October 30, 2023

When will a Kannadiga character be featured in a Bollywood movie?

When I saw Rocky Rani…Kahani, the thought occurred: when will a Kannadiga character populate a mainstream Bollywood movie? Rocky Rani has the Bengali Chatterjees.  Chennai Express has Tamilians.  Why are there no Kannadiga characters in mainstream movies? Is it because they don’t inspire the popular imagination? Is it because they don’t have strong traits that can be caricatured like the “intellectual Bengalis” or the “flashy Punjabis”? What are the signature traits of the Kannadigas?

There are two, and neither will help with getting us into Bollywood.  Ask the outsiders who have populated Bangalore about Kannadigas and a few adjectives come out.  One is that Kannadigas have a “softness” to them.  They are gentle, genteel, civilised.  How to portray this in a Bollywood potboiler? But politeness is not the only trait that marks Kannadigas or Bangaloreans.  What is interesting is that two of Instagram’s most popular comics are based in this city: Ayyo Shraddha and Danish Sait.  Both portray layered aspects of life in Bangalore.  They are snarky, sarcastic, rude, jumpy, silly and more.  Why are these qualities not capturing the imagination of popular and mainstream cinema?

In general, Karnataka is not good at marketing.  The world knows Kanjivaram sarees but who has heard of Molkalmuru silks from our state? This state is at the crossroads of Hindustani and Carnatic music but somehow the world associates Chennai with music.  Some part of our poor marketing has to do with branding. Most people associate places or products with just one or at most two adjectives.  Bangalore, and for that matter, Karnataka, perhaps has too many layers.  Our state slogan: “One State Many Worlds,” is both accurate and confusing because it does not tell us what those “worlds” are.  In contrast, Kerala’s “God’s Own Country” branding evokes poetic visuals in our minds.  Cities too need a strong personality for them to stand out, like Mumbai did in the Munna Bhai movies.  We Bangaloreans may think that our city has a strong personality but clearly, Bollywood doesn’t know what that is.

Of course, this brings up the whole question of whether you would want a Kannadiga character in a Bollywood film.  As my intellectual (naturally) Bengali friend said, “Bollywood reduces characters to caricatures.  Why would you wish for that?” Because it is a marker of having arrived in the national conscious—just like India bidding for the 2036 Olympics is a measure of the nation’s confidence, its belief of having arrived on the global scene.

In Bangalore, the tech, IT and start-up worlds take up all the air space.  There is little room for much else.  You would think that a Bollywood film with edgy, crazy, twisted characters that are creating a start-up would make for lots of drama (back-stabbing, name-dropping, insecure egos, betrayal, it’s all there) but that hasn’t happened.  The closest we have come to is in the stand-up comedy world where Bangalore has been the runway for many including “Pushpavalli,” “Ayyo Shradda” and Danish Sait.

So what will it take for Bangalore to catch the national imagination? First of all, Bangaloreans have to make it to the top of creative industries.  The reason so many Bollywood movies are based on Punjabi families is because many of the film producers are from that state.  Many of the music conductors are from Bengal.  Producers talk to musicians and creative cross pollination happens.  A character is born.  Bangaloreans are mostly in IT, not Bollywood. This is not a value judgement.  Economic prosperity comes before the thriving of culture.  Tokyo became a financial powerhouse in the 80s before it became known globally for fashion brands like Sacai, designers like Takashi Murakami and Yayoi Kusuma.

I believe that this is the inflection point for Bangalore to take off in areas that go beyond tech.  Museums are being built in our city.  Lots of books based on Bangalore are being published.  It is sad that one of the slick podcasts that is made in Bangalore is “WTF with Nikhil Kamath,” where he talks in an echo chamber made up of his buddies who are all in—no surprise there—tech.

The soft power that comes from Korean television serials, its music and fashion is a long way off for Bangalore because like it or not, we are still a city with a programming, engineering mindset that values dot.coms more than connecting the dots in a creative imaginative fashion.  Cultural cross pollination can only happen if culture is celebrated, which it is not in Bangalore. Until that happens, Bangalore will still be stuck in a linear mindset that is about dollars and cents rather than larger than life personalities who capture the popular imagination.

Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan is Bangalore-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications.

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