Bollywood has had quite a few South Indian characters. From comic relief and sidekick to main protagonists, South Indian characters in Bollywood have come a long way. One this that has not changed though is the ‘South Indian stereotype’.
Almost all South Indian characters in Bollywood will follow at least one of these stereotypes:
- Is studious and over-smart.
- Their ultimate goal is to marry a rich fair-skinned North Indian.
- They love idli, sambar and dosa.
- They only wear a traditional mundu (often misnomered as “lungi”) and white saree.
- They have a weird accent while speaking English.
- They’ve learned either dancing (Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi) and/or Carnatic music.
- Their name has one of these words – Subramanium, Venkateswara, Krishna Swamy, Iyer, Nagarjuna, or Srinivasan.
Also Read: Why Do We Malayalis Change Our Accent?
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at 4 popular South Indian characters from Bollywood cinema.
Through Meenamma (Deepika Padukone), and the other South Indians in the movie, quite a lot of stereotypes are enforced in people’s minds – South Indians speak in a weird accent, they are loud, most are dark-skinned, etc. Yes, South Indians might have an accent but Meenamma’s things like “kahan se kharidhi ye bokwaass dictionary” was just absurd. The movie was a great success but I feel all it really did was mock South India’s cultural heritage.
As this movie was based on Chetan Bhagat‘s autobiography, South Indians are not portrayed as weirdly as in the other movies on this list. But this movie too has its share of stereotypes. You have people saying, “Saare Madrasiiyaa thoh gore rich Punjabi londe ko pattathe hai” (All Madrasis woo rich fair skinned Punbaji boys). Ananya Swaminathan (Alia Bhatt) is shown to be the typical smart academics-oriented South Indian who flies into a rage when the sambar is not cooked properly in the hostel mess. And oh, apart from her, the South Indians in the movie are dark-skinned and walk around with a dollop of chandanam on their foreheads.
Shekhar Subramaniam (Shah Rukh Khan) is an intelligent and smart South Indian who is married to a Punjabi (deja vu anyone?). The movie blurs the lines between a lungi and vesti, maybe because the creators themselves are obvious of the difference. But if there is anything you’ll take back home after this movie, it is that South Indians eat with their hands and lick their whole palm after they’re done. And oh, also that they make sounds like “AIYYO” every couple of minutes so you know they’re South Indian.
Meenakshi Sundareshwar is yet another movie that stuck to the South Indian template. The protagonist Meenakshi (Sanya Malhotra) is a Rajnikanth fan; the only ‘superstar’ in South India if Bollywood movies are to be believed. Madurai is shown to be a village and Meenakshi’s family lives in a house that clearly exists in the late-80s. The only consolation is that both the lead characters are South Indian and that was a mildly welcome change.
We live in a time where Indians have more exposure to art and culture from all parts of the subcontinent, Bollywood will have to adapt and choose characterisation over caricatures. But this is a slow process. Until then, I guess we’ll have to just live with watching Shah Rukh Khan eating noodles with curd.