I’m loving this “start a discussion” criteria! No need for perfection or judgement, just something to talk about. So, let’s talk! New topic, white girls in Indian films. Not the best examples, not the most examples, just some examples. And bonus, most of these characters show up for a song for 90% of their screen time. So you can join in the discussion as soon as you watch the songs! No need to limit yourself to movies you have seen.
One of my favorite white woman! A rebound girlfriend, but one treated with respect by the film, and by the hero. No, she isn’t the love of his life. But she was more than just sex, they had a genuine connection. And she had enough self-respect to break things off with him when she saw that he wasn’t in love with her. Although, she is also shown to be flirty and aggressive with him, fascinated by India, and less funny and understanding and “perfect” than the Indian girlfriend. Is that because of white girl stereotypes, or just this one character in this one film and what makes sense for her?
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Another great white woman! A vacation relationship, nothing more, but with genuine feelings involved. And when he tried to blame her for his failures, she didn’t accept it and he genuinely apologized later. They ended things with mutual respect and understanding and caring. But on the other hand, she never comes up again for the rest of the film. And the implication is that she distracted him from his goals. So is this a fun little romance they both went into with their eyes open, or is she supposed to be a “mistake”? And would she have been minimized to just a “mistake” if she was an Indian woman?
Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna
Now this film, a bit trickier. There is a whole song sequence reducing woman to white skin and blue eyes, complete with back up dancers. And we see over and over again that Amitabh uses white women for his sexual adventures, not Indian. For most of the film, white women are pure sex and objectification in contrast to Indian women who are wives and mothers. But then, at the very end, Abhishek is shown happily marrying a white woman. So, what’s up with that? That’s my discussion question, “what’s up with that?”
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
Bet you don’t remember who the white woman is in this, do you? It’s Kalki! She doesn’t always play white, but she does in this. Late in the film, at her wedding, we see her clearly white mother giving her wedding blessings. In real life of course, Kalki is of European heritage but was born and raised in India, which lets her directors be flexible in how they want to handle her. But why in this particular movie did they specify her character as white? Is it part of her whole tomboy awkward character? Being betwixt and between and outside of both white and Indian cultures? Or is it just a nice small moment in a wedding song to gesture towards Kalki’s true heritage and her character would have been identical if she had played full Indian heritage?
This is barely a character, but it is a very careful use of the “white girl” character. Nivin spends the whole movie idealizing the imagined past, including the perfect “traditional” Malayali wife. He thinks he has found it in Isha Talwar, but her perfect surface (sari, speaking Malayalam) hides a modern inside. And in the end he marries Paris Laxmi, a character we just see briefly earlier, living in his building, and puzzling him since she is a French woman who came to Kerala to study their culture and loves it more than many native Keralites. Paris Laxmi, in real life, is a French woman who fell in love with Kathakali dance and dedicated her life to it, opening a school and so on. So, essentially her character in the film. What is the meaning of this? The white woman who understands and appreciates Indian culture, who ends up being a more compatible spouse for a traditional Indian guy than the Indian woman is?
Pyaar Main Twist
This is just a cameo, but it’s a fairly big name cameo. Baby Spice shows up in the middle of a song and inspires all the male characters to sing to her. Including the groom at this engagement party who ignores his fiancee. And Dimple Kapadia, the brides mother, who laughs and indulges them. A white woman is a non-threatening temptation in this context. Because she would never be a challenge to the marriage relationship, that would never be offered her? Or because a white woman “doesn’t count”, it’s an understandable male urge? Or something else?
This is a very small one, which makes it an even more interesting choice because it could so easily NOT have been included. Alia researches her therapist Shahrukh and finds an old photo of him with a white woman, presumably his ex-wife. It’s part of Shahrukh’s character that he is divorced and lives separately from his son, adds a layer to the care he has for Alia as his patient and the understanding he has for her sadness. But why does she have to be white? Is it really just shorthand for saying that his son lives overseas with her? Or is there something else? Is it about Shahrukh being too sensitive and farseeing to be happy in a traditional Indian marriage, thus marrying a white woman? Is it about Shahrukh being more understanding of the never-ending patterns of Indian families because he wasn’t in fact able to throw off his Indian heritage and make the interracial marriage work? Or is it something else?
Purab Aur Paschim
One of the first white woman to have a significant role in an Indian film (well, white-in-her-character, many of the early actresses were of European heritage). The evil Prem Chopra has abandoned his dutiful Indian wife and is flirting around with a white woman in London. But when she learns of his Indian wife that is pining for him, she arranges so that their “wedding” in a park in London with Hare Krishna’s turns into a remarriage of him with his wife. She is last scene dancing off across the fields. On the one hand, her character is used to affirm the importance of Indians marrying Indians (Prem Chopra should never be with her, even if they love each other). But on the other hand, she is a good sacrificing person. Over all, good portrayal or bad portrayal? I just don’t know!
I debated including this one, but finally decided it still counts. Anushka’s character is clearly established as half-white. That’s why she has never been fully accepted in the desi community, her father married a white woman. She is one of them, but also not quite one of them. And this half-white character is played by a fully-Indian actress (well “fully”, no idea what her heritage is going back generations, but certainly her immediate parents both identified as “Indian” racially). Is this an overly optimistic view of the struggles of a mixed race child? Especially casting a fully Indian actress to play it? Or is it accurate, that sometimes a mixed race child can turn out stronger and able to see more clearly both sides of their heritage?
On the one hand, you have a traditional couple who meet and fall in love and marry and get pregnant. And on the other hand, you have the couple who move in together, have sex outside of marriage, never plan a serious future, and then end up having a baby out of wedlock. Now, which of these couples do you think will have the white woman? That alone makes this film interesting, the choice to have Arshad Warsi’s best friend character fall in love with a white woman instead of a desi one and make this mixed race couple the one that plays out the “traditional” relationship while the 100% desi one is the one that has the untraditional relationship. Is she white just because the film is set in Australia and it seems to make logical sense? Or was their more thought put into it, a deeper meaning?