Why Must the West be Won?

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For a video to go viral it must evoke emotion, as any Internet guru will tell you. Priyanka Chopra’s attempt at being a pop star with her sophomore single Exotic has become a viral video, at least in India, where it got over three million hits in four days. It also topped iTunes India and is a sensation on Twitter, as her publicity team has not stopped reminding us. Her collaborator, Pitbull, seemingly surprised and almost apologetic, tweeted, “lot of people really like Exotic with Priyanka Chopra, thank you for that”, as if he never saw that coming. Priyanka’s reaction, though, was far less reticent: “It’s simply crazy.”

It’s not so crazy if you think about it. Let’s apply the viral video test to it. Does it evoke emotion? Undeniably. Hilarity, disbelief and cringing embarrassment do make for a smash hit. Korean pop star Psy earned his millions riding on those. His was intentional over-the-topness; Priyanka, misguided by her producers, ends up being unintentionally funny while aiming for sizzling-searing-smouldering-ness. Burying this debacle will be no easy feat. But if she can play a boxer from the Northeast (refer Mary Kom biopic), she can do anything. First, she has to stop thanking everyone on Twitter and not read fandom in the instant buzz. If Internet buzz were an indicator of importance, cats would rule the world.

Not only was she duped by Pitbull, who must have walked away with a hefty fee for the two inane stanzas he raps (Priyanka step on gas, From Morocco to Mumbai, Bollywood Hollywood is all about the money, Hey!), she also proved to be a victim to that very Indian syndrome — seeking validation from the West, posting on her Twitter timeline the trite observations of notorious celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, who made note of Pitbull’s “curvy collaborator” and “gorgeous Indian goddess”, and the Daily Mail, which mentioned her “sexy dance moves” and “drop dead good looks”. The fact that she became the most derided celebrity back home was blithely ignored.

Without dwelling too much on the generic footage of the video that’s heavily derived from JLo’s back catalogue, the tacky production values, the desperate wardrobe and the not-so-inspired lyrics (Cool me down, I’m feeling so exotic. Yaa right now… I’m hotter than the tropics), let’s look at the evolution of Priyanka’s ‘exotic’ musical career. Last year, she declared her intention to be a pop diva. Auto-Tune, that wondrous software, has made the ability to sing the least of the requisites for an assembly-line pop star, though a hot body and wardrobe are still non-negotiable. She went to LA, came back with an album, released the first single, another Auto Tune marvel, In My City with will.i.am. It tanked without a trace. This year, she dropped the second single, and it seems reasonable to expect the entire album to be unveiled by 2022.

In all fairness, her robotic voice, when drowned out by the club beats, does not sound much different from Britney Spears, Ke$ha or Katy Perry. But who is her audience? Is it meant to be a pan-global audience that straddles America and India, just like she sees herself as the embodiment of the desi-pardesi girl who can sing in both English and Hindi and mix her hip hop moves with some Indian steps? We find Priyanka lost somewhere at the altar of her East-meets-West ambition. Huffington Post obligingly carried a piece calling her a “raven-haired goddess”, comparing her with Aishwarya Rai. When all that the West has to spare is such vapid, hyperbolic commentary, why do we crave their approbation? She calls herself ‘exotic’, but the only context in which she is exotic is to the Western world, while her captive audience is in India.

More questions come pouring forth. Why is Pitbull surrounded by a bevy of hot women like an old Hindi film villain? Why does Priyanka walk into a pool in high heels and the action shift from a beach to a jungle? Should we hope she will now pursue her other childhood dream to be an engineer or be scared of the 45 songs she has allegedly penned?

sunaina@tehelka.com

1 COMMENT

  1. Personally speaking, Priyanka proved her foothold in Bollywood with her roles in Aitraaz and the recent Barfi where she was commendable as an autistic adolescent girl. I fail to understand why would she digress her career options from a top-notch actor to another derided popstar with an unimpressive (read: overtly edited) voice and still more unimpressive lyrics.

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