FROM THE TELEGRAPH OF 5 APRIL 2005
Bring back Negar Khan
The police are professionals. Their job is to catch criminals, to prove their crime and to bring them to justice. For a job well done they get kudos from the press. If they catch a henchman of Haji Mastan in the act of setting off a bomb, the media go crazy; the police really enjoy that. But such henchmen are not stupid; and they are capable of blowing up the police as much as they do innocent civilians.
So the police seek easier options. One such option is intently watching pornography. Then, in intervals, they have a discussion: whom do the pornographic heroes look like? Now – does this girl not look like Anara Gupta? It does not matter whether the likeness is perfect, or even good; as long as Anara Gupta is beautiful and famous, arresting her will bring the police fame. Months or years later they may be proved wrong. But in the meanwhile they will have had their moment of glory.
Or take two kids who do what comes naturally to them. During one of their intimate moments, another kid takes pictures of them with his cellphone, and sends them off to another friend; that friend sends them to a third and so on. The act itself is one of the commonest in the world. There are about 1.5 billion heterosexual couples in the world. At any moment, about half a million of them will be enjoying themselves. Of them, about 25,000 will be underage. What an opportunity for the police! All they have to do is to keep snooping, catch a couple and make a rumpus. The press will simply lap it up – how can it resist sex? When fame comes so cheap, which silly policeman would bother to catch criminals?
We saw another instance of this kind of lazy policing recently: the police arrested a young woman called Negar Khan, took her to the airport and put her on a plane to Norway – taking good care to call up all their friends in the press and inviting them to watch the fun. Who was this Negar Khan? She was one of those pretty young things that gyrate in Indian films. And what was her crime? That she had overstayed her work permit. And why should that bother the police? Because according to some law, humans who are not citizens of India need a work visa to work in India; if it expires and they continue to work, they are committing a breach of law.
As often, the law is an ass in this case. To begin with, it is silly to call prancing and dancing work. It can be very paying; if one can find film producers to make one famous, one can become a billionaire by running around trees, embracing persons of the opposite sex and synching silly songs. It can be exhausting if one does it for too long. But fundamentally it is frivolous. It should be ignored the way we ignore children’s antics; if people enjoy watching it, it should be encouraged, for it would keep them out of mischief. Better mass voyeurism than rape. Only the police and their master, that asshole law, would see anything criminal in it.
But even if it is regarded as work, there is no reason on earth why we should stop anybody from coming and working in India. True, all countries do it. But we do not have to imitate every piece of stupidity in the world. Countries purport to do it because they want to protect their citizens from the competition of foreigners. But they really do it because their citizens have a vote and foreigners do not. There is no economic reason for it. After all, they do not stop their citizens from leaving the country and competing with foreigners on their turf. We Indians are actually inordinately proud of our fellow countrymen going and working in California.
The advantages of free trade are understood by all today; even India, the world’s worst protectionist, is planning to bring down import duties to insignificant levels. Ricardo’s principle of comparative advantage is universally accepted. What Ricardo did not say but is equally true, however, is that it is advantageous for countries to exchange workers; importing cheaper workers reduce costs of production, and exporting them increases their earnings.
The Indian film industry is the world’s largest in terms of the number of films; but it has been a colossal failure in terms of world market share. The reason its exports are so modest and confined to Indians abroad is that its actors and language are Indian. It has a universally saleable formula; the sight of cavorting beautiful young things is as appealing to Latinos, Americans, Chinese or Trobriand Islanders as to Indians. To appeal to them, however, Indian films must be made in languages they speak and faces they identify with. That is why we should allow in not one but a thousand Negar Khans.
First, we should import singers. It is a complete mystery to me, but people are very parochial about song and music. Indian music may sound like wailing to a European; but it can bring tears to Indian eyes. Conversely, hip-hop music sounds like gibberish to me, but it sends Americans crazy. We should not worry about why this happens; we should just import a few hip-hoppers and get our young kids to hop about to their music – that is the way to win US hearts. Better still, we should hire the singers of each country who have the widest appeal there.
Next, we should import dances from other countries. This happens to some extent, for our dance choreographers are too busy to invent any new dances, and routinely poach foreign routines. But we should study the market – look for dances which appeal most in each country – and introduce quality-of-service standards. I recently watched a dancer in Taj Mahal hotel: he did a dance that was faintly Indian but absolutely riveting. He was a Russian. He had come to India to learn classical dance. Then he started improvising, and using flowing garments of strong colours. The effect was magical. A leavening of foreign talent can transform our arts beyond measure.
And finally, we should import all the Negar Khans we can find. Our young actors and dancers are good. But our output is so huge that it gets boring to watch the same old Bombaiya bodies. We need variety. And nothing is more varied than human faces, hues and bodies, and nothing more fascinating than the variety of their dances. Let us bring Hawaiian hula dancers, Spanish flamenco dancers and Venezuelan mariachi dancers, and meld them into a new type of Bollywood potboiler. We will then have an unbeatable international product that will find a global market – quite apart from getting the best entertainment in the world. Not even Vandana Shiva could resist such a happy form of globalization.