New Youtube Video! Thought Piece, What Happened to Indian Popular Culture and Woman in the 90s?

Something a bit different, this could easily be a blog post but it would be a long boring one, and I would probably get angry comments on it.  So instead, a video!  Which will either be completely ignored, or I will get angry comments on youtube, but I don’t care as much about youtube people.

This is dealing with the question of what shifted in Indian popular culture and the view of the “ideal” Indian woman thanks to the 1990s beauty queens.  I wrote a paper and did a conference talk on this a few years back, but this is all of that research sort of boiled down and updated.

For background reading, check out these 3 articles.  And especially admire one of my all-time favorite titles, “Ash-Colored Whiteness”.


18 thoughts on “New Youtube Video! Thought Piece, What Happened to Indian Popular Culture and Woman in the 90s?

  1. Rich, rich video. I’m going to have to watch it again in the morning to make a better more informed contribution to the discussion but just a few thoughts —

    I disagree that Femina Miss India ushered in the westernised, makeup wearing, occasionally sari wearing trend. My mother was wearing bell-bottoms in the 70s in Allahabad (aka Amitabh Bachchan’s hometown) as a highschooler and university kid! She also wore saris to college (with two braids) because that’s what was in vogue. To be fair, my grandfather was a judge so she had the advantage of being sort of upper middle class but she wasn’t an English speaking girl at all and neither were all the other kids at the university. There was no atmosphere of fear around wearing western clothes even in the 70s and this was still a tier-2 city and not a metro. In the mid to late 80s, women already got the perms and wore makeup. married women could wear the dark lipsticks and mascara and unmarried girls could wear kohl and gloss. I must make it a point to note that the standard was that the girl finishes college and she gets married (in urban India) so 22-23 year olds were wearing the dark lipstick and mascara etc. What Femina Miss India did was just build up on the urbane culture that already existed in Upper middle class India, military background and girls’ schools and colleges. Army, navy, air force wives have had their posh clubs for ages now and they’ve always been super progressive. Like, the navy party in Mumbai Police is a good example of the military background culture. They’re more progressive than the rest of India. Same with girls’ colleges. These essentially started as finishing schools and that’s what they continue to be– high emphasis on grooming, presentation, etiquette, women’s rights etc. I’m a product of one such college myself and I know our culture differed from the other co-ed colleges.

    Appearance-wise, it was the modelling industry and not the pageants that ushered in the “certain appearance”. Aishwarya was already in a Pepsi ad before she won. All these girls from the pageants had modelling aspirations and they just got plucked up by filmmakers. The biggest heroines of the 90s were not beauty queens. At least not the super tall, super fair ones.

    It may seem silly but there is such a thing as western feminism. For the distinction and the resistance of the same, we’d have to look at the CIA infiltration of global universities including Indian ones in the 70s. And that’s something I’d like to get into sometime tomorrow because my phone just fell on my face and I should sleep now! 😂


    • Go to sleep!

      And when you wake up, here’s what bothers me with the Western feminism/the topic of this video. There’s kind of a sandwich effect. You start with the base level of “feminism means women’s rights”. And then on top of that, people learn “feminism means respecting women’s varying needs based on culture/location/etc. etc.” Which is the whole Western feminism critique, which in the West is also present in terms of upper/lower class feminism, and race/ethnicity based feminism, and so on and so on.

      So, when I say “I don’t think Aishwarya Rai really is happy living at home with her parents and has no ambitions and doesn’t date”, I get told (in the West), “you are being disrespectful to her culture and her experiences”. But what I meant was “within the Indian context, I STILL don’t think she really buys everything she is saying. And I think there are probably a bunch of other women in India who also don’t buy into everything she is saying.” It’s kind of using our inborn Western guilt against us/our desire not to acknowledge problems when it is easier to pretend everyone is happy.

      On Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 2:01 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • I think Aishwarya rai is the worst kind of example to use when discussing Indian feminism. She’s a trophy. When were they ever the pinnacle of feminist aspirations? And she’s happy projecting the image of the trophy happy being a trophy because do you really see Abhishek Bachchan as the kind of guy that’d be able to get a girl like her if he didn’t have the right surname?

        You were right in saying she in particular cultivated an image. But then so did Sushmita who decided she wanted to adopt a child. Somehow, her brand of feminism is not recognised only because world and bollywood press would rather focus on the seemingly submissive beauty Queen from India who does a better job of pretending to be a virgin. If you ask her today, I’m sure she’d tell you he’d child was born through immaculate conception! 😂


        • Exactly! And the aish version is the one being sold to America/the west, the sexual but not sexual version.

          And hey! Abhi is cute sometimes!


          • Midlevel corporate guy who is really funny at parties. Married to non Mukherjee rani who has a better job than him but he doesn’t mind.

            And yes, the press is super lazy. Drives me crazy. But if I complain, it’s back to “no no, you are just putting your expectations on another society, shut up and listen to aish”


          • You need better press friends. 😁

            It’s fascinating to me that you’d Base your view on a country you’ve come to know on the judgement of people back at home. I might be sounding a bit defensive of my country but trust me, I’m the first one to say exactly what a mess we are. But that you’d be bogged down, as a female with a voice on topic that’s pretty insignificant to mainstream American culture, is a fascinating insight on feminism in the first world.

            Globalisation has not been kind to anyone. But the blurring lines also mean we all, especially women, are at the same place viz women’s rights. It’s probably a matter of knowing the rules and enforcing them on the ground and reinforcing them around men.

            Also, I was thinking while half-sleeping (woke up fuck thirsty for some reason), indian TV was more progressive than films in the 90s and in the 00s to now, films went progressive and TV went regressive. I don’t know if you’ve watched an actual hindi tv series but you’d probably stab yourself in the eye if you watched one. There’s regressive and then there’s this medieval shit!


          • Oh, I don’t actually know any press people. Partly because the press is dying in America, so there are like 5 press jobs instead of 50. Which is also why it is possible for misinformation to spread so easily, no one has time to fact check or find another source you just take the first thing on offer and run with it. And then everyone reads that/sees it on TV/whatever, and just accepts it as truth and it is really hard to go against it.

            And yeah, even in grad school in media studies, which was like 2/3rds women, there were still classrooms and professors where it was really hard to make my voice heard. Just because there was an assumption they knew better purely because they were male. So frustrating! And now we are back to Maddy assuming I was a man by default.

            It’s funny how TV and movies go in that pattern. It’s the reverse in America as of right now, TV is super out there and envelope pushing in all kinds of ways, and movies are playing it safe more and more.

            On Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 3:36 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



          • Really mainstream? Not like Bareilly Ki Barfi? Probably Bajrangi Bhaijaan in India, and John Wick 2 in America.


  2. Namitha was in Miss India ..i didn’t know that..but then again i stopped watching beauty contests way long back..every time they speak you can just make out somebody else wrote it for them …


    • Isn’t it surprising that she was a Miss India? I couldn’t believe it until I tracked down a video.

      On Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 2:40 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



    • My BFF competed in a pageant. She spoke from the heart and came in second. The girl with the coached answer won. The girl with actual modelling experience came in third. It was such a lightbulb moment. We laughed and spent her prize money on pizza.


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