Volume 4: Number 1, May 1 2000
Fan Mail: A Dossier
As part of this issue’s focus on culture and cultural politics in South Asia and its diaspora, we solicited our readers to submit brief personal reflections on cultural figures and works that matter to them. The following pieces came in response to that invitation. We have called this special section (only slightly flippantly) “Fan Mail,” because we are conscious of the variety of ways in which culture and politics intersect in our experience. Our critical, intellectual, and political responses to art and culture tend to co-exist and intermingle with emotional, passionate, or enthusiastic responses. In each of these pieces our contributors write both as critics and activists and as fans, telling us why works that matter are also works they love. Or, in some cases, works that they love to hate!
Hum Aapke Hain, (aur) Kya?
By Vamsee Juluri
If only the world were more like Hum Aapke Hain Koun! I confess that the songs and the antics could be quite crude and tiresome, but how stout its sentiments soar in this age of fragmentation. As the first big success after 1991 (a year soaked in blood, STAR TV and liberalization), HAHK dealt plainly with the emerging global context by simply shrugging it off. There was love, family bonhomie, fun, gifts, cash, foreign business deals, and a dog that cheated at cricket to make the new bahu feel at home. There was also the new era of distribution and marketing that helped make it a success, including the possibly apocryphal story that Rajshri had sent out enforcers to theaters screening the film to ensure sanitary conditions in the ladies’ facilities.
The massive response of public adulation for this film of course ignited a discourse of its own, from M.F. Hussain’s paintings to people who had seen the film well over a hundred times. But what does one make of the film’s success? And of the fact that even as it celebrated simple (if very rich) family values and made audiences feel very happy, all sorts of crises were coming to a head? Rustom Bharucha brilliantly exposes the classist nature of the film, and other critics have seen it as a high-five for Hindutva. What does this tell us about what this film did in the hearts and minds of all those who saw and continue to see it? At first, I blew off audience responses that emerged in my reception study of this film as dominant ideology at work; it was profoundly ideological of course that tradition and family values could be articulated with consumerist excess in this way. Viewers were apparently untroubled by that, but I felt postcolonialistically and critically enlightened.
But I’ve had cause to rethink this critique of what
the film managed to tap into. Our critical project, whether it is class,
caste, or gender based, has much to learn from HAHK. It is of course
quite problematic, and frankly un-Indian, I feel, to go about touting
family values and tradition as glorious in themselves (as Salman does
in the film with the graffiti on his jeep declaring “I love my family”
or the recent cover story in Outlook magazine on “Trendy Conservatives”).
But holding it all together, family ties, friendships, all this is struggle