Where are the Indians really dreaming of Bridgerton?

“You read Ghaleeb? ”Asks Edwina Sharma, a suitor who is fighting for her hand in the final season of the hit vintage drama Netflix Bridgerton.

The mention of Mirza Ghalib, a famous Urdu poet of the 19th century, was one of the show’s many attempts to highlight the Indian origins of the heroines, Kate and Edwina Sharma, played by British-Indian actors Simone Ashley and Charita, respectively. Chandra.

But despite, or perhaps because of, references – bracelets, Indian embroidery, masala chai, a melodramatic melody from the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, even a Hindu wedding tradition – Bridgerton has raised quite a number of mocking eyebrows.

And, with two brown heroines in London in the early 19th century, she was criticized for being careless in her details and ignoring race and colonialism.

While the Indian diaspora largely appreciated seeing someone who looked like them on screen, the show left the people of India with mixed feelings, from amusement to irritation to disappointment.

Even though the diaspora is growing and telling its own stories in Hollywood and on Netflix, Amazon, HBO and Hulu, Western shows still seem to be based on simple stereotypes when it comes to representing India itself.

South Asians on screen

With the flourishing multilingual entertainment industries in the country, Indians have never really looked to the West for on-screen representation.

The public has usually reserved the harshest criticism for the home-made media. He is more likely to criticize the way a South Indian character is portrayed in a Bollywood movie than to target Apu in The Simpsons.

And until a decade ago, Western production Indians were mostly crossover stars – from Shashi Kapoor and Kabir Bedi to Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra.

But that has changed with the rise of Indian-born creators and showrunners in the West, especially in the United States.

Actor and writer Mindy Kaling, who made The Mindy Project and the Netflix hit Never Have I Ever, was one of the most visible figures in the entertainment industry trying to expand the space of Indian-born creators – and stories about their identity. Comedians such as Lilly Singh, Hasan Minhaj and Hari Kondabolu even brought the Indian-American / Canadian experience to the comedy scene and to political satire.

As audiences began to use social media to appeal to storytellers to reflect the diversity of real-life on-screen, YouTube and streaming platforms took on these shows, which were inherently American or Canadian, around the world.

But season two of Bridgerton defied those boundaries, seeking to tell the story of the British Indians to the diaspora, but through a powerful foreign lens.

“It’s exciting to see how romance and the media have only progressed in the last decade, but we’re so far, so far from enough,” said American-American love writer Alisha Rai.

“With so few examples of decent representation, what always seems to happen is that the community wants every piece of representation to be everything for everyone, and it’s just not possible for a few showrunners and writers to make it to the bottom line. arrival with South Asian Characters, ”she added.

Bridgerton’s stylized and sexy portrayal of Regency Britain has won over fans, even the wandering.

Even in the first season, which featured a black duke as a hero, he didn’t really delve into how he got there, avoiding any mention of slavery or race. He does the same in the second season, where he tells the story of an Indian family visiting London to find an aristocratic match for their young daughter. They came from Bombay, but we know little about their life in India.

The funniest thing about Bridgerton is watching a Netflix show fall back on the tropes that Bollywood is slowly leaving behind – a love based on breathless attraction, an obsession with marriage, and ornate bracelets that only really match love of the hero.

Whose story is Bridgerton telling?

Diaspora praised showrunner Shonda Rhimes for choosing dark-skinned women of Indian descent as the show’s heroines.

“The Indian film industry should be ashamed because it sticks to archaic casting practices based on colorism, while a Tamil woman … is celebrated for her talent and stunning beauty in the rest of the world,” she said. Indian American woman. wrote on Facebook.

Ashley and Chandra both talked about how the roles were important to them. “No one let me forget that I was dark when I was growing up,” Chandra told Teen Vogue. Ashley said in an interview that “it’s great that so many South Asian women can identify with these characters.”

But not everyone is impressed.

Some were amused by the way the script used words from different languages ​​- didi (Hindi for sister), bon (Bengali for sister) and appa (Tamil for father) – leaving them confused about which part of India the family comes from.

Another questioned the use of the caste name in northern Sharma for a Marathi-speaking family, a language in the western state of Maharashtra.

Even the scene in which Kate prepares a cup of chai masala has attracted criticism, with the Indians ridiculing the way she does it. In a classic Twitter move, someone even pointed out that it is disappointing to see so many references to a drink that has its origins in the exploitation of tea plantation workers in India during British rule.

“I do not expect the costume drama / period to be historically correct, but there is something profoundly pernicious in creating a past so devoid of slavery, empire and genocide, when their legacies – and continuing versions – continue to hurt them. (and kill) people today. “Writer and academic Sunny Singh said on Twitter.

Bridgerton is happy to question the patriarchy, but not the potential tensions between his characters, who are black, brown and white. But the color of the skin, which the show ignores, is hard to ignore in the viewing experience.

Can anyone look at a white grandfather standing over his brown niece, shouting that he will disinherit her and accept that this equation of power is just sexist?

It’s hard not to think about the notions of purity built into the relentless caste system of Hinduism when you see a brunette mother making fun of her daughter for “polluting” her family with her love story, especially since the man she ran away with doesn’t he was from the aristocracy.

Between history and fantasy

“Bridgerton’s alternative reality is a place where people of color can exist and experience the love and joy and complicated relationships without the trauma of the history of oppression, colonialism and racism,” said Nisha Sharma, a romantic writer who was inspired by Julia Quinn. author of the books Bridgerton.

She praises the show’s efforts for authenticity, “from the jewelry, to the Haldi ceremony, the hair oil massage, to the music, the cardamom tea, the use of Kate’s full name at the end of the show, and a slight change of accent. when the sisters talk to each other compared to when they talk to someone who is British. ”

But is it enough to place Indians among the British aristocracy?

For the second season, showrunner Chris Van Dusen said he has worked with historians, consultants and a diverse group of writers to be as authentic as possible.

That, Ms. Sharma said, still doesn’t change the fact that the show is “told through a white lens.”

She added that South Asian stories told on global media platforms should “present authentic experiences and identities”, especially as much of the focus so far has been on Bollywood-type performances, which tend to focus on northern India.

“This means highlighting the originality and the beautiful stories that exist in other marginalized communities in South Asia. As important as the alternative reality shared by Bridgerton is, so is the truth. “

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