Gurinder Chadha's Disney Film: Why an Indian Princess is Vital For the Franchise
The Disney Princess franchise recently announced the arrival of its first-ever Indian princess.
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Bride and Prejudice filmmaker Gurinder Chadha is all set to introduce an Indian Princess to the Disney franchise. She has been commissioned by the House of Mouse to direct and produce the original musical film.
The Disney Princess franchise started in 1937 with its original animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, introducing the label’s very first princess, Snow White. The film’s popularity among the younger generation soon paved the way for Disney’s subsequent princesses. Ever since, the franchise has been trying to incorporate characters from diverse cultures and races into its films.
85 years since the creation of Snow White, we have seen an abundance of white princesses, as well as an African-American princess (Tiana), a Middle Eastern princess (Jasmine), a Native American princess (Pocahontas), a Polynesian princess (Moana), and a Chinese princess (Mulan). In fact, we even saw a mermaid princess (Ariel) and some that weren’t even genuine princesses, but sadly, not one princess of Indian descent. For the longest time, this absence appeared to be a representational barrier for Disney, despite the fact that India is the world's second-most populous country.
However, Disney put all these complaints to rest with Chadha's upcoming film's announcement. Regardless, the decision was long overdue and should have been implemented years ago. Here’s why:
Need for Indian Representation
Many little girls have idolized Disney princesses while growing up. From the magnificent clothes they wear to the moral values they possess and preach, these princesses have had a significant impact on their viewers across the globe.
India, with a population of over 139.34 crores, is one of Disney's most important markets. Its content is consumed not only by Indians in India but also by Indians who have immigrated to other countries. By portraying Indian culture in its films, Disney can educate people and dispel the negative stereotypical image of Indians around the world, particularly in western countries.
Another argument surrounds Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. While many may think that she is Indian, she is only close to the Indian subcontinent. There are several elements from the film that prove she is a Middle Eastern princess. As per the lore, Jasmine is the princess of Agrabah, a Middle Eastern kingdom ruled by her father, the Sultan. In fact, everything about the film, from its songs to the characters' names and their physical appearances, screams Arabic. In order to avoid this confusion, Disney requires an actual Indian princess to introduce its audience to India's colorful culture.
For Its Indian Audience
As previously stated, Indians are among the most devoted Disney consumers today. According to a report by Business Today, the Indian subscribers of Disney+Hotstar, the streaming service of The Walt Disney Company, stood at 61.3 million in October 2022 alone. While the Indian viewers might have admired fairy tale figures like Cinderella and Snow White, it could be challenging for them to grow up without seeing a character that looks and acts like them. Everybody wants to be seen today, considering the major influence pop culture has on our society.
By creating a Disney princess who represents its audience, the platform can increase its viewership. People will watch the movies for more than just entertainment; they'll also look for commonalities in these on-screen characters. This will help Disney establish a personal connection with its Indian audience.
The best example of this is Marvel’s recent mini-series Ms Marvel, featuring Iman Vellani. With Kamala, Marvel introduced its first female Muslim superhero, who gave millions of young Muslim women a voice and a face, who yearned to see themselves in such an honest yet liberating position. Because of its realistic portrayal of the Pakistani community in America, the show quickly became one of Marvel's most popular series within the first few days of its release. Marvel chose to represent its characters wholeheartedly without going overboard and designing them with the same boxed-in perspective as others.
India's Rich Collection of Folklore & History
Disney can draw inspiration from India's rich cultural history, which is filled with myriad folk tales, kingdoms and fascinating kings and queens. Each of these characters is diverse in their cultural traditions, lifestyles, and even languages.
If one delves deep, Indian history and mythology can offer an abundance of stories about brave princesses who broke stereotypes and defied the regressive norms of society. Some of these women were Manikarnika, the warrior queen of Jhansi; princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who started a movement for women’s right to vote in England; Razia Sultana of the Delhi Sultanate; princess Velu Nachiyar from Tamil Nadu, who was a skilled warrior; and princess Padmini, also known as Padmavati, among many others. By amalgamating these intriguing characters into its films with Disney's iconic touch, the franchise can serve something unique for its viewers.
The Disney Princess franchise, on the other hand, has prominently portrayed its female characters as damsels in distress, placing a greater emphasis on the role of men in their lives than on their own agency. By establishing the significance of a "true love’s kiss" or a "happily ever after" in its early productions like Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, Disney gave its viewers a rather utopian view of love. But with the passage of time, we began to notice strong, independent female leads with more personality, like Mulan, Pocahontas, and Ariel. If the franchise succeeds in doing so with its Indian princess, there will only be praise and admiration for Disney.
There's More Room for Experiment
The majority of Disney Princess films are set during the English Tudor period, 19th-century France, or Colonial America, among other similar settings and eras. Viewers are accustomed to seeing Gothic European architecture, conventional ball gowns with cut-off shoulders and long bouffant-styled skirts, and a sophisticated accent, in these films. The franchise will have the chance to explore India's diverse landscapes, from its native architecture, flavorful cuisine, and lifestyle to its natural beauty, with the launch of an Indian princess.
Disney can offer a fresh perspective on Indian culture to the international audience, which is frequently presented with very conventional and stereotypical representations of India. This will set the franchise apart from other mainstream platforms that have been adamant about portraying Indians in traditional saris with exaggerated accents, living in poverty, and having an obsession with cows and elephants.
Disney Can Take Inspiration From Bollywood
Disney can take a lot of inspiration from Bollywood if it wants to capture the interest of Indian viewers. From its dramatic monologues, vibrant music, and classic love stories to the upbeat dance numbers, there are a number of factors that appeal to the Indian audience.
The franchise can borrow ideas from several historical figures that Bollywood has masterfully portrayed in some of its periodic films, such as Jodha Akbar, Padmaavat, Baahubali, and Bajirao Mastani, while still trying to maintain Disney's aesthetic. This will also allow the franchise's visual effects team to experiment with fresh concepts in order to deliver stunning visuals.
A similar approach was seen in Disney’s 2019 release, Aladdin, featuring Noami Scott and Mena Massoud. But, rather than remaining true to its cultural roots, the film took a U-turn towards Bollywood by adding overstated action sequences, a dramatic background score, and peppy dance numbers. Because of this, the film appeared more Indian than Arabian, despite having Arabic characters and settings.
With so much emphasis on its representation over the years, I believe it was about time for Disney to introduce its first Indian princess.
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