Teaching Eastern Europe About India

In the last couple of days, one of the subjects that have peaked interest rather widely, is the interest Eastern European communities have on learning the Hindi language. Hindi is the predominant spoken language of India, and migration since the breakup of the British Empire has left many second and third generation Europeans from the ethnic minority diaspora, unable to connect with their roots. They are as a group very disenfranchised from Indian culture and lifestyles, unless eating Sainsbury’s poppadoms and watching MTV India on SKY counts.

Soap operas, Bollywood films have thus begun to act as a portal of learning more about modern-day India, for many Europeans, from every class imaginable. Normally, the films that are produced locally have no meaning, no plotline, no social message, and are very far-fetched from real life. So, the educational factor in them is very negligible, but we are not talking about the films that are produced with advise from Cannes or Disney, because they are tailored specifically to address the urban market in India, as well as Westerners, to help them learn more about a particular subject, with the same overarching agenda Hollywood has for each and every one of their production, be it on cinema-reel or on television screens.

Bollywood acts as a focal point for providing entertainment for the Indian masses, it is not meant for European tastes because our cultures are inherently distinct. Because people interested in learning Hindi are mostly ‘heritage learners’ the subject tends to be overlooked for Eastern European communities interested in taking it up at schools/universities, here because like ‘heritage learners’ they do not have any clue about the dialect Bollywood films shares, which sometimes acts a medium of learning for the students. Typical Bollywood films, television commercials, are meant for the South Asian continent, not for Western Europe.  The heritage learners in their homes here have no connection with Hindi inside their homes, on most occasions, so to pressurise them with learning dialects to be more familiar with how Indian cinema works is making things a bit too difficult to grasp.

Sampling Indian food, taking part in cultural festivals celebrating India, here is a means of learning more about India. Modern subculture in India or about India, borders on the fascination Western crowds have with Japanese manga, they want to learn the language just so they can watch MTV India, without having to read the subtitles. The ushering in of the “television era” from the mid-nineties onwards has added the culture factor of learning for “middle class India” with their typical households and local customs, alongside that of the rich, vibrant world of Bollywood. The whole point of the song/dance routine very different from Hollywood musicals is to arise consciousness about the culture of India, because most of the audience who tune into these films, walk out of the theatres, without much recollection of the film.

Their failure in being very memorable, is one of the important factors of consideration, when you dive into discussions how bad plotlines, languages and culture-representation should act as one of the reasons, why communities here should opt to find alternative means of learning about India – this is inclusive of programmes and films catering to modern-day India because their work is accurate, and often very loved, bordering on hysterical fandom, even. But where we are talking about educating the classes on rural and middle class India, there is an underlying problem here that really needs to be resolved. Bollywood films are limited in their capacity in representing Indian culture, they cannot depict Indian society properly. So, the basic question here, should be, do you want to watch a film purely for entertainment purposes or do you actually want to learn more about India?

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