‘Mr India’ to ‘Lagaan’: Bollywood’s Memorable Foreign Baddies
Have the stereotypes changed?
In Kangana Ranaut's new release Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, we come across a familiar Bollywood film trope - that of the evil gora. Bollywood is notorious for portraying foreigners as a bad influence on ‘sanskaari’ Indians. Whether it’s the gora henchman, evil Britishers or characters whose ‘loose’ morals are not so subtly hinted at. Here’s a look at some of Bollywood’s portrayals of foreigners over the years.
Bob Christo in ‘Mr India’
Australian-born Robert ‘Bob’ Christo cemented his place in Bollywood as a villain since his 1980 debut in Sanjay Khan’s Abdullah. Over the years, he’s spouted some quote-worthy lines in films such as Kaalia. Of his many roles as a gora henchman, one of the most memorable is his Mr Wolcott in 1987’s Mr India. Sample this: The makers got Bob to play a white smuggler who is attacked by a Hanuman statue after he tries to smuggle it. While the statue hoists him by his shirt collar, Wolcott wails, “Sorrrrryyyy Bajrangbali!”
Sidenote: Bob’s character in another 80s gem - Disco Dancer- was literally called Mr International Hit Man.
Captain Andrew Russell in ‘Lagaan’
Captain Andrew Russell, aka the guy who challenged Aamir Khan to a cricket match in Lagaan, embodies one of Bollywood’s most popular tropes. He is the quintessential sneering British officer who passes his time by openly threatening ‘gulami’ Indians in his heavily accented Hindi. Of course, by the end of the film, he will have his comeuppance courtesy victorious Indians.
Mrs Sprightly in ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’
Considering Kajol’s Anjali was on the receiving end of discrimination from the wealthy Raichands for being from a different socio-economic class her jingoistic attitude towards her foreign neighbours is where irony goes to die. Mrs Sprightly is shown as relatively unassuming while Anjali unleashes a volley of insults at her in Hindi, including calling her daughter a “kamini bachhi”.
Captain James Powell in ‘Thugs of Hindostan’
If you weren’t sure that the East India Company - and all British goras - were evil, Captain James Powell in Aamir Khan’s 2018 debacle Thugs of Hindostan does a good job as a reminder. Tl;dr: In the film Powell conspires to stop an uprising by ringleader Khudabaksh Azad by hiring a thug (Aamir) with questionable morals to spy on him. When another officer questions his decision, Powell says, “Toh koi aur jaanvar hai aapke nigam me?”
However, there have been a few films in the recent past that have stepped away from the trope of ‘evil white foreigner’. In Rang De Basanti, documentary filmmaker Sue is treated like one of the gang by Soha Ali Khan character and her friends who take her under their wing. In Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Milkha Singh’s Australian girlfriend is never portrayed as having questionable morals, as are most white characters in Bollywood. They even share a touching goodbye when Milkha returns to beg for her forgiveness after he accuses her of sabotaging his career. Queen too sees Kangana’s motley crew of characters come together and share an endearing camaraderie despite being from different countries and of various ethnicities.
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