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- Those of South Asian heritage who have resided outside of India, can fondly recall many films in which the various Bollywood actors and actresses dance around a field in Switzerland, singing about the love for their country and their chastity. This symbolic undressing of Indian values, through the medium of Bollywood cinema, has opened the doors for those who are not living in India to consume its values. It reaches out to those who were not born in India, second-generation children of the diaspora. It reaches past constraints of language, mannerisms and even time itself to draw back its viewers into a familiar, Indian narrative. But it has not been a focus until the idea of attracting those tourists outside of India, back to their homeland, became a focus of the film industry. The many pictures, as Indians call Bollywood films, started to feature the character of the diasporic south Asian, more frequently in the 1990’s.
- With films like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayege and Pardes, aimed at conveying what values a South Asian man and woman must keep, even if born outside of India, questions should be raised about what kinds of values Bollywood instills in the diaspora, and how it translates to an audience that may not be fully acquainted with Indian culture. How does an author, who is from India itself, and writing to a global group, properly convey to the diaspora what being Indian means?
- Many scholars have found that India interacts with the South Asian diaspora through Bollywood itself. Bollywood serves as a carefully curated medium that can translate the qualities and cultural aspects that Indians most desire to its global audience. By having Uzma, a British-Pakistani woman become a representative of the diaspora, Basu incorporates both the idea of Bollywood-tourism and the diaspora into Turbulence. In my research, I have found that Basu imitates many contemporary Indian directors, such as Karan Johar, Yash Chopra and Ashutosh Gowarikar, in having the diaspora return to India and become integrated in its culture. This mode of discourse opens Uzma, who otherwise would understand very little of India, to the very idea of what it means to be an Indian. She becomes, in my analysis, the ideal candidate for giving Basu's western audience an easier pathway into Indian culture.
- In order to fully understand the idea of the South Asian diaspora, it is necessary at first to extend the definition of the Indian diaspora to South Asia as a whole. Bollywood itself is consumed not only by NRI (non-resident Indians) but also by those from other neighbouring countries, like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It is a phenomenon globally, and has opened avenues for India to further itself in a global race. Robina Mohammad writes about Bollywood and its grasp on the diaspora, particularly highlighting that, for Bollywood, there is a large focus on the monetary value of those living abroad. "Bollywood seeks to harness the consumer power of the diasporic Indians, and use it to launch a challenge to Hollywood, alongside other world cinemas, for a greater share of the global market, and to promote India as an economic power on the global stage" (Mohammad 1028) – and through promoting in these global markets, the increase in tourism and Bollywood tourism itself have a profound effect on India’s global standing. It is estimated that Bollywood has a 3 billion and growing global audience (Mohammad 1018), some of which is not of the South Asian diaspora itself. As these numbers grow, so too does the focus on Bollywood as a cinematic producer. With the economic influence present in global markets, it is not a surprise that Bollywood directors have shifted their focus to the Indian diaspora.
- Opening the doors for the diaspora also involves transferring joined elements. In “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” Stuart Hall writes about the diasporic experiences of the Carribean. Although their displacement is vastly different from the Indian diaspora, there are shared instances among both. The presence of a changed travel back to the place of origin is much the same for those of the South Asian diaspora, where India is essentially a homeland, but is picturized through the presence of Bollywood in many cases. "The past continues to speak to us. But it no longer addresses us as a simple, factual 'past', since our relation to it, like the child's relation to the mother, is always-already 'after the break" (226) writes Hall, emphasizing that the changing relation between the past and the present, or in this case, the homeland and the diaspora, is dynamic.
- This portrayal of Bollywood as the beacon for the diaspora is most important to consumers. The values that are transferred through Bollywood are coded in gender behaviours. Robina Muhammad emphasizes the masculine versus the feminine in Bollywood, especially in the idea that the masculine is people and the feminine is the homeland: “It is against this backdrop that the previously demonised masculine figure of the overseas Indian became economically significant for the 'homeland' nation-state and was renamed the non-resident Indian (NRI), emphasising his Indianness over location” (1019), with the inclusion that the masculine is the NRI. The soils of India, often called Bharat Maata (Mother in Hindi), show an opposition with protecting the homeland, even away from home. For Muhammad, the diaspora is still tied to India, even at a distance, and this relationship is exploited by Bollywood.
