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The foreigner's guide to making a music video in India

The foreigner's guide to making a music video in India

Wait, you're saying all Indians aren't rang-playing slum children who love chilling on rooftops?
Updated 02 Feb, 2016

Ok, so here's why Coldplay's 'Hymn for the Weekend' made us go hmmm.

Ever since news broke that Sonam Kapoor and Beyonce would be teaming up for this vid we'd been waiting for it with bated breath. But as we watched the music video for the Super Bowl tune we experienced a sense of déjà vu: we'd seen this before. All of it.

Where? In every other music video shot in India that was conceived of, shot or produced by a foreigner.

'Hymn for the Weekend' is so obviously a foreigner's fever dream of what India is: a place homogeneously steeped in poverty, mysticism and an intense desire to celebrate the white tourist.

This isn't even the first time Coldplay's come under the crossfire for cultural appropriation, the band's a repeat offender as their 2012 video of 'Princess of China' was met with similar backlash.

In doing so Coldplay's joins the ranks of Iggy Azalea's 'Bounce' and Major Lazer's 'Lean On', among others. These artists are cashing in on a simplistic depiction of what we like to call 'Slumdog Millionaire' India, an India where street kids run around playing Holi regardless of the season, where women habitually break out into synchronised dance numbers clad in "crop tops" or cholis.

These depictions of India aren't just offensive — in today's hyper-connected world they're downright lazy.

Lucky for you, we've figured out the exact template these videos are based on. Use the information below as a handy tipsheet to identify cultural appropriation — or, if you're so inclined, to make your own cliched music video.

1) Apply henna tattoos liberally

One desi girl's funky smelling cultural practice is another girl's cool temporary tattoo, right? We thought the henna trend died out soon after Madonna gave it a whirl... but we were wrong.

Where do we draw the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation? - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend
Where do we draw the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation? - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend

2) Shoot panoramic scenes on rooftops

Judging by these videos, rooftops are to Indians what shisha dens are to Arabs; they spend all their time there.

So Chris Martin thought he should too. - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend
So Chris Martin thought he should too. - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend

3) Say yes to rang

Apparently, people in India dance around on the streets drenched in powdered colour pigments ALL YEAR round. Rang is fun, yes, but please acknowledge the significance of the Holi festival.

We mean, even slum children (more on that later) have other pursuits - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn To The Weekend
We mean, even slum children (more on that later) have other pursuits - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn To The Weekend

Thanks but no thanks for the bundle of stereotypes.

4) Let your tummy do the talking in a crop top/sari blouse

Women in India never let their gluttonous side get the best of them; they're all in excellent shape and can rock a crop top/choli at all times. You too must bare your belly when you get to India.

Also, hello rooftop setting - Screenshot from Major Lazer's Lean On
Also, hello rooftop setting - Screenshot from Major Lazer's Lean On

5) Befriend exotic animals

Forget about Africa: India is basically the gigantic safari experience you've been vying for. It's a land where peacocks, elephants and monkeys just roam the cities freely.

Behold Iggy on an elephant; white peacock chills on cool temple window - Screenshot from Iggy Azalea's Bounce (L) and Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend (R)
Behold Iggy on an elephant; white peacock chills on cool temple window - Screenshot from Iggy Azalea's Bounce (L) and Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend (R)

6) Hire Bollywood-style dance troupes

Okay, we should be blaming Bollywood for this one, but do people from the West really think Indians randomly burst into song and dance?

Yup, this guy is just trying to fit in - Indians don't walk, they jive! - Screenshot from Major Lazer's Lean On
Yup, this guy is just trying to fit in - Indians don't walk, they jive! - Screenshot from Major Lazer's Lean On

They're shown in perpetual bhangra mode, always willing to join in as sidekicks of a dance routine.

Same here: "I wonder if I'm doing it right" - Iggy Azalea - Screenshot from Iggy Azalea's Bounce
Same here: "I wonder if I'm doing it right" - Iggy Azalea - Screenshot from Iggy Azalea's Bounce

7) Let mystic men be your guide

If you've only seen India through the eyes of these music video directors, you'd think levitating sadhus were a streetside staple.

Mystic men - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend and Iggy Azalea's Bounce
Mystic men - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend and Iggy Azalea's Bounce

Sorry to break it to you, rest of the world, but you've been duped. These mystic men are neither as ubiquitous or as supernaturally gifted as you think they are.

8) Cry me a river... preferably the Ganges

What's a better shot to establish the fact that you're in India other than one of the Ganges?

Ganges: the most popular watering hole in India - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend
Ganges: the most popular watering hole in India - Screenshot from Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend

After all, half of India seems to chill there.

9) Hire 'slum children' as extras

India can in fact boast of housing arrangements that don't look like slums, but you wouldn't know it from these music videos.

