Raj Thackeray vs. the Russian Bollywood Dancers Mafia

One of the greatest unintentional jokes of all time in Bollywood is for me the music video to “Desi Girl.” Behind Priyanka Chopra, who more than amply fits the bill, the video features some fifty blond, caucasian backup dancers. They stay in the background some of the time, but by their sheer numbers they suggest that the object choice celebrated in the song — the eponymous “desi girl” — might actually be an endangered commodity onscreen.

where are the desi girls.jpg

Now Marathi nationalist Raj Thackeray, nephew of the infamous Bal, has started a campaign to try and kick the foreign “junior artists,” as backup dancers are called, out of Bollywood. Normally, one feels a kneejerk hostility to opportunistic populists named after famous Victorian novelists, but in this case I can’t help but hope that the results of this campaign might actually be some constructive reevaluation of the Bollywood obsession with gori backup dancers.

Most of the politicians and Bollywood types named in the Telegraph article say pretty predictable things. Rakhi Sawant is in classic classless form (“These white girls are like lollipops that only last for two days.”) The one foray into partial intelligibility might be Jag “Night Eyes” Mundhra, who for some reason is identified as a “leading Indian film director.”

Leading Indian film director Jag Mundra last night criticised the campaign and said it could push up costs and force film-makers to shoot more scenes overseas. To save money, directors usually hire attractive backpackers passing through Mumbai and shoot dance scenes in local clubs or film sets.
“The reason producers pick white girls is because a lot of them have better figures and are willing to expose them,” he said.
“If you need a bikini shot, not many Indian girls are willing to turn up in a string bikini. But most white girls will not have an issue with that. Titillation has been an important part of Bollywood.” (link)

On bikini shots and the demand of the mass audiences for titillation, yes, maybe (the man knows his titillation). But on “better figures,” is he really saying that with a straight face in this day and age?

To be clear, I’m not agreeing with Raj Thackeray; hell, I’m one of those old school Pinkos who continues to insist that the name of the city, when we’re speaking English, should be “Bombay.” I’m not offended by non-desi backup dancers, just embarrassed for the filmmakers who feel they need to go this route when there’s no narrative justification within the films they’re making. I’m also surprised we haven’t seen much controversy on this issue before — it’s so obvious.

128 thoughts on “Raj Thackeray vs. the Russian Bollywood Dancers Mafia

  1. Man, I checked out some Fair and Handsome ads on youtube, one with Shah Rukh Khan. Damn, what a shameless ad by a guy who is well versed with different cultures with his travels around the world. I cannot believe he reduced himself to acting in such a ridiculous ad. I remember watching some Fair and Lovely ad in India more than 20 years ago. Looks like things have actually gotten worse in India regarding color. If you look at older South Indian movies, you used to find a variety of shades in the heroines even if Indians were crazy about fairness even back then. But now it’s ridiculous how they import so many non local women. It’s fine to have some non-locals as it adds to the diversity.

    Rajnikanth’s skin color and features actually seemed to have worked in getting him popular in his movies(bad taste skin whitening jokes in Sivaji notwithstanding). I do not understand why these idiots continue to butcher their skin. Just like those bimbos who overtan in the US and look like orange people.

    THis shameless attitude carries on with even the younger immigrants who come to the US. One indian lady I know(early 30s) told her daughter that the black girl in her class looked like a servant. I know that becuase the 7 year old daughter told me that. I had to explain to the daughter that it is not right to think like that.

  2. No it’s not. It’s obvious why most movies would have white people as lead roles-they dominate the industry- but why not just make the entire cast white? If minority actors struggle so much, why do we see at least one in almost every movie/tv show? As for non white characters being replaced by white ones, was race the sole reason or was it something else? I’m sure the opposite has happened too.

    You pointed out that the reason that white people are in lead roles is because they dominate the industry. They dominate the industry because for some reason studios believe white america is uncomfortable with a lot of lead roles going to minority actors and when it does go to one he often doesnt have the freedoms his white counterpart would. How many white women have you seen Will Smith (arguably the biggest actor in hollywood with 27 movies in development!!) kiss in his movies? As far as one minority actor in every tv show/movie. As far as i can tell there were no regular minority cast members in “Seinfeld” or “friends” or “cheers”, and those were huge shows for their time. For something more recent how about two and a half men? Plus when is it not considered struggling when one person is cast? The shows and movies are still overwhelmingly white. There are plenty of talented non white actors who are forced to be typecast because the studios want to see them in stereotypical roles. Being hired for a stereotype isnt PC, you are actually hiring someone to play a character that most white audiences are comfortable with. its the opposite of PC.

