On Friday, I received a ‘media alert’ if you will from Tandem Communication, a PR agency which has put me on their mailing list and refuses to take me off it, because I must have sinned in my past life. What were they alerting the media to—a new scam? Aamir Khan finally being made to leave India? Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) new campaign called Tolerant India? No. The earth shattering news was: “Beyoncé in Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla in Coldplay’s latest video—Hymn For The Weekend. All Hail The Queen!" I was to be alerted that “Pop Queen Diva Beyoncé is seen wearing a Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla creation in Coldplay’s latest video—Hymn For The Weekend. She wears a skin net lotus sequins hand embroidered dress embellished in gold sequins and crystals lined in red. A floor length black Exotica Gota coat is worn over it hand embroidered in Gota beads and multicoloured Resham and appliqué work. It is an ensemble that screams Goddess at the very top of her game."
I don’t know whether it screamed Goddess at the very top of her game, but it definitely made me look at the new Coldplay video, Hymn For The Weekend, which had been discussed ad nauseam by people on social media by then. The video was less a hymn and more a dirge for them it seemed. There was great outrage that the video supposedly portrayed India incorrectly and showed it as a fantasy land of colours, sadhus, queens and kaleidoscopes—and that actress Sonam Kapoor was in it, alongside Beyoncé.
So I did what anyone in my place would do. I watched the 4.20-second video to see why India was upset. And really people? This depiction of India has upset you? No wonder we are considered an intolerant people.
Chris Martin and Coldplay have basically taken every icon and image which has been associated with exotic India over centuries, and packed it into a 4.20 second video. There’s a ruin, a peacock, a dancing white peacock, trishul-carrying sadhus in flowing robes which are longer than Aishwarya Rai’s sarees in Devdas, cymbals being played in a temple, squalid looking buildings atop which you see a film poster of Rani, starring Beyoncé. And then there’s Beyoncé in the aforementioned “ensemble" walking up a mountain in a jungle. Chris Martin finally makes an appearance in a kaali-peeli (yellow-black) cab with a turbaned Sardar driver, driving through Mumbai city, where a man is talking on a cellphone, while three Holi-coloured boys ride by on a scooter.
This is all in the first 30 seconds of the video.
Following which we see a little boy, dressed as Shiva with a trishul and topknot, staring at the traffic passing by. Chris Martin is shot singing on a terrace with the background of a colourful temple steeple emblazoned with saffron flags. You see him walking through narrow Mumbai slum lanes with young children covered in and playing with Holi colours. There’s a lot of Mumbai on display—dirty streets, BEST buses in the distance, kaali-peelis galore.
And then there’s a kaleidoscope man whose kaleidoscope shows you Beyoncé singing in all her blonde glory. There’s a man playing with Rajasthani puppets. There are marigolds, colour, dirt, smiling people dancing in the streets. More Beyoncé making faux desi hand movements, while her ample bosom salutes the sun. There’s a single screen film hall where the projector is manned by exactly that—a man, manually—where Chris Martin watches the film with Beyoncé, in which she looks decidedly scary doing some dance moves. And then there’s a fire-eater. There are little boys jumping into a taalaab, Kathakali dancers, Odissi dancers.
It’s 3.34 seconds into the song. Where is Sonam Kapoor? Where, I scream, much like Beyoncé’s ensemble was screaming Goddess. I’ve even seen a group of men dressed as Hanuman and boats on a river. But no Sonam. Oh my god, there she is, running in a choli and dupatta. And in two seconds, she’s run out of the video! Oh she’s back for one second, wearing a big nosering and throwing some flowers into the air. And then she’s gone, never to be seen again in the video. There are boats in which Martin floats away against a backdrop of fireworks. Beyoncé does a Namaste to us and—Finis.
So what’s with the outrage people? The only criticism could be that this is a sub-standard song by Coldplay’s standards. They’ve sung far better songs, many times over. I get that everyone is most dismayed that Coldplay has shown an India that doesn’t really exist anymore, but aren’t we missing the point that this is a music video. Not a National Geographic documentary. Yes, the only image missing is that of people living on trees and going to school on elephants. But showing either the swanky buildings of Bangalore or palace hotels of Rajasthan isn’t going to be particularly appealing to music video audiences. This outrage makes as much sense as people who are outraged that Karan Johar and much of Hindi commercial cinema show us families and a world which are totally removed from reality. Coldplay’s last music video, Adventure of A Lifetime, features a group of chimpanzees in the jungle who sing the song and do a choreographed dance to it. This should make it clear that Coldplay is not in the business of making videos which depict reality. So get a grip, people.
Also, much like Life Of Pi, which had a talking tiger and a sailor in a boat and showed gorgeous and fantastical India to foreign audiences, so does Hymn For The Weekend. Whether you want to accept it or not, the video is beautifully stylised and shot—sans the last scene on the boats which looks like it was designed by the Life Of Pi CGI team. If anything, this music video will boost tourism to exotic India. So be pleased for the droves of people who will watch this video and want to flock to our shores. It’s a different matter that when tourists reach, they will find the most exotic entertainment in cities isn’t a kaleidoscope man selling us dreams, but Narendra Modi telling us about acche din on Mann Ki Baat.
The only part of this video which should trouble us is why Sonam Kapoor, a mainstream actress at a relative peak of her career, has agreed to feature in a music video for barely 3 seconds. Either she’s a diehard Coldplay fan, or she lost a bet. And dear Abu Jani, ensembles do not scream anything, let alone “Goddess".
I say, long live well-made music videos and the willing suspension of disbelief. Honestly, I’d rather watch a four-minute video on fantastical exotic India, than much of what we get to see on the news about real India today.