Yup, kids in India basically look like Mowgli from Jungle Book - Screenshot from Iggy Azalea's Bounce
Yup, kids in India basically look like Mowgli from Jungle Book - Screenshot from Iggy Azalea's Bounce

Ditto for the kids. There are plenty of shiny-faced children in India in clothes more spick and span than the average American, but where's the exotic in that?

10) Don't forget the bindi!

Shooting in India is basically a musician's excuse to have a fancy dress party outside of Halloween.

And if they're getting decked up in a sari, the costume isn't complete without the requisite bindi.

Spot the bindi (it's so easy) - Screenshot from Iggy Azalea's Bounce
Spot the bindi (it's so easy) - Screenshot from Iggy Azalea's Bounce

Never mind, that today's young Indian woman have long left that tradition behind.

Comments

1000 Characters
Dip Feb 01, 2016 05:33pm
Loved the article, I haven't seen any Indian media published such article :p
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Hasan Feb 01, 2016 05:36pm
Indians are more racists than anyone else in the world. So If someone would have included the light skinned Indians in the videos then it would be appreciated, otherwise they will be bashed. Look at bollywood. Bleached skin models with no acting skills are making waves only because of their light skin. Also Dewali and group dances are popularized by Bollywood. So why to blame western producers for portraying these stereotypes when Indians themselves market it like that.
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jakoji Feb 01, 2016 05:51pm
@Hasan - You are spot on - We Indians are wannabe whites & thats the truth....
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shrey Feb 01, 2016 06:02pm
@Hasan Yes, we have billion shades skin, every outsider perceive this large country in different way, but I acknowledge its all India, Yes largest slums to largest Hi Tech campuses.. everything India. what we are proud today is, its a country striving hard to progress.. Please do not generalize us, by handful of people you seen, Or by seeing people successful in entertainment industry, We love Rajanikanth too, he doesnt have fair skin, but yet we love his unique ways..
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Charu Feb 01, 2016 06:17pm
@Hasan : yep...we Indians are yet to come out of the "please the white man" mentality...but thats not because we are racist, quite the opposite we dont cherish and have little appreciation what we have....its not racist supremacy that's the problem its the inferiority complex!
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daada Feb 01, 2016 06:40pm
hasan speaking too much truth up in here!!
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Rahul Feb 01, 2016 06:54pm
@Hasan - but the same is true about Pakistan as well.
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ADC Feb 01, 2016 07:18pm
@Hasan being an Indian , i totally agree with you
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balu Feb 01, 2016 07:27pm
@Hasan You nailed it Hasan.
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Bisma Feb 01, 2016 07:33pm
The tradition if Bindi and staying on rooftop is very much alive in HIndustan
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LK Feb 01, 2016 07:51pm
@jakoji Speak for yourself. I'm Indian, and I dont want to be white! Very happy the way I am....
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obivankanobi Feb 01, 2016 08:19pm
@Hasan you are largely right in your observations. However some of the most desirable women in Bollywood have been unapologetically dark skinned - priyanka chopra, rekha, zeenat aman, waheeda to name a few and dont forget he first Miss World from the South Asia Ms Rita Farrea way back in the 60s.
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Shreyamsa Feb 01, 2016 08:24pm
@Hasan Yes, we have billion shades skin, every outsider perceive this large country in different way, but I acknowledge its all India, Yes largest slums to largest Hi Tech campuses.. everything India. what we are proud today is, its a country striving hard to progress.. Please do not generalize us, by handful of people you seen, Or by seeing people successful in entertainment industry, We love Rajanikanth too, he doesnt have fair skin, but yet we love his unique ways..
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indian_ladoo Feb 01, 2016 08:25pm
absolute legend (whoever wrote this article).
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Faraz Ali Zuberi Feb 01, 2016 08:36pm
I like the title. However, the rest is a swing and a miss. Reflect that they only came to India for the "exotic". They don't want to focus on a brown man dressed as a white man. They have enough of that back home. So why India, or Brazil or any other place? The exotic. Cant rule the exotic out.
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Shashi Feb 01, 2016 08:48pm
@Hasan yes.. Its true for both Indians and Pakistani!!
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Vishnu Sharma Feb 01, 2016 09:07pm
@Hasan Add Pakistanis to that also. Skin whitening products are as popular in your country as they are in mine
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American_Desi Feb 01, 2016 09:20pm
I for one did not find anything particularly offensive. This is quite representative of India. If anything, Indian movies are not representative of the 'real' India. I do not know when the video was shot but even if it was not shot during Holi, no harm in done. Maybe Coldplay should only use white folks dressed in jeans/T-shirts/Leather in their next video shot in India. That way there is zero risk of being accused of cultural appropriation.
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Sameer Feb 01, 2016 09:56pm
Dear Hassan....India itself is like mini sub continent, where different weather n geographical conditions make different skins and languages ... that's why south Indian looks like Sri Lankan....north east indian looks like Chinese.... Bengali looks like Bangladeshis... and north Indians look like Pakistanis....so you can't judge entire India on sample of north indian people