    As for the movies i mentioned where the non white characters are being replaced by white. There is really only one reason i can think of and one reason mentioned. The movie studios thought that having a movie made up of a minority main cast wouldnt sell to white america. Its the typical chicken and egg argument. Who dictates whats normal in visual media the people who make it or the people who buy it? The only movie where i have seen the normally white character replaced by a minority is the Kingpin in “Daredevil”

    Okay, you either love complaining or haven’t seen many movies.

    If anything i think you seem to like complaining. I’d have no problem with your argument if all you were complaining about what the exploitation of white women in Bollywood but you are complaining about the unfairness of Bollywood movies while defending the inherant unfairness of Hollywood movies and saying that Hollywood movies really should be more white except that political correctness forces minorites to get roles. This implies that in all actuality whites should have gotten those roles if it werent for that pesky political correctness.

    Sure, but Hollywood objectifies white, asian, Indian, black, latina women AS well as men. Bollywood just objectifies white women, spec. blonde ones. When do you see a black woman or white guy in bollywood, maybe once or twice if ever?

    I have no desire to villify one or the other, it does me no good. Im not in india an i do not watch bollyood movies all that often but if you dislike objectification you dislike it for anyone not just blonde white women. If you argument is that you need to see a black woman an a white guy in Bollywood because apparently you believe that at least some of the make up of the indian population consists of black women and white men then you should likewise be yelling that there should be more minority roles in hollywood because there is a large population of hispanics, african americans, asians and other minorities in America.

  3. Indians have a major league inferiority complex about their color and feel they are ugly, so it’s only natural to portray whites as the ideal fantasy women.

    JT, this is kind of harsh. I think some indian people have a problem with their color the same way some whites do. As far as i know the kids from “the Jersey Shore” coined the term “GTL” meaning Gym, TAN, laundry. In America a tan is seen as healthy and indicative of a good lifestyle and as far as I know. Most white people want to be tan. It would be harsh for me to say that they are tanning because they feel they are ugly and tan people are their ultimate fantasy but hey..they could be feeling that way.

  4. In American shows, there are plenty of tan and pale people. Whearas, in Indian shows, there are only really light skinned, non-representative Indians (many of whom had lots of help from a makeup artist) and now lots of white dancers. Theree are a few dark people in Indian movies, but they tend to be casted as servants or peasants. If Hollywood was casting big numbers of highly tanned Sicilians and Greeks as backup dancers and aritificially tanning all the main stars, then that’d be a hit at the general white population. Fortunately, Hollywood, unlike the Indian film industry, casts a variety of people of different shades and ethnicities.

    By the way, I do think that Indians feel they are ugly. From the widespread popularity of “Fair and Lovely” skin whitening creams to the marriage ads emphasizing “Fair, wheatish complexion” to the white obsession of Bollywood, I see a pattern.

    Speaking of Bollywood actors……. is it me, or does the typical Bollywood actor/actress (with their makeup on) look nothing like anybody you ever saw on the streets of Delhi? I bring this up because lots of white supremacists (Stormfront, David Duke, etc.) use Bollywood actors as a representation of what they think the original Aryans looked like.

  5. “How many white women have you seen Will Smith (arguably the biggest actor in hollywood with 27 movies in development!!) kiss in his movies”?

    Why does Will Smith have to kiss white women? I think with his kind of success, he really can pick and choose who his co-stars will be and maybe he prefers black women. After all, his very good looking wife is black (as was his first ex-wife).

    As a non-Indian, I simply can’t understand why you guys are so obsessed with this issue of color. Is it the caste system, British colonialism or a combination of both?

    Personally for me, the most exotic and best looking Indians’ I’ve seen are NOT wheatish or whitish or whatever you call them. The one’s that always make me stop and stare have olive skin and jet black hair.

    Sanjya Gupta makes most of my black girlfriends weep. Kunal Kapoor is perhaps the best looking man I’ve ever seen in my life.

    I don’t know why you guys want to look white (plain Jane with zero exoticism).

  6. http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=6d87a3aacbab4814c848e241e36f1e4c

    “Strong majority of Indians view themselves as fair and just 2% perceive themselves as dark, according to a Little India analysis of nearly 1.67 million profiles on India’s largest matrimonial site. An examination of Bharat Matrimony determined that 57% of the profiles were self-classified as fair or very fair and another 33% as wheatish or wheatish brown.”

  7. nm, i totally agree. and not all indian people are obsessed with color. I think darker skinned people are more attractive. The comment that i made was in context of whether minority actors were being treated fairly by hollywood or if they were only in movies because it was politically correct to do so.

  8. Thats an interesting one JT. Thanks for bringing it to our notice. I think that makes Indians amongst the most delusional people on the planet.

