Friday, December 04, 2015

Bang Baaja Baaraat

I stumbled upon Bang Baaja Baaraat while randomly browsing through YouTube. At first I thought it might be something produced by TVF because it is so similar in style to what they are doing. Sumeet Vyas, who is a TVF regular is also involved. But a little digging around shows that there is a bigger game afoot. This YouTube-only show is produced by something called Y-Films which seems to be an undertaking of the Yash Raj banner. So big bucks are involved and it shows in the production values. The style might be homey and indie like TVF but the spirit definitely is not.


To be honest I'm a little disappointed that the big banners are co-opting the independent television that's happening on YouTube. But it had to happen eventually and it's probably for the better because at the end of the day, this TV is way better than anything that appears on actual TV channels. Yet, one longs for the good old days of amateurs shooting thing in their living rooms with camcorders.

Thematically, Bang Baaja Baaraat tells the same story that the recent neo-Urban cinema has been telling for the last few years. It's the story of the Kanpur boy Pawan who has made it big in Mumbai as a gourmet chef and Shahana the rich upper class girl. They meet on a Tinder date, fall in love and decide to get married. This is where the clash of cultures begins. Pawan's lower middle-class family from Kanpur can't quite adjust to the big city ways of bachelorette parties, divorces and mothers having boyfriends. However, like all Bollywood movies, after the initial strife, the show ends on a happy note.

But the central conflict is not really resolved. There is an implicit bias in the story towards the more liberal big city ways. When Pawan's mother wants to conduct her wedding rituals, this is depicted as something gauche and funny. Even the members of her own family, Pawan and his sister, are exasperated by their mother's insistence on observing these traditions. Yes, it is somewhat unreasonable for the mother to expect to find an actual well in a posh Mumbai neighborhood. But it is not entirely unreasonable for her to want to enact the rituals that mean so much to her. Rituals that have deep archetypal meanings. In this case, the ritual is about the mother-in-law coming to terms with this new presence in her son's life. This is something that happens in all marriages, traditional or modern. Hindu marriages have incorporates rituals dealing with such issues for centuries. And yet, somehow the show (and it's audience by proxy) seem all to eager to discard this tradition.

On the other hand, the bachelorette party, which happens simultaneously on screen, offers a stark juxtaposition. The show is completely unapologetic about this night of revelry. It is completely unaware of the fact that bachelor or bachelorette parties are in themselves rituals, as meaningful or meaningless as any other. Why is this ritual 'better' than traditional Hindu ones?

The grooms parents are actively involved in the rituals for their son's weddings. The bride's parents on the other hand are alone and gloomy, mulling the mistakes they made in their lives. To the extent that weddings are social functions, it seems crass to ignore parents on the eve of your wedding.

Repeatedly, it is Pawan who makes allowances for the modern ways of Shahana's family. Shahana herself makes no such allowances.

It has to be noted that this isn't about women's rights. Pawan's mother make no demands for her bahu to stay at home and make rotis or dress a certain way or anything else. She is uncomfortable, yes, but not imposing. Yet, the implicit assumption is that tradition is always oppressive and modernity always liberating.

And I suppose that would be okay if this was just a fight of tradition vs modernity. It is, at it's core, a clash of classes. Shahana is rich. Pawan is not. Yes, he makes a ton of money now but he isn't one of them. He is a Kanpur ka launda. It is this clash of classes that makes the show particularly distasteful.

Stories like this provide catharsis to people like Pawan who have left behind their small town, middle class upbringings. By constantly depicting urban, upper class, bit city lifestyle as positive, the show provides a justification for the lives it's audience is now living. It makes them feel better. It let's them make fun of their old lives and assuage some of the guilt that comes from leaving the community. But, ultimately, despite making that claim in the last reel, it fails to provide any real coming to terms with this narrative tension of modern India.

Bang Baaja Baaraat can be seen on YouTube here.

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