From casting actors who did not know the language to falsely stereotyping the community, there is a lot that the film gets wrong – to the point where even the lead actors’ heartfelt performances pale in comparison.
Meenakshi Sundareshwar is certainly not the first film to mess up in terms of casting or representation. In fact, Bollywood has made an art form of cultural appropriation and misrepresenting communities.
At the same time, web series have done a fabulous job with on-point casting and representing communities authentically. The most recent example being, Little Things.
Little Things just ended after a four-season successful run that was full of adorable and emotional moments. But another thing the show got right was Dhruv’s stint in Bangalore, and later, Kavya’s move to her hometown in Nagpur.
The way Bangalore and Bangaloreans were shown in the show was a far cry from the way South Indians are mostly shown in mainstream Hindi movies (and even a few Hindi TV shows). Not all of them had the same clothes or taste in music, and they did not spend their entire time sipping coffee.
Similarly, Kavya’s move to Nagpur wasn’t fuelled with an abundance of oranges! Also, Kavya’s conversations with her parents, friends, and neighbors, easily flowed in a mix of Hindi, English, and Marathi. Because that’s how conversations are for most of us who know more than one language.
And when Kavya and Dhruv visit Kerala in the last season, the show incorporated the fact that they’re both tourists and thus, it made sense for them to visit the popular tourist attractions. But from the tour guide to the locals they come across, the cast, the accents, the conversations – everything felt far more natural and appropriate.
This is the kind of representation we wish for. If a particular person’s community has no direct reference to the story then creators should stay far, far away from appropriating the community. Similarly, why can we not cast culturally compatible people from particular roles?
If Paatal Lok, Little Things could do it, then why can’t Bollywood do it? Cashing in on a trend and using a community as a selling point is as bad as ignoring a community altogether. Because representation matters, but misrepresentation often, does more harm than good.