As I read about Bollywood and its actors, considered bimbos by people from other backgrounds, my eyes flit up to the top of the page—Who is the author, and what is her story? And by story, I mean ethnicity. Laxshmi Chaudhry.
I am instantly reminded of the only other Laxshmi I know, an NPR news reporter. I’m LAAAxhmi Singh from Washington, DC. The accepted Indian pronunciation for her name is Luxhsmi, and because of this one word in her final statement every morning, my dad, who grew up in India, and I, having grown up in the US, snigger in the car together.
We snigger, just like many Americans snigger at Bollywood movies in the back of the theater, according to Chaudhry. And they are not the only ones who do—I do, too, at the “absurdity” of Bollywood films sometimes, even coming from that culture. I realize now that sniggering is remarkably prevalent in life, not just culture to culture, but within a culture, as well.
I think the article left out the fact that people of the same ethnicity do not always enjoy the same art. A movie, an art form, is said to exist for different reasons from one to another. So if movie taste isn’t entirely based on ethnicity, what are the other factors that influence whether someone finds value in a piece of art?
First off, gender definitely has an impact. Socioeconomic class plays a role. A rich man isn’t going to watch lighthearted Bollywood movies to escape the troubles of being a mother raising children in a shanty, even though he may for other reasons. Art has the strongest effect when the viewers can empathize.
So how can we have respect for a culture without having the element of empathy? Is there ever no empathy between two cultures? Each one of us has some things in common: the need for food, water, shelter, love, and other human connections, at least I think so. And yet, portraying simply these basic qualities in an art form isn’t powerful enough to appeal to every audience who can relate to having these needs.
But, respect is about acknowledging those common basic qualities, and understanding that we come from a collection of experiences shaping what we believe art, or any other facet of culture, should be.
I could say, here’s to giggling, not sniggering, and that would be the end. But, I also believe that it’s important to recognize that the way we were raised has such a great impact on our perspective, and that if we recognize that we see from just one lens, empathetic connections with many other perspectives can open up that lens.
By being in India, we, surrounded by a way of living so starkly contrasted with our own, will hopefully see what we value and maybe even our own movie tastes challenged.