The weekend didn’t exactly go well for Coldplay.
On Jan. 29, the British rock band released the video for its new single, Hymn for the Weekend—and instantly drew attention for its unimaginative, cliched portrayal of India and cultural appropriation. On the bright side, though, the video’s got some nine million views (and counting) on YouTube.
Shot in Mumbai, the four-minute video is yet another tired attempt to capture India for a Western audience. And it comprises every possible Indian stereotype: levitating sadhus, henna tattoos, colour-smeared street kids playing Holi, some fire breathing, brightly dressed puppeteers, and even a bioscope.
Bollywood hasn’t been spared either. Beyonce features in the video playing an over-the-top exotic Bollywood heroine called Rani, or Queen—even as a real Bollywood star, Sonam Kapoor, makes a blink-and-miss appearance, flinging flowers out of some ancient ruin. From Beyonce’s matha patti (an ornamental headband) and henna tattoos to her repeated hand gestures, no one’s quite sure of the sort of Bollywood star that she’s trying to be.
Writing in The Wire, Nishita Jha explains what may actually be irking many Indians, especially those on social media:
It’s fair to wonder why Martin, Coldplay or Ben More (the video’s director) resorted to a bunch of lazy clichés to depict India. In the time he spent here as ambassador for the Global Poverty Project, Martin met members of Oxfam India, Prime Minister Modi, Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal and various NGOs. He also hung out at a bar, listened to Raghu Dixit, and visited Kalyanpuri’s slums and the trash pickers at Madanpur Khadar. Why did none of these people feature in his head full of dreams? Primarily, Indian Twitter’s problem seems to be the lack of representation of People Like Us, who listen to Coldplay and Beyonce, stream music on Spotify and Tidal, and mistake sullen-faced, dark children who b-boy on streets, for beggars. Why does the video feature no posh homes, fancy cars, swish malls or Twitter trolls?
Also, as Jha adds, the Indian film industry is no better at representing other cultures.
But Coldplay isn’t the only western band to get India wrong—and it will certainly not be the last.
Last year, the music video for Lean On, by Major Lazer, DJ Snake, and MØ, was shot in India in a day. From palaces to people dancing atop a bus and matha pattis (again), it was another mindless attempt to pack in the stereotypes.
Major Lazer member and songwriter Diplo even had trouble with an elephant:
Originally we had plans to use an elephant in the video but after we went over on another shot and it was time to use the elephant, it had fallen asleep! We thought the trainer was just milking us for more money, but alas, the elephant was sound asleep. I tried to find an ATM to get some elephant money out, but the trainer said “no elephant” if I wake him up he will kill everyone. Despite not having an elephant, somehow this video still made it to a billion views and that’s because of you.
Australian rapper, Iggy Azalea, however, did manage to fit an elephant into her video, besides the inevitable sadhus, headgears, and an Indian wedding.
And how do Indians feel about it?
Buzzfeed has this instructive video: