Rock On!! is one of my favorite Bollywood films of all time, so when I heard a sequel was in the works I was thrilled. That elation turned to horror as I found myself watching 2016’s Rock On 2 on a cross-country flight. A piece of self-indulgent, masturbatory rot that nearly destroyed all of the warm fuzzies the first film instilled in me, Rock On 2 is glorified fan fiction, centering Farhan Akhtar’s character, Aditya Shroff, as an anguished, self-involved hero figure. Gone is the relatable human Adi from the first film, who sacrifices music to become a corporate drone and must find his way back to his dreams and his friends. In his place is a guy with so much manufactured manpain that he can’t be bothered to pay attention to his wife and child. Instead, he has to go work in a remote village in the far northeastern state of Meghalaya to atone for his perceived sins. Why is a businessman/rock musician opening schools and farm cooperatives and neglecting to wash his hair? Beats the hell out of me.
Dal, a lentil-based soup, is a staple of Bengali cooking — at least in my family. It didn’t matter that we grew up in Ohio, about as far from Kolkata and Dhaka as you can get, we had dal with dinner almost every night. Moog dal, musoor dal, cholar dal, toor dal, yellow split-pea dal. You know that whole Forrest Gump riff on shrimp? That was the Bhattacharjee household’s relationship to every kind of lentil in existence. It was one of my late father’s favorite dishes, and my mom liked to joke that he could eat just dal-bhaath (lentils and rice) for every meal. Me? Not so much. I looked upon dal with the kind of horror that middle American white kids saved for their broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
The only way you could get me to enjoy lentils was in khichuri, a classic Bengali comfort food that combines dal, rice, spices and ghee and usually comes with a side of something fried. Let’s face it, fried potatoes on the side make any dish a winner.
My defection to ABC Family began years ago, with Greek (2007), The Middleman (2008) and Make it or Break It (2009). Now, it’s the channel I turn to first for smart, fun, diverse youth-oriented programming.
If you still think ABC Family is the “Family Channel” of yore, rife with conservative, preachy, Seventh Heaven-esque shows run back-to-back with The 700 Club, you’re missing out on some great TV. The network’s tagline is “a new kind of family,” and it delivers on that promise: putting forth fresh projects and taking risks on stories that might not get traction anywhere else. For instance, weekly sitcom Melissa & Joey is refreshingly adult, Who’s the Boss for a new generation, with fast and flip sexual banter and teens who can more than hold their own. But it’s the dramatic field where ABCF really shines.
When I was growing up, Beverly Hills, Sunnydale, Capeside and Roswell were very white, heteronormative enclaves. It didn’t matter if their corresponding real-life geography boasted more diversity, the shows were pretty homogenous. If you weren’t fair-skinned and straight, you didn’t really see yourself on teen TV. By and large, if there were characters of color, they’d be wacky sidekicks, the first to die in a murder mystery or part of a brief Afterschool Special arc wherein somebody fell for a person from The Wrong Side of the Tracks. ABC Family changed that. Lincoln Heights, about a black family in LA, ran for four seasons. Greek had a college-age cast, with black characters Calvin and Ashleigh each getting their own love interests. Calvin, black and gay, actually had two — complete with onscreen smooches and implied sex. Got any pearls? Feel free to clutch ’em. The Middleman featured Natalie Morales as lead character Wendy Watson. The flighty bestie? A blonde. How many times does that happen? Then there’s Pretty Little Liars‘ lesbian teen Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell). Her parents are portrayed by Eric Steinberg and Nia Peeples, and you don’t sit around wondering, “What are the Fieldses?” because you already know: a family trying to support each other while crazy crap happens around them. And ABCF continues to…you know, I don’t want to say “push the envelope.” Because it’s not scandalous. They’re just putting a bigger, better envelope on the table! This summer’s Twisted and The Fosters are prime (pun fully intended!) examples.
Vikramaditya Motwane’s period drama Lootera (“Thief”) is appropriately titled, as it steals slowly into your consciousness and deftly exploits your vulnerabilities before leaving you alone with nothing but your thoughts. This is not a loud film; it features no dance numbers, no bombastic “Bollywood moments,” but it still delivers the beautifully melodramatic payload that makes Hindi films such a joy to watch.
