Karan Johar
Karan Johar

Koimoi Reader – Sonam Patel, British Indian, 24 years old, has written to us an open letter to filmmaker Karan Johar. Sonam is a MA graduate in Human Resources, currently working for government as HR assistant. She loved watching Bollywood films regardless of genre and here’s what she has to say about the industry:


“You make movies for the NRI’s” Farah Khan said to Karan Johar some years ago on the latter’s talk show Koffee with Karan. Well today this Bollywood loving NRI would like to dismiss some myths which are portrayed about us.

I’m a young British Indian, my entire life has been spent in a city where the white population severally outweighs any ethnic origin (unlike certain parts of London where you might even think you’re in mini India). At school I was one of precisely six “brown kids”, we have one cinema which shows Bollywood films and one mandir. My point? Even in this extreme Western environment I am pretty high on the desi scale. And I am not a one off here; the vast majority of first generation Asians, the children of people who were born in one country and relocated to another, are what I call the 50/50 balance. We enjoy the best of both worlds, eastern and western. Just like the outline of the young urban Indian has developed, e.g. Rashmi in QSQT to Zoya in Ishaqzaade, so have we. Yet the same stereotype is used time and time again in movies, see below for the top four misconceptions given to NRI characters:

1. Poor Hindi – This has to be the most annoying of them all! And it isn’t helped by actors like Katrina Kaif, Nargis Fakri or Bigg Boss contestant Upen Patel. See most of us, like 75%, can speak our mother tongue which may not be Hindi but Gujarati, Punjabi, or Bengali or anything else. And it’s not accented in a caricature way, because our parents took care to ensure we were exposed to the Eastern side of our culture from a young age. Some of us manage the mother tongue and Hindi due the increased reach of Indian TV channels, if at home at some in the day we will see something on Star Plus/Zee TV and to be honest we kind of like it.

2. Uncultured – A pretty close second to the most annoying misconception about NRI’s. How easily Shah Rukh Khan’s Rahul in KKHH says of Tina (Rani Mukherji) “Hindustani nahi hain na … yeh London ki ladkiyaan badi ajeeb hote hain” A year later the film Aa Ab Laut Chalen released; a slap in the face of every NRI around the world. Two supporting NRI characters, Rajesh Khanna’s son, gambling, abusive and manner-less and Akshay Khanna’s green card ticket, Luvleen, wild, wears small clothes and drinks. Whilst the son was an understandably negative character, Luvleen was misrepresented. Her tendency to drink or have a good time, unhealthy perhaps, but certainly not negative. Fair enough AALC is almost 15 years old but what happened in 2012 hit Cocktail? At the end of the film Saif Ali Khan decides against London girl Veronica in favor of seedhi saadhi Meera. Co-incidence?

3. No personality – In most films the NRI character is a supporting role, and a highly boring one at that. Monty (Vinay Pathak) in Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega, a family friend from America wears hideous clothes and listens to silly music. Why exactly, well this is never made clear, but since he is an NRI his image is made slightly hatke from that of the main hero Salman Khan. Another example is Rajiv in Subhash Ghai’s Pardes, at no point is it explained why this guy is such a jerk. It seems for the NRI guy it is mandatory to be rude and obnoxious, no matter how unnecessary or farfetched this is.

4. Unable to balance both cultures – I am particularly thinking of Namaste London here, one scene in the film actually made me angry. Rishi Kapoor is angry at his wife for westernizing their daughter (Katrina Kaif) to which she replies she did this so she would not feel out of place among her British friends. If the research team had invested a bit of their time into the dynamics of NRI’s they’d have known that that London especially is as multi-cultural as a city can be where diversity is embraced, appreciated even desirable. The myth that you have to be either fully western or fully desi just doesn’t apply to our times. At least from the 1980’s onwards Asian cultures have been prominent in major parts of society, be it food, films, religion or travel; the lines have blurred and continue to do so. Yes an NRI can go clubbing and just as easily do garba/gidda/kathak etc. We have a sandwich for lunch but ghar ka khana for dinner. In short we are as multi-faceted as any young Indian guy or girl living in India.

There are more like why a girl has to sing Om Jai Jagdish Hare to prove how desi she is (did no-one else find this KKHH scene cringe worthy?) but it think you all get the picture. It would be nice if more film-makers took a leaf out of Aditya Chopra’s book. His classic DDLJ featured a NRI boy with morals and values whereas pure Punjabi Kuljit was the quintessential male chauvinistic pig. This doesn’t mean just because the NRI was painted in a good light the film scored extra brownie points but more film-makers should experiment with their NRI characters. We do after all make up a huge part of the Indian community, so please paint us in interesting colors and not one dimensional strokes.

Finally back to my opening sentence, Karan Johar I love your films, some more than others, but unlike other directors whose films are recognisably similar with minor tweaks yours seem to change with each new release. Hence I feel that, maybe, I can request you banish the typical NRI in favor of a modern (or should I say more Indian) version.

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  1. Very well-said. The stereotypes has always been prevailing in movies. Most of the so called “Indians” live abroad yet they hypocritically claim they miss their motherland, they claim to be true indians, they try to inculcate traditional values in their children and get upset when they are getting westernised. BUT, at any given time, you will never see them quit the dollars, pounds etc to go back to india. Isn’t it double standards portrayed in these movies?
    The “Cocktail” point is spot-on. In most movies, the guys can sleep with women, smoke, drink etc. But when it comes to the female counterpart, she is vilified…and yet the guy gets the “seedhi-saadhi” girl at the end, who got married, but her husband left her before consuming the suhaag-raat. Which means, the male can commit adultery throughout yet always gets the “virgin” girl at the end. That’s another double-standards in Hindi movies.

  2. Sonam makes great points. Having lived in the US for long, I see more Indianness in folks from back home living here than most metropolitan wannabes in India. Karan’s films are a joke from a social and cultural content perspective. They stereotype NRI’s and diss them mostly. Unfortunately, we continue to frequent the cinema halls to lap up this mediocre but glitzy offering. So Sonam, please get up and smell the coffee. YOU are the target audience and you can’t seem to get enough of it. DON’T SEE such MOVIES. Bring about a change by rejecting trash.Cheers.


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