Be more informed, Priyanka Chopra

(pic courtesy of Hindustan Times)

It is our first meeting and my Indian compatriot tells me, “You speak good Hindi, I was wondering how a Chinese can speak Hindi so well.” Now I don’t think I look anywhere close to a Chinese but I understand that for her, it’s an easier synonym for all Asian look-alikes. I get that all the time here in Melbourne.

You are from India?
Yes, from the northeast.
Nepal?

Conversation over.

If I am lucky, I do get an occasional: “Nagaland?” or “Manipur?” 

Once it was “Thailand?” The person was from Delhi and she thought Thailand was in the northeast of India. I wish.

This is a tiredly, familiar opening conversation I endure whenever I meet Indians who, while warming up to the fact that I can speak Hindi and enjoy Bollywood movies as much as they do, have zero knowledge about their own country. I can understand if the ignorance comes from Indians born here but no, these are supposedly educated Indians who have migrated here (and yes, for better life of their children).


Melbourne has a thriving Indian community and because of the nature of my work, I get to interact with a lot of them. Save a handful, I have always had to endure an introduction which goes beyond the mandatory exchange of names. I now call it lesson time in geography and history. After all, I am educating them about our own country for whom they are ready to go on a chest-thumping rant if anyone speaks against the cow, for instance.  

It is a fact that most Indians have very little knowledge about the northeast region of the country. But they do have a stereotypical image about the region: that chow-mein and momos are the food staples, that people there eat dogs too and women are automatically available. No point substantiating examples here. A Google search is enough.

While the general ignorance of the masses is something you can more or less accept or have learnt to accept, it is unforgivable when it comes to ignorant celebrities who carry with them a certain responsibility. The latest gaffe at world platform by Bollywood Priyanka Chopra on Sikkim being a state riddled with insurgency is something the people particularly of the region will not forget and forgive easily.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Toronto Film Festival and in promoting her film Pahuna based on Sikkim, the actor callously tells the Canadian interviewer that she is so proud to be making a film from a region which has not produced a single film and a region that has seen insurgency. Wrong on both counts.

Sikkim, by any measure, is one of the most progressive states of India and exemplary. Swacch Bharat (clean India) movement has just taken off when Sikkim has always been in the forefront of advocating civic sense and cleanliness among its people. Gangtok, its capital, most tourists would vouch is a paradise in itself. It became the first Indian state to be declared Open Defecation Free way back in 2008, and last year it became the first Indian state to be fully organic. Crime rates are low and the state enjoys one of India’s highest per capita incomes.

And Pahuna, the film based on Sikkim by Miss Chopra, is not the first film to come out of the state. As my friend and film critic Upal Borpujari states, “In fact, only this year, Sikkimese film Ralang Road, by director Karma Takapa, had its world premiere at the Competition Section of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, one of the highly-respected film festivals of the world. The film will also be screened at the forthcoming edition of the the MAMI Mumbai International Film Festival. Acharya and Katha by another young filmmaker, Prashant Rasaily, has also earned acclaim earlier. And these are just three examples from among the films that have been made in Sikkim over the years.

It is a wonder that Miss Chopra, a Unicef Good-Will Amabassador, brand ambassador of Assam Tourism and an actor who played northeastern boxing great Mary Kom in her biopic film, has so little knowledge.

The outrage expressed in social media is not without reason. A celebrity like Miss Chopra who has made her mark in the western world of glamour, films and television carries a huge responsibility as an ambassador of India. Every word she speaks will carry a right or wrong message, which in turn will carry random Twitter or Facebook ravings.

You have apologised Miss Chopra, but it would be wise to choose your words carefully the next time and take the business of giving interviews seriously.

As for me, I will continue to grapple with the “where are you from? question and enlighten my countrymen that Nepal and Thailand are neighbouring countries. If I had your stature I would do a lot more to educate the world about a region that often remains in the periphery of mainland conversation.
Be more informed, Priyanka Chopra Be more informed, Priyanka Chopra Reviewed by Indira on September 15, 2017 Rating: 5

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