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An Indian mother living abroad on why her kids deserve to see Indian faces represented in media

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by Nirupama Kumar Hecker 

I was looking forward to seeing the new Pixar short Sanjay’s Super Team for so long. Ever since I learned it was coming out years ago, I couldn’t wait to see how artist Sanjay Patel would portray Hinduism for Disney, a topic never explored by the company before.

How Pixar got it right with Sanjay’s Super Team

When it finally came out on YouTube, I sat all of our kids down to watch it together. Less than halfway through, I had tears streaming down my face. It’s not a sad story like your typical Pixar tearjerker. There was no dramatic portrayal of a miscarriage and then the loss of a spouse. (Oh, Up, you get me every time.)

I was crying because it was so long overdue to see characters on screen who look like my family and me.

I was crying because instead of having a brownish little boy with a “mainstream” name, they gave him his actual Indian name — unlike Cece on New Girl or Alex onQuantico.

I was crying because they didn’t just make fun of Hinduism or pretend it didn’t exist — like the NASA director in The Martian who was changed into a half-Baptist for the movie, apparently to make him more palatable for mainstream Americans. Instead, they actually let Hinduism be a part of the story. It was celebrated.

I was crying because I know how much this would have meant to me when I was younger.

What it’s like to grow up without media representation

My parents worked very hard to instill a sense of religion and culture in my brother and me, but they couldn’t keep the outside world away. My real friends did more than tolerate me — they tried to understand me. It still didn’t erase the shame of being mocked by my peers for being a heathen and somehow gross.

You would think 30 years later my son would not have to go through the same thing. He tells me daily about comments from his classmates about how Hindu gods aren’t real or that Ganesha is “creepy.” Watching a Disney short isn’t going to erase that hurt, but it does give him the kind of validation that I cannot. To him, it means his favorite cartoon company thinks he is not creepy and that his Gods are real, too.

In Sanjay’s Super Team, it felt so fantastic to see an Indian father and son together, learning to relate to each other in new ways even if neither speaks a word. It even gave me hope that kids might someday tease my son a little bit less for being Hindu.

Most media couldn’t even pass a two-point Bechdel test about South Asians. First of all, how often do you see two Asian characters together — with names? Then they have to speak? That one is even harder (ahem, Big Bang Theory). The topic of conversation they’d have would be irrelevant at this point.

Media representation matters to me

Seeing an Indian woman onscreen matters. Exposure to media results in a lower self-esteem for minorities and women, both of whom have fewer roles and fewer lines than white males.

Media representation matters to my children

We need more than a short from Disney — an Indian princess would be great, or some characters with speaking parts. My daughter spent a long time questioning her beauty because Elsa has yellow hair. I finally thought to show her a video of Idina Menzel as the “real Elsa” — #parentinghack.

Media representation matters to all of us

Media representation also changes how others view you.

When people question if you speak English or they give up on pronouncing your name without even trying, it becomes obvious how foreign I am to them. I’m different and therefore not worth taking the time to relate to, and this impacts everything from friendships to school admissions, jobs, salaries and housing — even car loans.

It matters when schools are forced to stop saying “namaste” or putting up pictures of mandalas because a few parents are worried that portraying Hinduism in yoga class will be a corrupting influence. Stripping yoga of all its cultural context sounds a lot like appropriation to me. I cannot even begin to imagine how degrading it must feel to the Indian students in those schools.

As media representation of South Asians continues to grow, I expect stories like this will become fewer and farther between. Bollywood is awesome, but it doesn’t reflect the real-life experiences of the Indian diaspora in America, and it does little to impact inclusion and tolerance in America.

It gives me so much hope to see artists like Sanjay Patel making books and cartoons and shorts that are so relatable to kids of all backgrounds. I love seeing more and more South Asians in media as well, such as Lilly Singh, Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling (née Vera Chokalingam). Things are slowly changing, and maybe they’ll portray their culture without apologizing or hiding it.

