NRI marriages through Bollywood lens

Apr 15, 2007 Kul Bhushan

"As a realistic depiction of Asian life in Britain, 'Namastey London' made us feel proud as NRIs," said Chaman Lal Chaman, a well-known radio presenter and an Asian cultural leader in London. The Bollywood film deals effectively with the generation gap and the problems of Asian parents and has been popular in Britain because it uses laughter and satire to drive home its points, added Chaman.

The upper-class mannerism of the English snobs and ill-informed colonial types still living in the past are shown and put in their place by the 'Punjabi Puttar' hero. No wonder British Asians have been lining up in the foyers of over 40 cinemas in many cities of the UK, particularly London, to watch it. And they chuckle, cheer and shout lustily when the hero lists the achievements of India.

An NRI girl, played by Katrina Kaif, meets a rustic Indian boy enacted by Akshay Kumar. In real life, Katrina was born to an NRI father and a British mother and brought up in London. This theme has been a hit since "Purab Aur Pachhim" back in 1970 with Saira Banu as the hotshot westernised girl and Manoj Kumar as the patriotic Bharat.

In fact, the hero mentions "Purab Aur Pachhim" in "Namastey London" to drive home his point with Katrina.

In another box office blockbuster that tackled the same NRI romancing with an Indian theme in 1995, Shah Rukh Khan chased Kajol all over Europe and got battered in India before he could say "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge". And - would you believe it? - it is still running in Mumbai in one cinema and had its 600th show recently!

In recent years, there have been many Indian films aimed at the NRI communities in the UK but "Namastey London" pushed the envelope further for NRIs in the UK and gives a new twist to the old storyline. This film explores some subtle quandaries in NRI households in the UK. It realistically portrays a real clash of cultures - at home, Indians, especially women, are supposed to behave as Indians and outside they try hard to behave as Westerners. One can see them smoking and drinking in the pubs with their Western office colleagues. When the Indian boys go out with white girls, the Indian girls want to show them that they can also play the same game by going out - and even marrying! - white boys as in this film.

But many NRIs still prefer to 'arrange' marriages in India for their children, particularly daughters. Some of these nuptials turn into 'forced marriages'. But NRI parents are not so strict if their sons marry white women even as they take exception to their daughters bringing in white sons-in-law.

"Times, however, are changing. 'Inter marriages' are decreasingly frowned upon as compared with several decades ago. I have seen many English women, wives of Punjabis, wearing Punjabi suits, complete with dupattas or headscarves shopping in Southall or visiting the temple. In the temples, they try very hard to converse in their own brand of Punjabi with their elderly NRI in-laws. Decades ago, many Indian men would marry white women only to obtain British citizenship but today in majority of cases, the situation is different as the NRIs are here to stay as a community in their own right," comments Shamlal Puri, an author and a journalist from London.

"The British government is addressing the issue of forced marriages among ethnic communities and working to ensure no Asian girl is forced into a marriage against her will," Puri says. "The white Brits still have a chip on their shoulder of looking down upon India and Indians with the tinted glasses of the British Raj era. Some of them still need to come out from the old shell and be educated that modern India is heading for the position of being a major global economy and may well leave the UK behind. This movie goes some way in quelling misinformation on India."

After its box office bonanza in the UK, it's same story in North America. "The film has grossed $1.1 million in its first three weeks in North America, said Gitesh Pandya, editor of "So far the film has done well in the US and it must be doing even better in the UK given the subject matter."

It has strong results in Australia and other NRI markets too. In India, it has emerged as a hit for this year that has been lacklustre except for "Guru".

But the same cannot be said of "The Namesake" that is doing roaring business in the US with $6.8 million from mainstream audiences but not with NRIs. After all its hype, previews and promotion, it did not pull in the ordinary NRI crowd except for the elite.

After Easter holidays and now for Baisakhi celebrations, "Namastey London" is all set to become a super hit with the NRIs. It beats the big bhangra drum for India.

(A media consultant to a UN Agency, Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at:

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