- The unique diaspora of those of South Asian heritage, especially in relation to India, becomes especially unique when viewed through the singular lenses of Bollywood. As the most popular cinema from South Asia on a global level, Bollywood is still able to translate the cultural and social values of India to those who originate from entirely different countries – like Pakistan – removed from India not long after its independence. The translation of these values from country to country, reaching out to those who are outside of South Asia itself, becomes rudimentary to how Bollywood wants to portray itself. This is better put as Hall writes, "Within the terms of this definition, our cultural identities reflect the common historical experiences and shared cultural codes which provide us, as 'one people' with stable, unchanging and continuous frames of reference and meaning, beneath the shifting divisions and vicissitudes of our actual history" (223).
- By inserting a character, who mirrors that of the heroines such as Simran from Aditya Chopra’s directorial debut film Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayege (1995), Uzma is immediately placed in India, unfamiliar with it, surrounded by her own beliefs in people who have approached her. Basu’s introduction of Uzma is automatically the sexed, appealing female form that is present in many Bollywood films: “Uzma does cut a fairly formidable figure: tall, toned, dark, smouldering, impeccably dressed, and a rich Oxford accent to boot” (Basu), adding that these traits are “Essential for those romantic blockbusters where the hero, in between foiling international terrorist plots in Sydney and dancing in Macau, pauses to play American football for Oxford” (Basu). He has painted a picture of Uzma that immediately makes her sex representative of the diaspora in films. Taking after actresses like Katrina Kaif and Amy Jackson both of whom have worked in Bollywood’s film industry primarily playing those of the South Asian diaspora.
- Uzma's arrival mimics the growing interest in the "diaspora" within India. Not only is she attractive, she is still Pakistani and hence has some ties to the Indian past. Her dark, curvaceous body is the ideal standard of beauty within India itself. The presence that Uzma emits when there, outside of her superpower, is one of confidence. The member of the south Asian diaspora who sees no wrong in her own presence, who arrives to take Bollywood by storm, is not entirely different from the idea of the Bollywood Heroine, who emerges from the dystopia to return to the homeland. She returns to India with a prebuilt notion of the industry around her. Her stay with her friend, Saheli (who’s name literally means “friend” in Hindi, noting her role as a friend in the story), is when we see most of Uzma’s initial reaction to India.
- Basu writes about Uzma’s initial reactions to Bollywood before the influx of 1990’s diaspora focused films:
- Uzma had been exposed to Bollywood a little while growing up in England, mainly videos of blockbusters from seventies and eighties, a time when Indian men had hairy chests and unrepentant paunches, wore cravats and bell-bottoms and were social chameleons equally at ease in tribal villages surrounded by feather-duster-sporting dancers and in underground lairs full of metal drums, collapsible henchmen and chained virgins.
- Saheli had introduced her to the New Bollywood, the in-your-face, slick, Armani-enabled imperial-ambitions, global Bolywood, the dream machine that had spawned hundreds of enterprises like Daku Samba Entertainment (Basu).
- That Saheli is the one to introduce her to the more attractive version of Bollywood, in tandem with what someone distanced from an older version of India might expect, is no surprise within the text. The version of Bollywood that Uzma has seen, and is interested in, will feature actors and endorsements that will attract a western audience. Films such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something Happens) and Khabi Khushi Khabi Gam (Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad) with the presence of high class shopping outlets, the upper-middle class and very little of the older, tribal Indian backdrop has consumed the Indian media presence in recent years. By showing that even someone living in London, consuming the products of their daily lifestyles, can still connect to India and feel a tie to India, through Bollywood, these directors are able to draw the attention of British-Pakistani women like Uzma.