  9. Something tells me the Indians who live outside of India are more irked with the changes in bollywood than Indian Indians. To be fair (as in just), I think the men have become a million times better looking than before. They’ve become taller, much more groomed, and have better hairstyles (though they still could work on their wardrobes just a bit). The actresses have become more physically fit and IMO darker than they previously were. The white dancer thing is your regular sexist, racialistic–lets lord over outsider women because we can–mentality.

    Someone brought up the Chinese in their comments. I don’t think Bollywood will adopt the ‘West’s’ exotification of East Asian women as Indians do not classify the East Asian look as pretty. If they did, they’d pay more attention to the millions of North East Indians who are largely ignored in the entertainment/fashion/movie industry.

  10. ty:

    “Hollywood movies really should be more white except that political correctness forces minorites to get roles. This implies that in all actuality whites should have gotten those roles if it werent for that pesky political correctness.”

    Whoa, now youre just putting words in my mouth. I’m all for diversity in movies and I feel like there should definitely be more but I can understand why there isn’t. PC-ness (and sometimes talent?) is the main reason why a lot of non-white actors get roles (most of the time they play non stereotypical roles, most of the time). Now that you mention it, Will Smith has had a lot of lead roles that did well the overwhelmingly white public, he, like MANY other minorities don’t struggle but that’s not to say that there aren’t any non white actors who don’t. Obviously, that issue is evidence of white priviledge, which is something that mainly white people can fix, so take it up with them, not me. Also, Will Smith was with a white woman in Hancock (most successful black actors have had a romantic role with white actresses, Denzel, Taye Diggs, Jamie Foxx, Wesley Snipes, Samuel etc etc).

    As far as i can tell there were no regular minority cast members in “Seinfeld” or “friends” or “cheers”” I said almost every tv show, acknowledging there are some that include casts that are entirely white. I’m not defending Hollywood, I think it has just as much problems as Bollywood does, nor am I complaining about exploitation, I’m ‘complaining’ about the overrepresentation of white women in Bollywood. I don’t like Bollywood too much anyways but this addition is cheapening it’s already poor quality. To be honest, I watch hindi movies to see the ridiculously good looking people in it (those actors do look Indian to me, why do people on here act like light skinned/eyed Indian people don’t exist?) , I rarely understand the plot and skip through the self-harm inducing songs, not to see redundant blondes who couldn’t get roles anywhere else.

    large population of hispanics, african americans, asians and other minorities in America.

    I’m not sure if <20% is considered a large amount.

  11. Lol sorry, could you delete my last comment I’m having issues.

    I meant to say,

    I’m not sure if less than 20% is considered large

  12. If they did, they’d pay more attention to the millions of North East Indians who are largely ignored in the entertainment/fashion/movie industry.

    North eastern ‘Indians’ have bigger problems than under representation in Punjabi/Pakjabi Bollywood. The gross abuse by the Indian Army for starters. North East is better off with China because their rights are going to be no better and worse under the CCP, but oh – the CCP is going to pump in a lot more money than the Indian govt can afford creating jobs for the locals. I have met many NEs and few consider themselves Indians.

  13. You don’t see them bringing in Mexican or black or Asian women, do you? I presume all those women are exotic/foreign looking and willing to dress revealingly, but somehow those girls are bypassed for Russians. Hmmm…………….

    The white women you see in these movies are not specially flown in. They are whatever is available in Bombay. The sample doesn’t reflect equal-opportunity thinking. Bombay is not full of Mexican, black or “Asian” women in the right age bracket.

  14. I’ll put my 2 cents in.

    I love Bollywood movies. I actually enjoy most of the song-and-dance numbers I see in them. But as a feminist, the exotification of White/European women in Bollywood movies disturbs me. (I would similarly dislike it very much if Indian women were being exotified in European movies and made to dance around half naked for other people’s entertainment).

    I don’t have an inferiority complex. I think that Indian women AND European women are both attractive, just in different ways. They are both beautiful in their own way. Pale can be beautiful. So can tan and so can dusky. I wish women were given “smarter” roles in Bollywood. I have no problem with Russian women being in Bollywood films; I wish directors would give them smarter roles, so they could be seen as having normal, intelligent personalities. So they would not be stereotyped in sexist roles. That’s all.

  15. “I wish directors would give them smarter roles”

    Its generally better to simply make your own movies than tell directors or producers what to do. 'Can't make my own movies, its too hard' you say well then you're just crying into the ocean.
  16. Rohit,

    LOL! I laughed when I read your comment. Luckily, I am already into filmmaking and do make my own short films. I’m not a big shot producer/director yet though….

