is of course the Desilicious crew but SajiniW didn’t like that either much…

    Rohin – foiled again! I loved BTTF
    But, I’ll have to disagree about pretty much everything else. I loved Life Isn’t… and the viewing figures on that were excellent. I loved the book too.

    On the one hand you say you’re not fussed about portrayal or her ethnicity, but then you show you are later.

    Showing someone in a grossly caricatured negative light (murders, suicide bombers) because it may lead to more antagonism is different to showing that some families may be conservative. Muslim families are shown (unfairly) as super-conservative all the time.

  62. Rohin — on 2nd May, 2006 at 4:07 pm  

    I’ll try to put this in a post if I have time Sunny, I don’t think I’ve come across clearly. But it does seem we disagree on a fair amount anyway.

    A caricature is a caricature. And viewing figures mean bugger all.

    About Gertrude’s point – that publishers just want token brown fare, I think that’s likely. I think it’s half the reason Malkani and Viswanathan got such whopping advances – the publishing houses want a hot young Asian thing writing about hot young Asian things. But if there are a raft of struggling Asian writers being ignored because their writing isn’t stereotypical stuff, then that sucks and my anger is directed at the publishers, not the writers who are signed.

  63. Rakhee — on 2nd May, 2006 at 4:53 pm  

    Rohin – a question on your comment “I don’t think Indian movies should be judged by the same sensibilities as Western” – maybe not now but in the future why not? If you compare indian films that were produced 40 years ago to how they are now, there are major improvements in production, quality and storylines (though I think we all agree it could be much better). If Indian films want to continue to attract an international audience in forthcoming generations, surely it will have to begin to measure up against Western productions.

    Secondly, ‘Black was successful because it was a) a rip off and b) saccharine codswallop’ – if this comment is true, surely 80% of Bollywood films would be ‘superhits’ ;-)

  64. Rohin — on 2nd May, 2006 at 5:27 pm  

    Rakhee it’s an interesting point about Indian movies. When I say different sensibilities, I don’t mean different standards. I think it’s pathetic that most Indian films don’t have a script, don’t have live sound (unbelievable!) and have so much technical ineptitude. A bound script is a novelty in India, so much so that if a film has one it’s automatically in a higher league. It should be the norm.

    What I mean is that Indian storytelling is a rich, ancient tradition and endless Western rip offs are stupid. The classic artists in Indian cinema history, Ray, Dutt, Ghatak, Mehta, Roy, Benegal etc… were all original, but more importantly they were undeniably Indian.

    Matrix clones and Oldboy ripoffs are acceptable timepass, but it’s mindless filmmaking. To mention Lagaan and DCH again – two huge huge hits, very different and both original. You mention old films – in fact they were far more imaginative with their shooting and editing. But I suppose money drives things…

    “‘Black was successful because it was a) a rip off and b) saccharine codswallop’ – if this comment is true, surely 80% of Bollywood films would be ’superhits’”

    You’ve got me there. I guess it just hit the right tearjerking, puke-inducing buttons.

  65. xyz — on 2nd May, 2006 at 5:48 pm  

    Rakhee, why should one automatically associate “international acceptance” with a western sensibility? Maybe that’s true right now, but it might not always be nor should it be. Of course you want better technical quality, better production values etc, but why should the heart of Indian films be changed to accomodate western sensibilities? In fact, Indian movies from 30-50 years ago probably would attract more attention than the ones they churn out now. Hollywood producers aren’t exactly thinking about non-western sensibilities when they make their movies. They (well not all) try to make movies that are true to their own sensibilities. A well-made movie (musicals included) that’s true to its own sensibilities will find acceptance.

