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Dear Coldplay: India is Not Your Orientalist Fantasy

A few weekends ago, Coldplay performed at the Super Bowl, an act saturated with bright colors and flowers and their instruments inscribed with the band’s name in Hindi. At the end, the words “believe in love” appeared over the crowd. Many aspects of the performance were clearly related to their music video for “Hymn for the Weekend”, filmed in Mumbai. Despite this, they didn’t perform the song during halftime. Singer Chris Martin stated that this was because the song was too recent to play, but I think the real reason was due to the backlash the video rightfully received.

When the song and video first came out, many South Asians, including myself, collectively sighed over Beyoncé dressed in a sari, donning mehndi (“henna”), wearing a headpiece that looks more East African than Indian, and attempting mudras (“Indian hand movements”). She played a “Bollywood star” in the video, while an actual Bollywood star—Sonam Kapoor—had a barely noticeable, two-second cameo that seemed like a last-minute addition to a mess that included smiling poor brown children, a floating sadhu, probably the dinkiest movie theater I’ve ever seen, a fire breather, and Holi powder.

Trust me when I say that I’m an avid Bey fan and set my alarm for when her tickets go on sale, but I am extremely disappointed in her involvement with this video. And although cultural appropriation is something that should be called out, at this point it’s exhausting to address. I’m tired of being offended by non-South Asians donning bindis at music festivals and rushing to their local Claire’s for “henna tattoos”. Frankly, appropriation is not the biggest issue in regards to Coldplay’s video.

This video is more than just appropriation; it’s orientalism, or the stereotyped representation of Asia from a colonialist perspective. The people in the video are used as props, and every scene represents the romanticism of poverty and Hindu mysticism. It is not only ignorant but also lazy to reduce India to its most obvious and played out stereotypes. India is more than gurus and slums and Holi colors. I know this firsthand because I have roots in so many parts of India and have spent every summer of my life in various cities, towns, and villages with my extended family. Not everyone is Hindu, not everyone lives in poverty, and honestly Holi isn’t that big of a deal. India possesses culture and history so rich and expansive that it spans more than 4,500 years. In India, there are six prominent religions, over 1600 languages, over 80 major festivals, and 29 states, each possessing a beauty of their own. There are whole worlds of culture and tradition within mere neighborhoods. We pride ourselves on preserving our culture while living in the modern world. No one can really define or represent us except ourselves, and anyone else who tries is setting us back.

If Coldplay really wanted to show how beautiful India is, they should have educated themselves on the diverse beauty of the country. If they don’t have the time or patience to (because clearly, they barely tried), then they should leave India alone. It’s also important to note that after 200 years of oppression and exploitation, India gained independence from Britain in 1947. That’s less than 70 years ago. Coldplay is a band of four British guys, singing about feeling drunk and high in a country that is still affected by post-colonialism. The least they could do is respect our spaces.

India does not exist for anyone’s spiritual awakening or epiphany about gratitude. It does not exist to be reduced to its stereotypes. It does not exist as a mere backdrop for a music video for a song that has nothing to do with the country or its people. We all need to be critical of the media we consume, even if it doesn’t directly have to do with us. I respect Coldplay’s message to “believe in love,” but I’m sure they can couple this message with other ways to make their music seem interesting.

Anandita Choudhary is a sophomore Marketing Communications major from San Jose, CA.She is a first generation Indian-American, with both of her parents hailing from Rajasthan.

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