- Through attracting those outside of the National sphere of influence, Bollywood becomes an important medium for those like Uzma. Her attraction to India is essentially what has her involved in the events of Turbulence. One of the moments where Uzma is reminded of her status, as someone who is not Indian, who was not born on the soil, who is not able to claim the industry as her own, is when she and Saheli are unable to find a house for Uzma, because available housing is “a) too expensive b) too small c) too remote d) simply not available because Uzma is female, Uzma is Muslim, Uzma is single, Uzma is foreign, Uzma is alone, Uzma is an actress, and you know wha thtey say about struggling actresses” (Basu). Uzma is not given the Indian status despite her superpower making her attractive, forcing everyone to say yes to her. In this instance, Basu truly highlights the experience of the South Asian diaspora in Mumbai. Bollywood gives you an opening into another world, but it does not wholly make you an Indian.
- Uzma is among the many South Asians in the diaspora who are not wholly Indian but aim to capture Indian sentiments, at least those prescribed to by Bollywood. As Robina Muhammad best puts it, “Thus Bollywood makes possible reimaginings of the 'homeland' and identification for both the first and subsequent generations" (1018). There is a new image of this homeland in Uzma, who is representing the diaspora. She views Bollywood’s evergreen swiss landscapes, Mumbai’s posh shopping centres, and high class restaurants as the primary picturing of Bollywood. The real India, the one that is present behind the Bollywood picturizations, is what Uzma is bound to encounter outside of Saheli’s home. This version of India, that is present in the poor streets and gullies of Mumbai, in any city outside of Mumbai itself, is the India of the daily.
- This version of India is suspiciously missing from many 1990’s Bollywood films, even though they may travel to these locations. In Karan Johar’s debut film, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the primary film takes place in a University in India. It visits lavish locations in India, like Mauritius and Shimla. These are tourist attraction points. In no sense are we ever introduced to poor, dust ridden streets. This is a version of India that makes Uzma want to become an actress: “She wants to be an Actress. Uzma wants to work in Meaningful Cinema, Edgy Multiplex Films – at least until she gets to play the lead opposite Shahrukh Khan. And while she has enjoyed the attention and casual offers, she knows she wants to work with Serious Artists” (Basu). For Uzma, there is an India she would prefer to focus on, and it is the one shown to the diaspora in order to encourage their interaction with India.
- Returning to the homeland, for Uzma, connotates much of what Nandini Bhattacharya writes for South Asian Popular Culture. “Some earlier Indian cinema scholars have suggested,” writes Bhattacharya. “have emphatically suggested that Bollywood films, like other version of popular culture from ‘back home’, serve to stage nostalgia or reconnection for many diasporic viewers” (164). They have given Uzma her nostalgia and reconnection with the parts of Bollywood and India that she can understand. The parts she is incapable of understanding, the ones that are rural, crude and much more “tribal” are excluded from the Bollywood of her imagination. She does not want the roles that do not involve a lavish Bollywood. Bhattacharya further writes, "The single most undecided issue is whether Bollywood cinema seeks to make diasporic viewers retrospective and nostalgic, or if it is a dynamic and dynamizing medium that allows the viewer to produce or invent and not merely receive or consume codes of culture and identity" (163). In Basu’s text, certainly when Uzma is traversing Mumbai streets, there is a concern with transcribing values and codes of culture onto Uzma, and onto the audience that reads Bollywood through her. While Basu, at times, ridicules the notions of Bollywood and its culture, he still gives it a place in his medium. It still has an important space in Turbulence, because a character is introduced through connections with Bollywood.
- As someone of the diaspora, who is looking back at the country she may have originated from, generations before (before the split from India, as we learn that Uzma has relatives in Pakistan in chapter two of Turbulence), Uzma is tied into the Indian culture when she begins to be a part of the core group of heroes within Turbulence. She sees the other sides of India through Tia, Aman and Sundar, who represent those who are living in India. With their different backgrounds, Uzma takes on the role of the Bollywood heroine even more thoroughly, especially once she tunes into the same, romantic mindset as other Bollywood heroines from the diaspora.
