Indian film industry has much to learn from Azaria’s departure from The Simpsons2 min read . Updated: 26 Feb 2020, 05:55 PM IST
- Azaria has taken a stand against racial stereotypes perpetuated by his long-running cult animation sitcom
NEW DELHI: Voice actor and comedian Hank Azaria may have taken a stand against the racial stereotypes perpetuated by his long-running cult animation sitcom The Simpsons by retiring from lending his voice to the Indian American character Apu on the show. But his call is miles away from the reality in India itself where few actors take moral responsibility for what they do on screen, despite recognizing the far-reaching impact of cinema, television and advertising.
The 55-year old Azaria announced that he would stop voicing Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian-American immigrant who runs the Kwik-E-Mart, a popular convenience store in Springfield, and is best known for his catchphrase, "Thank you, come again." Apu has been termed a racist caricature that promotes negative stereotypes about Indians.
"Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore," Azaria told The New York Times in an interview published on Tuesday.
"It just didn’t feel right," he added.
Back home in India, while most popular names advocate inclusivity and egalitarianism, few have put their money where their mouth is. Surely, stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Kangana Ranaut have openly declined endorsing fairness creams, calling the pressure on youngsters, especially women, to look a certain way, unfair. The idea that a certain skin colour is superior to another is demeaning, false and racist, they argue. Actor Swara Bhasker has admitted demanding that a director remove a line from the script demeaning to Bangladeshis, arguing against stereotyping, racism, derogatory speech and ethnic biases.
At the same time, the number of films, both Hindi and in south Indian languages, that objectify women and perpetuate racial, gender and communal stereotypes, are impossible to keep count of. As recently as last year, Shahid Kapoor-starrer Kabir Singh, a remake of the same director’s (Sandeep Reddy Vanga) Telugu blockbuster Arjun Reddy, was panned for unabashedly glorifying a narrative of toxic male entitlement, about an alcoholic surgeon who takes consent for granted, roughs women up, often coercing them into sex while the plot ultimately tries to evoke sympathy for him. Released last September, Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Dream Girl featured an entire track that mocked Islamic behavior and practices.
“The conversations on Twitter exist in some kind of echo chambers based on the people we follow and often within elite and socially aware circles," film critic Baradwaj Rangan had reasoned when Kabir Singh had stoked controversy, in an interview to Mint. The fact that the film had earned close to Rs. 300 crore in domestic box office collections alone affirmed his point.
“We may want films to reflect ideal scenarios but that can’t happen. There are all kinds of stories and they should all be told," Rangan had said.
Meanwhile, it’s not like Hollywood has got it all right. The stereotyping ranges from focusing on Latinos purely in terms of sex appeal to featuring black characters as token best friends or the ones that die first in a crisis, to its inherent Orientalism in depicting Asians first as greedy, illiterate foreigners and later as ‘model minorities’ such as doctors, professionals, and more educated immigrants.
“In spite of what we say, film and TV have a deep impact on how we see our role models," Uma Vangal, filmmaker and professor at the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy had said in an earlier interview to Mint.