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Made for NRIs

Deepa Gahlot

A still from K3G In Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, there is a scene in which a little boy sings Jana gana mana to an audience of Brits at a school function, when he was meant to sing Do re mi.

Apparently, the scene has NRIs cheering like crazy. Not surprisingly, K3G is a top grosser in the US and UK. Interestingly, in India, some people have demanded the removal of this scene, since nobody in the audience got up when the national anthem was played.

The heart obviously beats louder for Mera Bharat mahaan when there is a safe distance between the heart and the hallowed soil of the homeland.

Over the last few years, a new genre has crept into Hindi films -- the NRI film. From what one can see, the non-resident Indian is more patriotic, more traditional and more family-oriented than the average Indian who is either too poor, too unenterprising or too stupid to acquire NRI status.

A still from Yaadein The first obvious NRI films were Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Later, Dil To Pagal Hai, Pardes, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Aa Ab Laut Chalen, Taal, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Hum Saath Saath Hain, Ek Rishtaa - The Bond of Love, Yaadein (Subhash Ghai admitted that he now makes films for the dollar and pound paying audience), and now K3G.

All of them star the latest 'overseas' craze and sell an exotic, quaintly backward India to the nostalgic NRI. Other films like Dil Se, Asoka, Lagaan, Gadar may also appeal to the NRI, even without the 'stamp'. But they are exceptions.

In the made-for-NRI flick, every conceivable Indian festival -- from Holi, Diwali, Sankranti, Janmashtami, Navratri, Mahashivratri to Teej and Karva chauth -- has to be celebrated. There should be a couple of engagements and weddings thrown in, so that the characters can get to wear heavy ethnic clothes, which the NRI audience can refer to as a fashion manual.

Just to be fair, Valentine's Day, Friendship Day and New Year's Eve can also be celebrated. Indians are quite savvy that way. They don't discriminate between festivals. If a Muslim character can be comfortably accommodated, then Eid is a must, too. A still from Asoka

In an NRI film, enormous joint families live together under one roof, preferably an English mansion passing off as a Delhi haveli, with suitably ethnic interiors and loyal servants. They are always overdressed so the screen looks grand. They have to be rich.

Indians abroad don't want to be disturbed by the poverty, squalor and one-bedroom apartments of people back home. Every decision is collective. Every once in a while, the family elder (parent, grandparent or old retainer) will have someone diving at his/her feet.

Then some character will say, chest swelling with pride, "Wah wah, you live in a foreign country but you have not forgotten your values." Or "Kya achche sanskar paaye hain."

The NRI film might dress heroines in skimpy miniskirts (preferably white and wet), and backless tops. But the girl who wears Western clothes after marriage is a shameless hussy and a vamp. NRI parents point to their daughters growing up around evil Westerners that girls should do as they are told, should be seen, not heard and agree to marry hicks back home if Daddyji so desires. They should also agree to be hauled back to India whenever homesickness strikes their parents.

A still from Aa Ab Laut Chalen The spoilt NRI female brat is like Suman Ranganathan in Aa Ab Laut Chalen or Kiran Rathod in Yaadein. They want independence and feel that babies will spoil their figure.

The male brat is the Apoorva Agnihotri of Pardes, who has had a girlfriend or two and demands sex from his fiancée before marriage or like the character in Aa Ab Laut Chalen, who treats his parents like slaves.

Good NRI kids are like Kajol in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Kareena Kapoor in Yaadein -- girls who obey their fathers without demur -- or like Rani Mukherji in KKHH, who wears tiny dresses but breaks out into Om jai jagdish hare when asked to sing a song, like Kareena Kapoor in K3G who quickly changes her wardrobe to fusion Indian and performs aartis when she falls in love with a true-blue Indian dude.

Or like Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale... and Hrithik Roshan in Yaadein, who are actually proper Indian guys at heart. They are not tempted even when very drunken girls crash into their beds and use modern technology to fix up arranged marriages for their women friends. Even when they live and prosper in the West -- like Shah Rukh and Kajol in K3G -- they pine for their homeland and start the day, singing Saare jahaan se achha Hindustan hamara at the top of their lungs.

A still from DDLJ So overwhelmingly 'Indian' are they that when they touch foreign soil, the air itself hums Vande Mataram.

Of course, the made-for-NRI film should not reflect life as it really is, either in India or overseas. Only then will they pay their hard-earned money to see an Indian that doesn't exist anymore -- preferably to the accompaniment of A R Rahman or Anu Malik's music.

For Hindi cinema, it means a narrowing range of subjects that can be tackled and a heightened sense of artifice and make-believe. Not to mention unrealistic budgets and inordinate power to stars.

It seems major filmmakers have very little respect for desis and their bacteria-laden rupees. If vapid 'designer films' are being made for the NRI audience, filmmakers have even less respect for the payers of dollars and pounds but since they flock to 'Bollywood' films and wave the flag every time Vande Mataram or Saare jahaan se accha plays on the soundtrack, they get the films they deserve.

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