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Sindhi community: Portrayal in Bollywood, stereotyping in popular culture needs a relook

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Neelam Malkani

BHOPAL: The recent Astral Pipe advertisement with Ranveer Singh speaking Sindhi left me ambivalent. I was thrilled to see an Indian superstar speaking my native language on national television.

However, I was miffed because the commercial implied that Sindhis are concerned only with fancy, lavish lifestyle--fancy exterior and not with the robust fundamentals while constructing houses. I maybe a bit sentimental about this issue, but I have all the reasons to believe that Indian film and entertainment industry has done a great disservice to Sindhis by unfairly portraying entire community in a few distasteful stereotypes.

From Dilip Tahil playing a manipulative father in “Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke” to the boastful uncle flaunting his wealth in the latest commercial, Sindhis have been reduced to caricatures of ostentation, deceit and stinginess.

The filmmakers have somehow assumed that a benign Sindhi character is inconceivable. Normal Sindhi characters are conspicuously absent not only in the mainstream cinema but also in the parallel cinema. Even the OTT revolution has not tried to change the status-quo.

In contrast, Indian movies have depicted compassionate and kind-hearted characters of almost all communities and ethnicities-- Lalita Pawar as Mrs. D'costa, A.K Hangal as Raheem Chacha, Paresh Rawal as Mota Bhai, Ashok Kumar as Mistry bhai and countless happy-go-lucky Sardar uncles.

Script writers too seem to be “blissfully” unaware of the lives of inspirational Sindhi figures such as Dahir Sen, Hemu Kalani, J.B Kriplani, Sucheta Kriplani, Sadhu Vaswani, Ram Jethmalani and many more. Another notion about Sindhis has been that they are focused only on minting moolah and not on art, culture and literature.

While the fact is that Ramesh Sippy, who directed the most iconic movie of all times Sholay, and Rajkumar Hirani, one of the most successful filmmakers of contemporary times who directed one of the biggest commercial successes ‘Three Idiots’, happen to have Sindhi roots. Both the movies were not only huge blockbusters but also finest pieces of cinematic art.

Numerous other artists, producers, distributors, dress designers, music directors too have contributed immensely to Indian cinema and entertainment industries despite coming from a community which is perceived to be ignorant of artistry. Moreover, Sindhi folklore and language is a rich mixture of mysticism and Vedantic ideas that have beeninspiration of many popular Sufi compositions. But who cares about facts when fiction dictates and shapes the perceptions?

And what is wrong if Sindhis don’t lose the sight of the commercial aspect of any enterprise? Aren’t all business schools teaching the same thing after taking hefty amount of fees? Aren’t all financial pundits offering the advice of economic prudence! Is not some kind of reward, financial or otherwise, the motive behind almost every human endeavor?

Then why is this normal human trait used to tarnish the image of entire Sindhi Population? Why can’t they be known as people who value their hard-earned resources because they were uprooted from their native places and had to start everything from scratch. Why can’t they be cited as the living examples of industriousness and resoluteness contributing enormously to GDP? Why are they not known for their philanthropy despite running numerous charitable educational institutions, training centers and hospitals?

Actually, it takes extraordinary courage to challenge erroneous beliefs and suppositions; hence, we all generalize. Thankfully, Gurudev Ravindra Nath Tagore realized that the population that lived at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, the sites of the oldest civilizations should be represented in the national anthem, and the commission for linguistic minority recommended that Sindhi language should be included in the eight schedule of Indian constitution.

If it were not for such foresight, Sindhi community would still be fighting for these causes and considered refugees. It is high time we applied some critical thinking before making sweeping generalization about any community. Next time you see a Sindhi relish eating Papad, ask yourself, do people of other communities consume it too? If yes, then scratch “Papad-eating Sindhis” slur from your dictionary. And that would be “DADHO SUTHO.”

[Neelam Malkani is an educator and writer. She is based in Bhopal]