BEING HERSELF

Finally, an Indian actor who refuses to fake her accent to please the West

Quartz india
Quartz india

First, a disclaimer: there is no one “real Indian accent.”

Because English is the second language for many Indians, the way it is spoken differs from state to state, with people in West Bengal speaking it quite differently from those in, say, Tamil Nadu.

Despite this variety, the “Indian accent” usually represented in western pop culture is remarkably homogeneous: a curious sing-song, often accompanied by a head wobble or two, just to make sure there are no doubts about the character’s “Indianness.”

However, it looks like things are slowly changing.

After Priyanka Chopra smashed stereotypes in the television drama Quantico, playing an ethnically-ambiguous FBI agent, Bollywood star Deepika Padukone is following suit. In the upcoming action movie, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Padukone plays Serena Unger, the black leather-clad, gun-wielding romantic interest of Vin Diesel.

In itself, an Indian woman playing a badass in a Hollywood blockbuster is a big step forward. But pay attention to Padukone’s accent in a recently-released trailer of the film, cut specially for the Indian audience, and you’ll find another stereotype being kicked to the curb.

In the video, Padukone speaks as she normally does, instead of using an exaggerated Indian accent that Hollywood is so used to (remember Apu from The Simpsons?) or even the faux American one that many stars before her have tried (often unsuccessfully) to pull off.

And this was intentional on Padukone’s part.

“For years, we have accepted the British and Australian accent(s), for example. So it’s high time we accept an Indian accent,” she told reporters at a special screening of the trailer last week.

“I play an Indian girl in the film, and for me, it’s a matter of great pride that I get to be myself. That is one of the aspects that drew me to the script and attracted me to do this film… I was allowed to flaunt that I am Indian,” she said.

Padukone’s comments have also helped her win over viewers tired of seeing countless Indian celebrities try western accents to make themselves more acceptable to a foreign audience. Who can forget, after all, Mallika Sherawat’s excessive rolled r’s when being interviewed at Cannes in 2013 or Aishwarya Rai’s part British, part American combo on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2005.

That interview came after her role in Gurinder Chadha’s desi reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, where she played a dutiful Indian daughter with a really confusing accent:

After all these years of strange interpretations, it’s time for the real Indian accent (or at least one version of it) to be heard.

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