Coldplay’s (Chris Martin) recent video song “Hymn for the Weekend”, shot in Mumbai, India, is facing the music for cultural appropriation from some quarters
So, what is “cultural appropriation”?
According to Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, “It takes intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artefacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”
Coldplay’s video song, featuring Beyoncé, appears to fit that bill.
The lyrics of this catchy number though seem to bear no context to India at all. Phrases such as ‘Drink from me, then we’ll shoot across the sky’, ‘Life is a drink and love’s a drug’, ‘Got me feeling drunk and high’ bear no relevance to the Indian visuals in the background. There is not even a “Jai Ho” cry to make this song even remotely connect to India. This song could have used the streets of New York or could have been shot in a fish market. So, why India? Surely, Coldplay is not a fan of Narendra Modi’s, “Make in India” program?
Methinks that the only reason Indian visuals were used was to provide an exotic, mystic and colourful prop to the song (or to tap into the growing Indian market?). It is at this point that the “cultural appropriation” demon rears its ugly head. Coldplay has been previously accused of cultural appropriation for his other video “Princess of China” with Rihanna, for similar reasons.
Besides Coldplay, artistes such as MIA, Major Lazerr, Iggy Azalea and others have hijacked Indian cultural scenes as a backdrop for their songs. In each of these videos, the artiste is in the foreground wearing outlandish “Indian” costumes, while Indians are in the shadows as background dancers. Such videos continue the dubious distinction of depicting India as a playground for western entertainment.
Some people may argue that the video shows glimpses of Indian culture. Let’s take a look at some of the images shown
· White peacock
· Saffron-robed sadhus trudging the streets (Now, whatever happened to those Mumbaikers rushing to their offices?)
· Levitating sadhus (I’m yet to see a levitating sadhu on a Mumbai street. Where did Coldplay discover him?)
· Three guys riding on a bike with no helmets (confirms Lonely Planet’s comments of lawless driving in India!)
· A child beggar (Creeps! They are everywhere)
· A colourful temple (no churches, mosques, gurudwaras in India?)
· ‘Slumdog Millionaire’-type boys running down the streets of the slum throwing holi colours (Why is every foreigner fascinated with holi? Why not consider Karva Chauth for a change?)
· Puppeteers, fire breathers and obsolete street entertainers (Coldplay should have paid a quick visit to any one of the dozens of shopping malls nearby to assess the state of entertainment avenues in India)
· Boys jumping into polluted waters for a swim (Slumdog image reinforced?)
· Coldplay moving around Mumbai in a rickety Fiat taxi (Now, where did he find the obsolete taxi? India has Uber taxis for Chrissake! They even have an app to order the taxi!)
In the video, Coldplay walks into a old cinema house to watch a Bollywood movie, ’Rani’, starring none other the leading Bollywood actor of the day, Beyoncé! To my shock and horror, Coldplay starts singing inside the cinema hall while the movie is on and no one bothers to “shush” him!! Not even the old projectionist, who has to load and unload the 35mm cinema film rolls! Hasn’t anyone told Coldplay that
India has digital multiplexes and Imax screens with surround sound?
To me, it appeared as if this video had been made in India of about 2000 years ago!
In the dying moments of the song, a few Bharatanatyam girls, a Kathakali dancer and an Indian girl fleet past adding to the charm of exotic India. The video concludes with a firework display in the background sky.
Here are a few tips for Coldplay on how to engage incultural appreciation rather than cultural appropriation, for his next video.
First, make sure the song relates to an Indian context or theme. It is ridiculous to be singing about how you are missing your babe who is in London, while walking along Indian streets, drenched in holi colours!!
Second, stop using negative stereotypical images for India (Thank you Coldplay for small mercies, for not using wandering cows, stray dogs, elephants, snake charmers etc in your video). Modern India is on the cutting edge of technology. Modern India can provide you with images that are equally colourful, if that’s what you are after for making your videos visually appealing. Mix it up with a bit of existing old and new. We don’t want busloads of foreign tourists to India, getting off the bus and asking, “Where can I find that snake charmer or the levitating sadhu I saw in the Coldplay video?” If you are trying to capture India for the Western audience, keep it real and do not commodify it.
Third, use real Indians in the video. What the hell was Beyoncé, with blonde hair, green eyes, bleached-out skin, plunging neckline and wearing excessive jewellery doing in the video? Does a typical Indian woman look like her in the video?
Doesn’t this stink of cultural appropriation?
India has a large number of goodlooking women who can reveal as much as Beyoncé can, if not more! Towards the end of the video, there was a sign in Hindi that read “Maria Matha”.
Crickey, Coldplay! What was that all about? Please explain!