An Analysis On Orientalism And The Music Video “HYMN FOR THE WEEKEND"- by COLDPLAY
Author: Sakshi Jain
Designation: Student, Symbiosis Law School, Noida
Email ID: firstname.lastname@example.org
The term ‘Orientalism’ denotes the exaggeration of differences, the presumption of Western Superiority, and the application of clichéd analytical models for perceiving the Oriental (Eastern) World. As such, it is the pivotal source of the inaccurate cultural representations that form the foundations of Western thought and perception of the Eastern World. It is a Western fantasy and is proxy in nature. These cultural representations usually depict the Oriental World as primitive, irrational, violent, despotic, fanatic, and inferior to western or native informant.
The given music video by Coldplay titled ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ was shot at various locations in and around Mumbai, India featuring saffron- clad sadhus, rickshaws as medium of transport, dilapidated buildings, half- naked and brown- skinned children, dingy slums of the city, kids dressed as Lord Shiva and Lord Hanuman and single screen theatres with a projectionist. In addition to it, one can see Beyonce dressed as an Indian actress ‘Rani’ who is wearing a scarf on her head akin to a ghoonghat or dupatta, henna on her hands, and lots of bangles along with jewellery which is looking like chains on her head and face. In short, one can safely conclude that the whole video depicts a primitive and regressive culture of India. It is a white person’s fever of what India looks like. As the video ends, it leaves us in wonder if the makers have crossed the fine line that exists between culture appreciation and culture appropriation.
This colorful and vibrant music video is teemed with stereotypes. It depicts a one- sided representation, typecasting India and its people, thus giving us a live example of the existing Orientalism in the world. India is much more than what the video depicts it to be. These tropes of spirituality and poverty have been reproduced so often by western media to the point that they have become inherent to what India means in our collective imaginations.
Starting with the saffron- clad sadhus that are shown in the video, Westerners think of India as a spiritual Mecca with a mystical culture. They think of India as a land of sadhus. This is something, which is far away from reality. Though one cannot deny that these sadhus are a part of Indian culture, but calling the country a ‘land’ of sadhus just because few people follow that sort of practice is not very justified. India is much more than some sadhus showing off their miraculous tricks to general public.
Next, we can see the dilapidated buildings and the dingy slums that are shown in the video. There is a commonly held perception that all Indians are poor. While it is true that a large proportion of the country lives under the poverty line in the slums, this is not the case for the entire nation. India holds a significant portion of the world’s richest people and there are large numbers of Indian nationals who are billionaires. By depicting just the dilapidated buildings and dingy slums, the makers are overlooking the huge presence of internationally renowned luxury hotels, shopping malls, nightclubs, bars and restaurants that are there in India and showing only one side of the coin to the public.
In addition, we can see Beyonce dressed as an Indian actress, wearing a scarf on her head akin to a ghoonghat or dupatta, henna on her hands, and lots of bangles along with jewellery which is looking like chains on her head and face. This is again stereotypical depiction of Indian culture. While the traditional outfits of India are undoubtedly timeless and elegant, one cannot typecast the dressing culture of India as is shown in the video. These days, most Indian women have the liberty to choose whatever attire they wish to wear, and therefore categorizing women on the basis of attire is not very justified. The video depicts a stereotypical assumption that these Westerners carry about Indian outfits, especially women’s outfits. It does not correctly depict the real picture that exists in the present scenario.
These scenes depicted in the video prove that India has always been positioned as a shallow vessel that exists for Westerners. Throughout history, these Western countries have never been comfortable to afford us our own stories, or acknowledging the beauty and complexity of our rich and diverse culture. These scenes that the video depict are a tiny part of who we are, and sadly that’s the only part the Western countries ever choose to portray, telling us about the clear existence of Orientalism in the world. The India that is portrayed in this video bears a very little relation to the real India, which is complex beyond belief. But it is so much easier to talk about India as an exotic land where Sadhus do the Great Indian Rope Trick, because that is what these Westerners are comfortable with. If the makers really wanted to depict Indian culture, they could have depicted it in a very different, beautiful and elegant manner altogether, but instead, they chose to depict only the backwardness of the country.
One common defense for this kind of appropriation is that it is an appreciation of our culture. However one must understand that appreciation respects the complexity of the original culture. Imagine somebody taking few pieces out of a jigsaw puzzle and walking away confidently, insisting that they don’t need the rest of the pieces to complete the whole picture; that is exactly what this video looks like.
To conclude my views on this video and its connection with Orientalism, I would say that the concept of Orientalism still very much exists in the world. These Western countries still view the Eastern countries as primitive, irrational, violent, despotic, fanatic, and inferior to them. The video is a very nice example of how the Western culture views our culture. Despite of having being developed so much since the time of our independence, all that the West is able to see is the poverty and the slums that exist in some parts of our country. In my opinion, if the makers wanted to depict India, they could have done it in a much better manner. There is so much more in India than just sadhus, slums, poverty, and stereotypical dressing culture. I agree that these are very much part of our culture, but by depicting just these aspects, the makers have shown only one side of the coin. They could have beautifully depict how incredibly rich and diverse the Indian culture is, how it is growing at such a rapid pace in the world, but sadly they chose to depict only the darker side, and did not even try to portray the rich Indian culture that exists. To wrap up my views, the concept of Orientalism is very much real even today, after so much of developments going on in every Eastern country in the world. There is still a sense of superiority that exists in the minds of these Western countries when they compare themselves with the Eastern countries. This fact is very disturbing in itself and there is a strong need of this practice to be stopped, so that we can all come together as one big family and live in this world happily and peacefully with no sense of inferiority or superiority. The world needs to be a better place where we appreciate each other instead of taking each other down. The world needs more of acceptance and kindness, and less of stereotypical judgments. Therefore, this concept of Orientalism needs to be stopped in order for the world to be a happy place to live in.