Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend : Offensive?

This is the official video for the Hymn for The Weekend, A song in the latest Coldplay album, Head full of Dreams. When this album released, I, like every Coldplay fan was so excited about it, waiting for it for days; downloading it the first chance I got. But contrary to my excitement, the album didn’t really do anything for me. I didn’t relate to it the way I generally do to Coldplay songs. For me, Coldplay is Viva La VidaV Coldplay’s desire to unite fans around the world with an entertainment they can all relate to is the band’s strength, and a worthy goal; Viva La Vida was a positively celebratory collection of songs seeping in melodies, hooks, and emotion.  

 

Head full of Dreams was more like Coldplay’s attempts to blend into the popular music culture by going almost pop and some electro. It really was not a good album for me, but Hymn for the Weekend was still a song I could listen to. It had the catchiness, it had that get caught up in it and play it with friends vibe to it. So it was natural for me to be excited, for the video. After all, Chris Martin had come to India for the video. It made me proud and jealous of all the street kids he danced with.

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The video released on 29th and by 30th, I started reading how it was offensive to the Indian culture. How the British still think of India as the land of the snake charmers, and how the video was full of Indian stereotypes. People started tweeting about how it was 3 minute of Slumdog Millionaire all over again and how Sonam Kapoor in the video was just again a portrayal of how the Indian actress is the sidekick in a British video.

I don’t see how the video was either offensive or culturally inappropriate. That is India. how we live and breathe in the country. Only more beautiful and picturesque.  So let’s just settle this and move on: if cultural appropriation means that a privileged group adopts the symbols and practices of a marginalized one for profit or social capital, then yes, Coldplay’s video is committing cultural appropriation.

While I agree that Coldplay has exoticised India, making it look like all we do here is chill and play Holi or pray, it is a music video after all. It’s art. When has art ever been controlled by what others think of it or how they want to be represented? And if we expect that of art, are we really a democracy?  Are we expecting them to stand and film the cyber city in Gurgaon? Or do we want it to discuss Digital India campaign or India’s foreign policy?

I personally loved the video. I found it beautiful and colorful and something the Indian tourism could put up in their marketing. I found it to be artfully made, there are elements of design in the video rarely seen nowadays, it was pleasing to the eye and the ear. I thought the video, was a representation of India which was picturesque and yet, international. It was no less than what we see Africa as, it was no less than what award-winning photographers showcase India as.

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Art is a personal expression, and if what they found interesting is that we play Holi or how the uncountable sadhus in our countries dress and live and pray, they are going to put that in their video. While we live inside buildings and work from our offices, there are actually taxis and half-naked children running around the roads. It is not something they made up.

They are artists and in a video that they made, they have all the right to portray things that they wish to, as long as they are not untrue. And it is not. We do playHoli. Cities like Varanasi are a tourist destination across the world because of our traditions and rituals.

As the Guardian put it and I Quote,

Director Ben Mor sprayed the “essence of incredible India” onto his video, a diluted perfume invented by white, western creatives whenever they want some Indian inspiration. Under the western gaze, India is a lush, exotic land filled with dingy slums inhabited by pious, levitating holy men and lanky brown-skinned children who are always throwing colored powders at each other. This idealized India obscures the realities of a complex nation in favor of reductive tropes originally intended to preserve western hegemony. Coldplay’s myopic construction of India has been part of western representation since the colonial era, but in the past few years, the music industry has embraced it to make their videos more interesting.

The video is part of a system of representation that shapes how the west understands and engages with the world.Chris Martin and his band are portrayed as dynamic, modern westerners who entrance the city with their formulaic pop song. They are not treated as outsiders but instead are integrated, if not put in the center, of the locals’ festivities. There is no suspicion, no resistance, and Coldplay partakes in the spectacle of daily life and ritual as if they’re entitled to do so.

We are a beautiful country. And a colorful one. And that’s what fascinates people about us. We are no one to be telling them what to think, do or show when it comes Art. If we are so quick to take offense, I guess a day would come when they would show that in their art. Or the multiple rape cases on foreigners who come to India. Or the way our own actors have been criticized by citizens just for doing their jobs. Is that the real portrayal of India? what is it that the people of the country really want?   A great part of our nation is still very much about godmen, sadhus, villages and the half-naked children and narrow lanes and just too many festivals to count.

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I think we have become a country too obsessed with criticizing anything and everything that comes our way. and that is our problem. We as youth, think about why bands or celebs don’t come to India. but if this is how we treat the portrayal of the country, when it is done in the most artful way possible, how can we expect anyone to think about making an Indian based project? No artist wants public condemn. Coldplay just happened to take the burn for something they had no idea they were getting into.

We are a country of people who watch movies like Mastizaade with an active censor board, who lets it release. We are the people who want to go out of country to holiday because being in India is just too middle class for us. We are the people who don’t think twice about dressing like the ‘celeb of the week’ but publicly criticizing Sonam Kapoor for the 3-second cameo she did for the band she loved. We don’t believe in thinking we believe in following the popular or the publicly shared. We rarely do something that is pure, original, a point of view of our own but we believe in giving world class criticism for everything.

SO here I start thinking, is it really us as Indians who should be taking offense for the video? I think if anyone here gets to take any kind of offense it would be the artists who get criticized for trying to make art out of something they find interesting enough to come and visit and explore.

While we are developing, competing with the rest of the world in business, technology and science, why is it so shocking if people are intrigued by things that are unique to us? I am sorry, but I refuse to be offended by the video. I am more offended by the pseudo intellects of the country. Where were you when a Tanzanian student was beaten up and stripped for no fault of hers but that she was African and had dark skin? I could put down so many incidents here, it could fill up my entire blog.

In all,I think when it comes to Coldplay and the video for Hymn for the weekend, this is my take on it. To err is Human, to take offense, is Indian.