The recent music video by Coldplay featuring Beyoncé called “Hymn for the Weekend” certainly has some problems. The first segment of the video showcases some cliché representations of India, such as the white peacock opening its feathers and spiritual preachers in brightly colored attire, both of which I have only rarely seen in my eight years in Mumbai. The video, as well as Beyoncé herself, has been criticized for cultural appropriation because people claim there is not a true understanding of Indian culture but only a foreign, exotic representation of it. However, despite the fact that the obvious larger segments of the video showcase Indian culture stereotypically, the smaller moments that can quite easily be overlooked have the real power in showing the Indian culture in Mumbai.
As someone who comes from the city that this music video was shot in, I have a different take on the video than many. Mumbai is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country and with that comes a slightly different understanding of Indian culture. When I think of Mumbai I think of the vibrancy in the colors and also the cheerfulness of the people, especially the children in the city.
Although this video makes it seem like Holi, the festival of color and love, is something Indians celebrate on a day-to-day basis, the video is relatively timely given that Holi is approaching at the end of March. Holi is also one of the most commercialized festivals in India, which for me makes it slightly more appropriate to include in this video. There is a lot of color in the city from the film posters to designs in taxis to murals done by the youth in Bandra (a suburb of Mumbai). By no means are these colors as bright as they are represented in the video, specifically at the end with the boats and the fireworks, but regardless they are present in a smaller capacity.
Further, I can’t even begin to express the number of times I have witnessed children grouping together and dancing on the roads. This is usually heightened during a festival season, but in reality there are so many multi-religious festivals celebrated in India that there always seems to be a reason to celebrate. On several occasions, I have joined a parade and danced with children and adults when I hear the beat of a dhol. Again, the way that these children are showcased is slightly hyperbolic but in certain circumstances I have seen such alacrity.
Dance is integral to an Indian experience and is an art form that is deeply routed in the city and country’s history; there is a quick reference to Kathakali, which is a South Indian dance form that is highly respected. Even Bollywood is highly dependent upon song and dance. In Mumbai, there are huge dance programs like DanceWorx and Shaimak Davar that both focus on a very Indo-Western form of dance. When the children in the middle of the video are breakdancing and having moments when they are embracing the music, for me it goes to show the evolution of dance in the country.
What I believe that the Coldplay video has showcased, although not obviously, is how exciting it is to watch people from outside the window of a bus, a taxi, a rickshaw, or a car in Mumbai. Although I for one have never seen some of the people who claim to be on the roadside such as the puppeteer, I do relish watching the vendors on the street from my window. Another source, The Hindu, also finds that there is something to appreciate in this video as well. An article of theirs mentions that the video presents an accurate depiction, from “youngsters illegally traveling ‘triples’ on a two-wheeler…right down to people peering out of windows when there’s a commotion outside and uncles in the background waving at any camera in the vicinity.” All of these quick instances are things I have witnessed on a day-to-day basis in Mumbai, which makes the video comical and relatable.
One of the largest criticisms of the video is that there are four white men who are representing a culture so foreign to them. Many Indians from a Western perspective realize how disrespected Indians in India must feel through this appropriation, and many probably do. I do believe, however, that there could be some individuals who don’t feel this way. Speaking based off experiences that I have had, I could find reason to believe that there are some people who take no offense to the fact that a white, blonde, blue-eyed male is representing Indian culture. Some could perhaps feel quite excited and important simply because their culture is being represented in mainstream media. Of course, I’m not speaking about the population as a whole.
However, Beyoncé’s segment as a Bollywood star acting in a film called Rani (queen) is not something I truly understand. Her elaborate saree or lehenga seems overdone and quite unnecessarily added. Had the video captured the current movement of the Indo-Western style of dressing in India, specifically in Mumbai, I would feel that Beyoncé’s segment would involve less cultural appropriation and fetishization of Indian women. To make matters weirder, an Indian actress, Sonam Kapoor, is also featured in the video, but her role is so insignificant compared to that of Beyoncé’s that she becomes easily forgotten.
Overall, there was value to the music video because it portrayed a side of Mumbai many are unfamiliar with. When people think of Mumbai, “Slumdog Millionaire” comes to mind, as it was a moving and brilliant film showcasing poverty in the city. Although Mumbai has the largest slum in Asia called Dharavi, there is more to the city than that. Although Mumbai is a huge business hub and has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, people are consumed by the fact that Mumbai is filled with poverty. India is definitely a developing country, and while the city is by no means developed, it certainly surpasses the overall national standard. This music video was by no means a perfect representation, but that said, in the subtle moments it was able to showcase a reality of modern Indian culture. It definitely poses a slightly different understanding of what the city is, opening up discourse on it.
Godbole is a member of the Class of 2019.