Thursday, August 16, 2018

Movie watching thoughts: Crazy Rich Asians

I'm trying to figure out if I'm just being small-minded and inward looking with my mixed feelings about Crazy Rich Asians, or if the fact that I went to see it with some very "woke" people who loved the movie meant I couldn't really articulate my feelings about it at the time.

I liked the movie. It was fun, the performances were brilliant, and Nick's single minded approach to trying all the food possible on his first night back in Singapore was completely understandable. Also, it was very Bollywood. The basic difference between Crazy Rich Asians and every ridiculous rich people movie I saw growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, was that, unlike Karan Johan and Sooraj Barjatya, Jon Chu made a really good movie. Also the prospective bahu stood up to her prospective mother-in-law a lot more than anyone in K3G ever did.

Here's what bothered me. Before the movie started, they were doing clips showcasing the actors for the movie, and then did a slidereel of the history of Asian actors in Hollywood. And somewhere in the mix Indian American actors like Kal Penn were shown, as well as clips from The Namesake. And then, at the end of the slide reel, they put up a caption remind us that this is the first movie since 1993 to have movie with a majority Asian cast in a contemporary setting. To which I say, then what was The Namesake?

And I get it. I get how important this movie is to the Asian American community, and why this matters. But I've always struggled with the fact that India, and the South Asian subcontinent, gets called Asian when it's convenient, and gets tossed to the side when it's not. If we're making the point that this is the first movie in 25 years with an Asian cast, and we're excluding The Namesake from that narrative, then don't toss it into the slide reel either, right?

And granted, I have only visited Singapore for three days, almost 15 years ago, but I'm very sure there were more South Asians there at the time then movie showed. Which, again, is fine, because maybe they weren't part of the setting this movie showcased. But. BUT. How is it that every guard of a fancy hotel or mansion that the movie showed somehow managed to be a Sardar?

Look, I loved the movie. There's so much even I could identify with. The guilt tripping laid on kids by their parents. The love for family and food back home. How good it is to go back home every time you do, the catching up with old friends and families. The little throwaway lines that showed that people really are the same, everywhere.

And a lot of the movie brought back the feelings I've also always had, of being a probashi Bangali, growing up in Delhi, only visiting Kolkata occasionally for a few days during school vacations. My cousins made fun of how terrible my Bengali is, how my accent is "so Delhi". I felt out of place with my Delhi friends at times, but even more out of place with most Bengalis I knew. Those feelings span cultures - anyone who has grown up in a place that is different from the place their parents belong to struggle with that a bit, I think. And watching Rachel's character navigate Singapore, and reading the reactions of Asian Americans to watching that, brought a lot of those feelings back.

But, let's just decide if Indians count as Asians or not, 'kay?