- The focus on romance is eminent through Basu’s work, despite a clear attempt at ridiculing Bollywood in chapter two. Where there is a split between the serious undertones of the text, highlighting the experience that someone from the diaspora has, and an emergence of a romantic story plot to keep the female body aligned with a sexed body. Uzma kisses Aman, seemingly out of nowhere, during chapter thirteen of Basu’s Turbulence:
- “Or is it because your plan is shit,” Uzma says. “If you must know, I’ve been wanting to do that for a while.”
- “Then try again, Uzma Abidi.”
- Uzma walks up to him slowly, snakes an arm around his back and kisses him with a passion she had been reserving for her first movie encounter with George Clooney (Basu).
- In this bizarre moment, where kissing is used to reawaken Aman from his rest, we are to take in the fact that Uzma is a sexual being first. Like the estranged diasporic women who are featured in Bollywood films, there is a need to make a woman tied to a man. Uzma must find her sexual partner, have a tie to India through a man, who will treat her like any other woman from India, and instill in her values of an Indian woman. It is essentially creating a sexed, female body, where "The production of the 'nation' draws on the feminine, sexed body to both explore and naturalise the aesthetic and moral markers of 'Indianness'. Thus, women's bodies become a site for inscribing and standing in for national territory, and so 'it is on the notion of womanhood that cultural identity of the community and the nation is staked'" (Mohammad 1020). Uzma’s body is claimed, in this sequence, by Aman, who is the one who leads her towards becoming a part of India. While greatly modifying the fact that the Indian woman must be virgin and chaste, Basu still inscribes Aman’s masculinity onto Uzma, who must remain in India, to defend the soil, as an Indian woman. As Muhammad better describes it: “Bollywood reinforces the notion that Indian men's cultural authenticity remains predicated on their ability to control their women."
- With the diaspora now an essential part of India, Uzma’s character remains in India along with Aman and Tia. Though they temporarily do go to London, Uzma’s hometown, she has at this point already accepted the Indian origin, as has every other female in Bollywood movies that primarily deal with the Diaspora. Even Uzma’s moment of triumph, where she stops Jai, is relegated to simply being told to Aman, who awakens after all of the conflict has ceased: “Uzma emerges from a huddle in the crowd and walks up to the edge of the fountain under the statue. She’s never looked more beautiful; she’s doing her Grand Entrance thing again. The crowd sighs with love and desire as she takes her place under the ball of light. She looks around theatrically, raises her arms and calls her fellow superheroes” (Basu). Uzma’s action is limited to behind screens action. The true action that was highlighted in earlier passages all regarded how Jai, Vir and Aman handled their conflict.
- In the world of Bollywood, where the female diaspora is tied to the male, must be carefully processed and released out according to the values that a new, modern India wants to convey to the global world, Uzma becomes perfect. As someone who represents the diaspora, Uzma goes through every stage that other female heroines have gone through in popular Bollywood films. She ends up in a relationship with a hero who intends to protect the integrity of India, and the world.
- By having Uzma as the character from the South Asian diaspora, visiting India through a connection to Bollywood, Basu not only reveals the flaws of Bollywood, but also perpetrates the values of India through Bollywood in a way that likens to other directors of the industry. Through using Uzma, Basu has a character of the diaspora journey through India and reconnect with the homeland, constituting the journey that many of the Asian diaspora take to India through the medium of Bollywood cinema. It gives representations of women and their relationship to the country and to men that is sexed, controlled, and carefully positioned. Uzma becomes an Indian once her relationship with Aman is cemented, through sex and through a conjoining of her heart with his Indian heart. Basu essentially both comments on Bollywood and the diaspora, but also absorbs it into his text, to make his readers globally entrenched in his work.
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