Tak­ing Pride in the Bride

In­dia’s soft power fi­nally comes of age. And it’s thanks to Priyanka Chopra

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas - Sandip Roy

Priyanka Chopra might not war­ran­taS­tat­ueof Uni­tyjust yet as a na­tional icon, but she cer­tainly did not de­serve the 1,600 words of steam­ing hot xeno­pho­bia, racism and sex­ism that got heaped on her thanks to The Cut, a ver­ticalowned­byNewYorkMagazine.

In the now in­fa­mous ar­ti­cle, ‘Is PriyankaCho­praandNick­Jonas’sLove­for Real?’(goo.gl/RPHTSX),colum­ni­stand co­me­dian Mariah Smith de­cided, “All Nick wanted was a pos­si­ble fling with Hol­ly­wood’s lat­est It Woman, but in­stead he wound up star­ing straight at a life sen­tence with a global scam artist.”

The back­lash was quick and sting­ing. Within hours, the ar­ti­cle was edited, toned down, its more egre­gious bits re­moved. Fi­nally, it was deleted al­to­gether, re­placed by a cring­ing apol­ogy ad­mit­ting “hu­man er­ror and poor judge­ment”,ratherthantheusu­al­half-hearted“Re­gretif thisof­fend­edany­one”non­apol­ogy. This was no su­per­fi­cial pa­per cut. This ran deep.

Rud­yard Ki­pling was wrong. Even if East is East and West is West, some­times the twain do meet — at a lav­ish wed­ding in Jodh­pur. Or, as this story re­vealed,th­ey­can­meeti­nanapol­o­gy­at­so­cial me­dia’s great judge­ment seat. It’s not quite an apol­ogy for Jal­lian­wala Bagh or the Ko­hi­noor, but it’s some­thing.

When the West comes to In­dia, it is usu­ally the knight on a white horse bring­ing deliverance to hap­less brown peo­ple. Nick the Knight did ride in on a horse,but­this­damsel­wasinn­odis­tress at all. Ac­cord­ing to Smith, Chopra “nev­ereven­took­thetime­tomakesure[Jonas] was com­fort­able rid­ing the horse”.Smith­does­notre­veal­how­sheknew this, but her ad­vice to Jonas was to “find that horse and gal­lop away as fast as you can”. That’s a colo­nial stereo­type turn­ing on its head right there as Nick Jonas be­comes the naïve vir­gin flee­ing the clutches of the worldly-wise princess in this Cut-rate post­colo­nial fairy tale.

A Cut Be­low the Rest

There has been a lot of de­bate about whetherPriyankaCho­praisIn­dia’sfirst bona fide crossover star. Whether her stin­twith­Quan­ti­cow­asa­nun­qual­i­fied suc­cess or not, the show was built around her. She was the face on the poster in the sub­way. The in­dig­na­tion this ar­ti­cle sparked — and the quick ca­pit­u­la­tion by The Cut — proves her in­ter­na­tional clout is real, not just PR fan­tasy.

As Aseem Ch­habra, au­thor of Priyanka Chopra: The In­cred­i­ble Story of a Global Bol­ly­wood Star, says, “She be­came a very recog­nis­able Amer­i­can celebrity from some­body who was not known at all in Amer­ica.” Not bad for the girl from Bareilly.

There were plenty of In­di­ans rolling their eyes at the breath­less cov­er­age of the wed­ding. But with just one hor­ren­dousar­ti­cle,TheCut­man­aged­tomake theen­tire­con­ver­sa­tion­about­theirown racism,xeno­pho­bia,misog­y­nyandageism. As the Priyanka-Nick jokes be­ing for­warded around on What­sApp groups will tes­tify, In­di­ans are no strangers to these vices. But thanks to The Cut, In­di­ans got to play ag­grieved vic­tim this time.

The wed­ding be­came a mat­ter of na­tional hon­our around which ev­ery­one ral­lied — even those who would oth­er­wise have slammed it for be­ing an over­the-top­brand-athon.Some­one­just­give her a Padma Bhushan al­ready.

The furore led to a larger con­ver­sa­tion about The Cut’s ed­i­to­rial stan­dards. The Cut claims to be a “premier desti­na­tion for women with stylish minds”. But it came across as blind­ingly white, and blind­sided by its white­ness. While Smith is African-Amer­i­can, the ar­ti­cle showed how New York was still a lit­tle is­land that thought the world re­volved around it. Smith was clue­less that for most of the world, Priyanka Chopra, thanks to Bol­ly­wood and Quan­tico, was the big­ger name, while Nick Jonas had to be Googled.

Most im­por­tantly, it took barely 12 hours for The Cut to axe the story. As the web­site Broad­sheet points out (goo. gl/tyNri4), “There was a time when out­rage in ‘dis­tant’ In­dia would barely make a dent on the New York me­dia es­tab­lish­ment. But to­day if me­dia is global, so are the brands who fi­nance it. No ad­ver­tiser — ei­ther in New York or Lon­donorLA—wantstopis­sof­fo­neof the big­gest mar­kets in the world.”

Soft-Won Hard Vic­tory

Of course, this is about busi­ness. But it is a sign of In­dia’s soft power fi­nally comin­gof age,an­dit’sthankstoPriyanka Chopra, rather than any­one go­ing about hug­ging peo­ple across the world.

Chopra wisely chose not to lash out from her ‘happy place’. But to para­phrase­formerUSpres­i­den­tTheodor­eRoo­sevelt, it showed that real power means to speak softly and carry a big wed­ding veil. Bet­ter still, have six peo­ple carry it for you.

Dul­ha­nia Dil­wale Le Jayenge

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