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Coldplay’s most recent single, had several critics blaming it of stereotyping India. But is it okay to do so?
A majestic peacock, slowly spreading its feathers. Click.
A group of mystic sadhus, leaving behind a blazing orange trail. Click.
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An intricate take on an everyday taxi, a blue Shiva, a vivid street life. Click, click, click.
The city of Mumbai forms a stunning backdrop to Coldplay’s latest single, ‘Hymn For The Weekend’, featuring slum kids, the festival of Holi, and several mystic and spiritual elements that our country has often been associated with. While undoubtedly aesthetic, the Indian audience is split as to what to make of it: does the video fill the shoes of predecessors such as Slumdog Millionaire, trapping a few of its elements in a box and painting that to be the entire picture; or, does it merely highlight the exoticism of the country?
Cultural appropriation is when certain significant portions of a culture are picked and ‘adopted’ by others, per say; their meaning gets reduced, and in most cases, the people to whom it belongs to, have a history of being mocked for the same aspect. The best example would be our traditional Bindi, which seems to have become a fashion trend in the recent ages. Beyoncé, who features in the track as a Bollywood actress, seems to have forgone the bindi, however, and was decked in henna and a traditional garb; hence bringing forth allegations of reducing a culture to a costume.
On the other hand, this is a highly Globalized society, which is constantly looking for means to creatively express itself; to learn from other cultures, and to grow together. There has never before been such a deep understanding of other cultures. Angelina Jolie sporting a hijab during her visits in Pakistan, for instance, was a form of cultural appreciation: wherein aspects of a culture were taken into consideration, in order to show appreciation for the customs of the culture.
The factor that seems to matter in such debates is the intention behind, or rather, the meaning behind the action: does the act promote a negative stereotype, such as the Blackface? Does it profit off a culture, such as Henna in music concerts in the West? Does it cause any harm to the culture it’s been taken from?
Does it, essentially, mock a culture, or does it pay respect to it?
Like most ethical questions, this is a grey area, with a very thin distinguishing line. Coldplay seems to be walking on the tightrope that separates the two. While the video does go by age old stereotypes of India; stereotypes that we have long evolved from, and are still trying to get rid of, in order to showcase a said evolution, it does not seem to do so in a negative light. It does not denigrate our culture in any way, nor does it promote it highly: it merely reveals aspects of it. The aspects could have been more varied, true, but the context of the song comes into play here. Roopak Saluja, the line producer for the video, pointed out that it was the video for a song: why should it feature Indian infrastructure? It wasn’t a documentary, and therefore did possess enough creative liberty to experiment with it.
The blame for the showcasing of such an India cannot fall entirely on their shoulders, however. These are the stereotypes and images that have been reinforced time and time again by our own media and movies, and anyone looking forward to creatively show off our culture should not have to investigate and analyse into it, and merely paint a picture as to what they see. Which, in this case, was an intricate take on an everyday taxi, a Blue Shiva, a vivid street life. Click, click, click., click.
Watch the video here:
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