Lootera is the story of Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha), a pampered Bengali landowner’s daughter, and Varun (Ranveer Singh), the mysterious archaeologist who comes to dig on her father’s property. Pakhi is instantly entranced, but as Varun is wooed by her charming, single-minded campaign to win his heart, he’s waging a dangerous war of his own. He’s no archaeologist. He’s a con artist, part of an expert ring of thieves, only there to worm his way into her and her father’s good graces so that he can simultaneously worm his way into their coffers.
Sometimes, when I talk about “white people” in front of actual white people, there’s this pause…this moment of awkward. It’s a combination of “Did she just call out our skin color?” and “But…we’re people.” Yes. Welcome to my world on a daily basis. How does it feel? That, my friends, is the luxury of being the default in the western world. “People” means “white.” “American” means “white.” The “reader” is white. The “audience” is white. It’s the baseline, the normal…and why would you point that out?
That’s EXACTLY why I point it out. Because “people” should encompass everyone, but it doesn’t.
“Being The Default is the largest privilege granted to white Americans, yet it is so deeply entrenched it is the most invisible,” says Kartina Richardson in this April 24 article on Salon. And she’s right. Because it’s there in everyday speech, in the simplest of words: “us,” “we,” “them.” In the South Asian and South Asian American community, elders still say “Amrikan” to mean “white,” even if they themselves are citizens and their children identify as American. Because it’s the norm, the bottom line — and, often, the aspiration.
There’s this unspoken, perhaps even unconscious, sense that the only true western legitimacy, in terms of success, place and identity, is in whiteness. Everything else is the Other. “Black people.” “Indian people.” To just be people is the goal, the driving force of ambition. Too bad that slot is occupied…largely by folks who don’t even realize they have it.
It would be nice to never, ever have to specify someone’s race, ethnicity or skin tone. It really would. To just be like, “Duh. This is a person. With a name. A history. An individual identity.” I’ve been fighting that linguistic battle my whole life. But as long as Default privilege keeps fighting back, the deck is stacked. As long as “everybody” and “anybody” is presumed to be white…nobody wins.
J.J. Abrams’ second installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise delivers classic geekery at warp speed, ratcheting up the action sequences, the rapid-fire dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments and the poignant emotionalism at the root of Spock and Kirk’s famous friendship. It’s a film that any fan of the TV shows and prior films will enjoy, rife as it is with in-jokes and shout-outs and a gorgeous flip of a truly memorable sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However, it’s another sort of flip that holds Star Trek Into Darkness in limbo: the controversial casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the film’s central villain.
When I was in my late teens, visiting Calcutta (this was pre-“Kolkata” conversion, not that renaming a place changes its ethos), I was groped by a guy as my cousins, my mom and I stood on a curb waiting to cross over to a shopping mall. Stunned, I whirled around and glared — I was so shocked that the expletive-laden tongue I’ve cultivated in the nearly 20 years since was struck silent. He locked gazes with me, defiant, those coal-black eyes unrepentant, as he vanished into the crowd.
Yes, I still remember his eyes. His pencil-thin mustache. The abject hatred for a girl he didn’t even know but felt he had to touch. What I also remember is the mix of empathy and shrugging from many female family members. “Oh, I’ve been groped xyz times…” was the refrain. Everybody had an assault story. As though we were trading campfire tales, because it’s so normal for Indian women to experience unwanted touches.
That’s what it was couched as: normal, every-day behavior from men that just had to be endured and accepted. I would roam the para, our neighborhood, with my cousin sisters and we would, without fail, pass packs of young men clustering on street corners and staring at us like prey. We walked a little faster, made scornful comments to stave off our fear, but there was nothing we could do to stop how they looked at us and, more than that, how they saw us. Like meat.
Almost 20 years later, it’s still an issue…that gaze. That hatred. “The India rape case” trumpets western media in headlines, as if there’s just the one…but there are multitudes. From rape to street harassment and forced touching, I honestly don’t know a woman who has lived in/visited South Asia who hasn’t been victimized or depersonalized in one form or another. I haven’t heard all the campfire stories, but that’s because women aren’t generally encouraged to tell them. After all, why would you acknowledge something commonplace? “It’s raining today, I went to the bajaar and, oh, some creep felt me up on the metro.”