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LK@Madurai Feb 01, 2016 09:58pm
@Hasan ..Man you seriously do not know my country .India is not just Bollywood. Have you heard of Kollywood,Tollywood,Mollywood,etc?India's superstar is from Kollywood and he is dark..mind it! One can never generalise India!!
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girl Feb 01, 2016 10:02pm
I find the video grate, India is unique because it has ganga, god men, holi and animals and bindi, whats wrong in it , we dance and sing in every other occasion , marriage , festivals e.t.c, yes we play with colour not only in holi, but in many other occasion i.e. marriage, navratre , and even in election victory people colour each other, people who are too urban I think got hurt by this video, india has got pubs and clubs so does rest of the world, but what we have no one else has so be proud.
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Anand Feb 01, 2016 10:03pm
Thank you for the great article ! I think i will miss what today India is and was in past . The engines for westernization have been filled with the dreams of joy and prosperity with young eyes, mostly don't see the traditionalism and culture could bring the same Changes without being westerns...I bet in future we will be missing our old and gold days, the love and care we were showered from all around !
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dve Feb 01, 2016 10:13pm
i think everything i have seen in the video is reality. we are poor, we play holi, no one compares to our spirituality/mysticism. all truth.
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Suman Feb 01, 2016 10:26pm
There is no harm in selling whatever is sell-able with no investment and 100% profit. Indians know very well to do business, so learn instead of advising them.
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Indian Feb 01, 2016 10:40pm
@Hasan I Guess you do not have any Indian friends otherwise you wudn't have said such harsh words.
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rita Feb 01, 2016 10:46pm
The bindi is alive and well thank you very much and will never go out of fashion. A saree is not complete without the bindi.
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James_Blonde Feb 02, 2016 12:15am
@Hasan I partially agree with you. But I don't think we (Pakistanis as well as Indians) are racists (exceptional cases apart). The problem is deeply rooted back into the colonial days. The education system pioneered by the British inculcated a sense of backwardness and inferiority in us. That system declared everyone who practices "Indian" traditions e.g. eating with hand, speaking and studying in the native language, wearing traditional clothes as regressive. Goras has long gone but that sense of inferiority has prevailed – we will speak our language, wear our clothes but when it comes to ‘being formal’ we will all be wearing neck ties, eat with knife and fork and flaunt English. The song itself was awesome btw
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Vinayak Feb 02, 2016 12:40am
excellant jibe... dawn stands out because these class of articles
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arvind74 Feb 02, 2016 12:52am
Our white American colleagues from the US visited Indian office, we took them to different Malls and restro-bars for eating out/drinks/parties/shopping etc in the cities of Bangalore & Gurgaon....and we waited for some expressions like....Wow! ...or like....dude Awesome! Instead they got bored and asked for if they could go see tigers or Taj Mahal or Ashrams in Rishikesh. Because the other things that we wanted them to see and admire, they had been to all that for many years in America.
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Raj Feb 02, 2016 12:53am
@Hasan While I fully agree with you that Indians do have this bias towards light skin, this video was not done by Indians and while you do have a point, it nowhere related to this article or the video. BTW - we're (Indian and Pakistanis) are same people and we share the same genes and share the same billion plus shades of skin (as @Shrey said it) - cherish it.
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Capilano Feb 02, 2016 02:50am
This is real India which Indians are scared to show in their own movies. Every Bollywood movie is shot in Europe but shown as if it was India! Let the Indian see the realty and enjoy.
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Another Indian Feb 02, 2016 02:53am
So who cares? Some white dudes made some videos and some Indians made money out of it. Why should we care about what whites think?
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shopaholic Feb 02, 2016 03:40am
I am still unable to understand the reason behind so much hue and cry by the Indians.. when you ask them what is so special about India, the first thing they would say in return that we have a very rich culture and thousands of years of history/our traditions.. isn't it portrayed in the video too? Does the IT centres or High rise apartments reflect your culture or tradition? Isnt Henna, Holi, bindi, elephants a part of your culture? or you want cold play to make a video on Silicon valley or urban shopping malls? why shouldn't they make a video in UAE then? or any Western developed country... Please stop being ashamed of your rich culture.. I would have been very proud had such a video been made in Pakistan.
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Hindustani Muslim Feb 02, 2016 05:58am
Wow! Great article. Healthy respect for the unknown writer of this article. True facts. India is vast, multi-cultural...no point in stereo-typing it.
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sudhir Feb 02, 2016 08:54am
This is essentially a recipe to shoot Punjab and North India, roughly the culture of four to five states and most of them backward. Holi is not celebrated in the south and the north east. Bollywood essentially represents these four states. Capturing the essence of India in a five minute video is pretty hard. We are too diverse for that.
