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A Passage to India: Images of India in U.K/U.S Feature Films from 1930-2000
Unformatted Document Text:  A Passage to India Page 1 of 29 Student Paper A Passage to India: Images of India in U.K/U.S Feature Films from 1930-2000 “Are you a typical Indian woman?” asked a professor. I was stumped by that question. To my knowledge, there was no “typical” Indian but of course, he clearly had a pre-existing notion of how an Indian should be. Such encounters are not isolated. Conversations about India with Westerners often revolve around poverty, belly dancers, turbans, saris, dowry deaths, sati, elephant rides and polytheism. There is a certain consistency in this pattern that seems to go beyond the realm of mere coincidence. It reveals a very myopic, uni-dimensional view of what India is and who Indians are as a people. It says to us that all Indians are perceived as being very similar to each other, if not identical. This perception is referred to as stereotyping. The immediate question that one would ask next is “Where do such pre-existing notions of Indians come from in the first place?” Popular mass media is one good direction to investigate into. Visual images often leave indelible imprints in our minds, even when we are exposed to them very briefly. For example, perhaps our understanding of Native Americans come from the Western movies we have seen, those about Africa from some Tarzan movie, about Arabs in films like the Mummy, and, Russian spies in James Bond movies. When it comes to India, we can think of movies like Gunga Din, Jungle Book, A Passage to India, Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom, Around the World in Eighty Days, Gandhi, Octopussy and The Man Who Would Be King that portray Indians and Indian culture in stereotypical ways. These stereotypical portrayals knowingly or unknowingly shape our notions of these nations and their peoples rather powerfully.

Authors: Ramasubramanian, Srividya.
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A Passage to India
Page 1 of 29
Student Paper
A Passage to India:
Images of India in U.K/U.S Feature Films from 1930-2000
“Are you a typical Indian woman?” asked a professor. I was stumped by that
question. To my knowledge, there was no “typical” Indian but of course, he clearly had a
pre-existing notion of how an Indian should be. Such encounters are not isolated.
Conversations about India with Westerners often revolve around poverty, belly dancers,
turbans, saris, dowry deaths, sati, elephant rides and polytheism. There is a certain
consistency in this pattern that seems to go beyond the realm of mere coincidence. It
reveals a very myopic, uni-dimensional view of what India is and who Indians are as a
people. It says to us that all Indians are perceived as being very similar to each other, if
not identical. This perception is referred to as stereotyping.
The immediate question that one would ask next is “Where do such pre-existing
notions of Indians come from in the first place?” Popular mass media is one good
direction to investigate into. Visual images often leave indelible imprints in our minds,
even when we are exposed to them very briefly. For example, perhaps our understanding
of Native Americans come from the Western movies we have seen, those about Africa
from some Tarzan movie, about Arabs in films like the Mummy, and, Russian spies in
James Bond movies. When it comes to India, we can think of movies like Gunga Din,
Jungle Book, A Passage to India, Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom, Around the World in
Eighty Days, Gandhi, Octopussy and The Man Who Would Be King that portray Indians
and Indian culture in stereotypical ways. These stereotypical portrayals knowingly or
unknowingly shape our notions of these nations and their peoples rather powerfully.


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