    The Bollywood/regional Indian popular genre should not be judged by western sensibilities (and the west has all but dumped their golden age of musicals and their golden age of filmmaking) but within itself. Like western movies, it has its share of dross and gems. It should try to elevate its own standards, be more innovative with its storylines, and try to raise the genre to new heights. It’s a genre that has a place in the world of filmmaking (and yes Indian filmmaking should also move beyond it but not completely abandon it) and by turning itself into paler and cheaper imitations of (usually) mediocre western movies, it’s not doing itself any favors. It’s losing audiences in traditional strongholds outside India (Africa, Caribbean, other Asian countries) and not appealing to the west anyways. The west may never get it because I think they’ve become so cynical as to even reject their own musicals as “weird” and sometimes forget that movies can also entertain you once in awhile. You end up being neither here nor there, or a not very good here-there.

    Bride and Prejudice would have been a lot better if it had been more Bollywood and less “Bollywood-inpsired but we don’t really want to be Bollywood because we’re Brit-Asians slightly embarassed by it and western audiences won’t get it.” So they had English lyrics and music that was cringe-worthy and really sub-par simplistic choreography, worse even than a third-rate Bollywood movie. Or maybe GC, being a Brit director, just doesn’t really know how to do Bollywood well.

    Rohin, about Star Wars – wasn’t the very last one just bad, bad, bad? And I know I’m probably in the minority over this one, but I thought Crouching Tiger was also a little overrated. It was beautiful to look at, beautifully filmed, but the storyline was a bit flimsy, as was Saving Private Ryan (a movie I’ll never understand the hype about).

  66. Rohin — on 2nd May, 2006 at 6:11 pm  

    xyz:

    Bride and Prejudice would have been a lot better if it had been more Bollywood and less “Bollywood-inpsired but we don’t really want to be Bollywood because we’re Brit-Asians slightly embarassed by it and western audiences won’t get it.” So they had English lyrics and music that was cringe-worthy and really sub-par simplistic choreography, worse even than a third-rate Bollywood movie.

    Completely agreed. Very well put, that’s really identified why I hate it so much perfectly, thanks! If it had been done right I wouldn’t have minded it, musicals can rock. One of my favourite movies is Singing in the Rain, which is pure Bollywood.

    Star Wars. Episodes I and III were sub par. III had good moments, but spoilt by that infamous Nooooo! My ranking is V, IV, II, VI, III, I (in descending order). Crouching Tiger was superb, I loved it. Two brilliant leads and two perfectly cast youngsters. Understated and moving. Far better than subsequent Heroes/Daggers etc. Saving Private – average.

  67. Rakhee — on 2nd May, 2006 at 6:25 pm  

    Thanks xyz. I guess the single most important factor relates to creating films which are right for the target audience.

    We refer to ‘the international audience’ which encompasses the mass, mainstream – everyone from Chinese to British, Black to Indian. This is where Hollywood or ‘The West’ has a tight hold. Bollywood films appeal to an international audience but mainly to an Asian audience.

    Any media which is designed to have mass appeal is very powerful and influential in forming opinions. Films like Bride and Prejudice are disappointing to me because they try to have broader reach and appeal to a truly international audience but stick with the same, typical love story led style which everyone assumes of Bollywood/Asian films – thus further breeding the stereotype.

    I also think that the younger Asian generation is increasingly influenced by The West. International brands, music, foods etc play an influential role both within countries like India and with British or American Asians so I guess to a certain degree there will be an inevitable ‘Westernisation’ of Bollywood films. Typical example is how 20 years ago Bollywood films never showed on-screen kisses / intimacy. It’s now very different (much to my mother’s dismay’!).

    I’m not suggesting that the quality of a film should be measured as such to a western one but there’s a definite move towards modernising Bollywood, Hollywood style. If this is the case, there will inevitably be comparisons.

    Ugh – enough for one evening!

  68. Yaz — on 2nd May, 2006 at 9:54 pm  

    anyone read any of bali rai’s books?

  69. Mazoldboy — on 3rd May, 2006 at 12:34 pm  

    Ive been following this story on The First Post, which hints there was some jealousy about her deal….

    http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=2&subID=461

    ..which I now see she has lost …

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4967864.stm

  70. Manish — on 9th May, 2006 at 10:38 pm  

    Our American-Indian friends at Sepia Mutiny…

    Surely you mean Indian-American. Wot? You call yourselves Asians? Oh, it’s all so very confusing :)

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