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sudhir Feb 02, 2016 08:57am
@Hasan Bollywood represents roughly four Hindi speaking states in India. It's just that the world outside hasn't looked beyond Bollywood to see what India is like. Even your interpretation is mostly based on the Bollywood movies you have seen.
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sudhir Feb 02, 2016 08:59am
@Bisma Depends on which part of Hindustan you are talking about.
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Ajaya K Dutt Feb 02, 2016 09:31am
@Hasan - Your thinking depicts what you are. I mean you, Hasan.
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saurav Feb 02, 2016 09:41am
@Hasan we indians say "athithi deva bhava" means guests are equivalnt to God.
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J Wayne Feb 02, 2016 09:56am
@Hasan ..you nailed it. Don't understand what the cultural appropriation fuss is all about. Just watch any commercial Bollywood movies which will leave you dumb folded with all the double talk and wrong message to public.
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Fawaz Feb 02, 2016 09:59am
Chill out folks. I loved all the videos - they were so colorful and joyous. All music videos are somewhat over the top - so nothing wrong with portraying the exotic (perceived or otherwise) side of India. I think they show a beautiful India. Much ado about nothing in this article.
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Komal S Feb 02, 2016 10:14am
Actually these Videos are not offensive and actually there is some reality to what they show: If you go to Varnasi, Rishikesh you will sadhus like the ones shown in the video. Yes it is common to see Elephants, cows and monkeys in many places in India, Women wear colorful clothes and during festival times it is colorful with women in bright colors etc, Bindi is still worn by many women, dancing in the streets is a bollywood creation. So i am not sure why the author is getting worked up.
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Junaid Feb 02, 2016 10:35am
Most of what is said in the article is true. Poverty, animals, slums. These are ubiquotous in India. I have been to Delhi and it was the same as mentioned in this piece. Plz accept the reality.....
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deepak Feb 02, 2016 11:12am
@Hasan what about Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone,Rani Mukherjee, Bipasha Basu, Rajnikanth, Ajay Devgan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and many other brown skinned stars that are big in our country. Quick question - how many brown actors do you have in your Pakistani films?
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Yash Feb 02, 2016 11:35am
@girl ...Well said Girl....I didn't find this article offensive at all...I believe India is exactly the way it has been shown...We just don't play Rung at Holi....We do that the same more many Happy moments...Rooftop views are my favorite place to relax...Bindi and Mehndi are wore by women's daily... I Just love the video, Sonam looks stunning...Just love the Choreography.. Beautiful India & Incredible India
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Ahmed Feb 02, 2016 11:37am
I have been visiting dawn site for a long time now. and i have noticed there are more comments by Indians compare to Pakistanis .
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A shah Feb 02, 2016 11:46am
I loved this video. It showed so much of the beauty in India. Why don't they film these things in Pakistan too?
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S. Khan Feb 02, 2016 12:13pm
"It's a land where peacocks, elephants and monkeys just roam the cities freely." --- Yes, animals don't roam freely on Indian streets. They need proper permits and a lot of paperwork.
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Ali Feb 02, 2016 01:53pm
I agree that this video shows only one side of the picture and not the MODERNIZED INDIA. But being a Pakistani, someone who has never visited India, I liked what I saw. I mean this video showed that Indians have colors, music, dancing, mysticism, cinema, and more than that love and space for all coming to their land. Yes, a glimpse of modern India is missing like some space rockets going in the sky, empowered women, a bit more of Bollywood (Bollywood is far more than Sonam Kapoor running about in a Lehnga or whatever she was wearing). But still it shows the beauty of India, its culture, and I liked it.
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Indian Feb 02, 2016 10:51pm
@Ali Well said. Completely agree with you!
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Zameer Feb 03, 2016 02:41pm
@Hasan Every country is racist.. look at all including you... problem is we Human being so much divided based on country/religion/money that we all have forgotten the TRUE eccense of life... But we will not improve and continue to fight for our EGO, Power and some extremists will continue to mindwash us :-(
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Soulspeek Feb 03, 2016 07:51pm
Absolutely spot on!! Sometimes I wonder if Dawn is really from Pakistan. It has got the pulse of both India and Pakistan. Had there been no animosity between the Government of both sides, Dawn would have been the biggest media house of South Asia!!!
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Cdinesh Feb 05, 2016 12:36pm
@Charu agreed
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kuttathi Feb 05, 2016 02:10pm
Hilarious,but nice observations about westerners stereotyping India.
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Drdk Feb 06, 2016 12:38pm
@shopaholic we are proud..most of the shouts of culture appropriation are coming from westeners themselves..
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Drdk Feb 06, 2016 12:42pm
@Ahmed because we have more population..and more english speaking people..u will find us everywhere..
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