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.
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.