(The article was originally published in

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State Honor To Bollywood Stars May Take A Vulgar Turn

Are we not deeply concerned that this beautiful earth and its beautiful people are being ceaselessly troubled by evil acts of a few inhumane bigots?

Sridevi's family along with the nation is distraught at her death.
Sridevi's family along with the nation is distraught at her death.

– SALIL GEWALI, Shillong

Obscenity and immorality will have the last laugh

What if a mother continuously makes her child eat more and more pudding only? Will he not vomit? This might even make the child suffer from dysentery and other sicknesses? Exactly the same was done to us by the media for 4/5 days immediately after the sudden demise of the Bollywood film star Sridevi in a Dubai Hotel room. The TV audience has been forced to shed tears on and on for the actress. Many have felt it intensely irritating. There was practically minuscule coverage on the election in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura by the media. I guess the gossip of a film star is more important than the citizens exercising the democratic right and other major events across the country.

Is it right to cover the death of a Bollywood star this much?

                      What is not less disgusting is the mindset and the taste of the media these days.  It literally does not let an individual gaze “upwards” and think higher. Thoughts, opinions and commendation expressed about the departed soul may sound poetic but they all border on the “frivolity and actress’s titbits. One fails to understand what good it does to us by knowing the idle gossip of a film actor whose lives are less inspirational. I’m afraid, to the media and its type, the film stars are the “only” inspirational, and all others’ controversial, lol! It seems the Maharashtra government has gone overboard by arranging the cremation of the Bollywood star with the full state honour. Is it wanting to swim with the media tide? Phew, this unprecedented trend might take a very vulgar turn. Obscenity and immorality will have the last laugh!

Also Read: State Honours For Sridevi’s Funeral, Procession Is Among Largest Recorded In Mumbai

Is the death of  Jagadguru Jayendra Saraswathi not a great loss for the nation who passed away in the same period? His demise did not merit a mention even as a news. Is this not the dangerous trend being set in which even the government is hand in gloves with the media?

               Well, no media brings to light how some female actors lead the life after a certain age. Mostly, their later lives are less enviable. With the waning of the youthful glamour, the media ignores them. During the heyday, many of the single actresses usually get heavily drunk in the glitz of materialism which later makes them stagger and subsequently fall into the sea of frustration and aloofness. In their twilight years, they just struggle hard to make peace with the chaotic thought and unfulfilled expectations.

                        One of my witty nieces yesterday remarked, ‘the media usually wastes the precious time of the people who themselves cannot decide how to be more productive in life. They usually end up looking upon the wrong people as their role models and consequently take the wrong steps. This is very disastrous to the individual and also to the society at large’.  I am sure my niece is cent percent correct.

Sridevi was a legend who deserves our respects and her own privacy.

                      Of course, such occurrence of death of a celebrity could be widely used as a means to inform and wise up the people about how inescapable the death is. This death at any moment can devour each of us. Our mission, our ambition, our vanity and our entire materialistic possessions just fall to pieces when the death snatches our precious body. Before the jaws of death, a successful celebrity and a street bigger are same. It is the biggest leveller. Why does our media not use such facts of the life sensibly and put a little effort to make the citizen more enlightened and more “humane”? This can be done very easily.

Also Read: India Stunned By The Death Of Veteran Actress Sridevi

                       Are we not deeply concerned that this beautiful earth and its beautiful people are being ceaselessly troubled by evil acts of a few inhumane bigots? If ever the knowledge of the “impermanence” of the life and the inevitability of death was harped on and instilled into everyone’s mind, as the entertainment items, the major problem on this earth would have been just solved. People would not have gone mindlessly berserk being the cause of anxiety to others. Most of the problems, difficulties and worries that we have now are only because of the total “ignorance” of the hard facts about the life and death which might attack any of us at any time. Every moment we rejoice and every moment we grieve only pushes us towards the graveyard. I believe, this clear knowledge of “graveyard” and the unpredictably temporary nature of life on earth itself can effectively guard us against a host of wrong thoughts and a host of wrong acts.