Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pop Culture

First order of business: the BRAC Interns are having a competition of the best video project. The videos are posted on Facebook, and we need votes! Follow the link below, like the BRAC page, then you can vote:
The videos are really fun to watch. Although I hope you will vote for mine, the others are really good, and tell great stories about some of BRAC's amazing programs!

Now, back to my cultural insights:

Getting into a different cultural mindset has been one of my greatest challenges in Bangladesh. Learning about Bangladeshi culture from experience can be painfully difficult at times, so I have really enjoyed studying Bangladeshi pop culture through literature and cinema. Yesterday, I bought a three Bollywood films for 100 taka each, and today I had the chance to watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. If I had to guess, most Americans have not heard of this film. When I learned of its immense success in India, I was shocked by my ignorance. This film, released in 1995, is the longest running in Indian cinema; it still plays in a theater in Mumbai.

"Dilwale dulhania le jayenge" does not translate precisely in English, but it basically means "the one with the brave heart will take the bride." The Bangladeshi and Indian girls in the office talked the movie up so much. They said I had had had to watch it because of its heartwarming plot and entertainment value. While I so enjoyed the frequent song and dance numbers and the extreme drama, it did not quite reach my expectations. Don't get me wrong, I would give it 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars, but the archetypal romantic comedy plot simply was not captivating. On one hand, I had seen this movie a million times, but on another, I had never seen anything like it.

A country of nearly 1.25 billion people worships this three hour long film, yet it has little recognition in the United States. What's wrong with this picture? Culture and the comforts of home have a huge influence on the media we enjoy. I noticed this when I discussed the book Brick Lane with one of the Bangladeshi interns. I just finished this book last weekend. The novel had a powerful message, however the text was slow, and I found myself trudging though the last 100 pages. On the contrary, Brick Lane completely enticed my friend because it is a Bangladeshi novel written by an English-born, Bangladeshi woman. She understood the reality of this novel and likely found parallels in her life, whereas I remained in denial that ultra-conservative Muslim women live in captivity. Then I remembered how I felt when I watched Bridesmaids for the first time two weeks ago. At a low point in my homesickness, seeing American cinema, American humor, American actresses, and a Christian wedding, I remembered my home and how great it will be when I arrive there again. There's no way that my Bangladeshi friends have the same appreciation for this film that I do. I live the life depicted in this film (not strictly speaking of course), and they can only appreciate this film as outsiders.

When another Bangladeshi intern commented that Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is a far better film than When Harry Met Sally, I almost accused her of perjury. But, I stopped myself, remembering the different worlds we come from. I have had the chance to talk with the Bangladeshi interns about their love lives and what role their families, religion, and culture have played in seeking love. I find it ironic that parents in the United States view young love as immature and preliminary. High school sweethearts rarely follow each other to college because of parents encouraging independent decision-making. In Bangladesh, parents seem to take young love very seriously, and openly anticipate wedding plans, sometimes even pressuring young adults into committed relationships. Many of my girlfriends at BRAC have already felt this pressure. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is their reality; to some extent, this film depicts the lives they live. Instead of dismissing Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge as just another romantic comedy, my experience in Bangladesh allows me to appreciate how well the movie captures the multidimensional challenges of marriage in the Indian Subcontinent. 

1 comment:

  1. Carmen I'm loving reading this!! It's so interesting to hear about how an immersion experience changes when you're in a place that is THAT different from America. I also love your pictures and commentary. Miss and love you!