I don't dream of Bollywood

Observations on stereotypes

The other day, Channel 4 broadcast I Won't Marry White, yet another documentary claimed by its makers to "really show the reality of being a young and British Asian". Instead, we were presented with another banal variation of the "arranged marriage" theme. Why is it that documentaries about African Caribbeans, for example, explore themes such as history, migration, music and discrimination, yet when it comes to British Asians, programmers seem to think that marriage and Bollywood typify our lives?

Young Asians do not spend their time desperately searching for a husband/wife or dancing round their living rooms dreaming of becoming the next Bollywood star. Maverick TV, the producers of Channel 4's Bollywood Star, said it showed "a deeper British Asian experience". Really? Does Pop Idol represent a deeper English experience? On the BBC website, Bindis and Beauty Queens, shown in May, was introduced with the line: "What's it like growing up as a young second-generation Asian woman in Britain?" For a start, it's a lot more complicated than putting on a bindi and worrying whether you're the darkest or fattest girl in the room.

All the Asian women I know, whether Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, are well- educated, professional working women. None of them has any interest in beauty pageants, and they see many more American and British films than they ever see Bollywood films. The majority married men they found for themselves. They are pretty similar to other British women.

Yet somehow it suits broadcasters to portray Asian women as either helpless victims in need of rescue from parents or in-laws, or as vain and bitchy bimbos. If we're not being kidnapped by our families and taken to the Indian subcontinent to get married to a 70-year-old uncle, or being burnt by greedy in-laws for more dowry, we're picking on the fat girl in the talent contest and making her cry.

You can argue that there's a subtext of racial and cultural inferiority here. And you can just about sense the underlying cries of "bring back the Empire, let's civilise those darkies". But what most matters to me and other British Asian women is that the programmers (especially the Asian ones who should know better) should stop patronising us. Then we'll no longer have to grin and bear it when people call us "Asian babes" or ask: "Are you having an arranged marriage?"

Next Article