    In my own films, I do give women “smart” roles. I haven’t worked with an international cast yet, but I would love to, if I had the chance.

  17. One of the funniest things I ever read on this subject was an article in Salon about 7 yrs. ago, by an an American blond tourist, who was offered bit parts in a couple Indian films. Things is, she was in competition with a native born, non-English speaking, desi GUY. She and he used to exchange sulky, resentful glances when both were dressed up in veils and saris. And no, she didn’t look particularly butch and he had a definite five-o-clock shadow. Talk about Hollywood unreality. It must be pure magic over there in Bollyland.

  18. “On bikini shots and the demand of the mass audiences for titillation, yes, maybe (the man knows his titillation). But on “better figures,” is he really saying that with a straight face in this day and age? “

    I can’t imagine many fat white Americans who like to vacation in hot sweaty places… besides.. he said “backpackers”.. can you imagine fat people with giant backpacks on? Sounds like something that could make them… thinner.

  19. “In American shows, there are plenty of tan and pale people. Whearas, in Indian shows, there are only really light skinned, non-representative Indians (many of whom had lots of help from a makeup artist) and now lots of white dancers. Theree are a few dark people in Indian movies, but they tend to be casted as servants or peasants.”

    There are SOME somewhat darker Bollywood star, but you are right, they put tons of make-up on them. Kajol, for instance, isn’t really that light. (If you ever watch Fanaa check out the color of the skin on her hand compared to her face… make-up anyone?) Also Konkona Sensharma is not really that pale. I don’t think Rani Mukherji is either… in her first movie they dubbed her voice out.. now I am glad they let her have her own rusty voice… I think it gives her character. Bipasha is also supposed to be darker, but I never really liked her, so I haven’t paid attention personally.

    But overall, I think it is correct to say that Bollywood’s image of India is very unrealistic… most actors and actresses are very pale (or made to look so) with colored contacts to make unusual eyes. The guys build up their bodies to (what I think is) gross levels so they look like giant balloons ready to pop. (I also think mainstream Hollywood film are also unrealistic). The white girls in the background usually serve one purpose– “Item Song” popularity. In general there are stereotypes in India about white women being more sexual, and this plays into it. Also, most of the white women in the films are asked on the street whilst on vacation and think “oh what fun! Part of our vacation adventure.” Do they even get paid? Do you think Indians on the street would react with the same attitude if someone approached them with the same offer? Maybe some would, but I bet a whole lot more would be extremely wary or not willing to waste all their time, or dress scantily, or their families would disapprove.

    There are a few (very few) Indian films which show a foreigner as a “real” person, like Rang de Basanti. Maybe Rock On! (I guess Rob was supposed to be white?). There was another movie recently that came out about an Indian man falling in love with a white woman, but I can’t remember the title.

    Another thing about Bollywood that I think is important to remember is that they DO know what they are doing. The song “Desi Girl” may really be a tongue-in-cheek joke about white background dancers… Om Shanti Om is FULL of jokes like that about Bollywood in general. Dard-e-Disco, mayhaps?

  20. jo mumbai maharashtra main kama ke khate hai unohne shiv sena , mns & marathi manus ke against bolte samay sochna chahiye ki jo wo bol rahe hai usme bhi kuch sachai hai esliye unke against koi strict karvai nahi hoti agar aaisa hota hai to yaha khun kharaba hone main koi waqt nahi lagega

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  24. I do not like it when they choose Western Bollywood Backup Dancers – I don’t like it – Infact I hate it. Overall it can just ruin a film for me – It just makes it look less authentic & if these pathetic inferiority complex induced casting directors thinks it makes it look more ‘Classy or Sophisticated’ By hiring dancers with the pale white skin – They are truly mistaken.

    If you just even compare the difference of what looks better as compared to traditional Indian Backup Dancers it is obvious to anyone in the right mind.

    Traditional Indian Backup Dancers:


    Western Dancers:


    This sickens me to my gut because it is just so pathetic & self hating. I have noticed also that the darker Indians are the more of an inferiority complex they have. The lighter one’s & even more so the light eyed one’s like myself from Kashmir & Himachal Pradesh rarely have such a stupid mentality.

    It’s not even like these Western Women they are choosing in their videos are more beautiful. If you look at them – Many of these one’s are choosing are ugly. They are simply obsessed with skin color & this shows through the media. It’s Idiots like this who give Unattractive People such as Neil Nitin Mukesh or Katrina Kaif (Who in reality no one would give even the time of day if they were Dark Brown Colored) – Some sort of higher pedestal – Just over Skin Pigmentation.

    It is because of people like this that I often HATE being associated with or being considered Indian.