5 Stereotypical Indian Characters From Movies

Wednesday, August 8 by Jericho

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Hollywood loves to paint characters in broad strokes, with stereotypical Indian characters being a go-to filler for shop keepers and taxi drivers. The problem is so widespread that many of our favorite movies feature these characters with no questions asked. Since India's economic upswing in the 90s and the globalization of Bollywood films the stereotypes are beginning to give way to more rounded and reasonable characters, but there is still a long way to go.

 

Shaman ("Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom")

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The world of Indiana Jones is filled with one stereotype after another, but few are as blatant as "Shaman," a character so stereotypical that the writers couldn't even be bothered to give him a real name. In fact, although all of the Chinese characters in the opening sequence have names, almost none of the Indian characters do even though the film is almost solely set in India. Shaman is proof that even in the 1980s, Hollywood thought that India was a backward country filled with magic worshipping tribesmen.

 

Ben Jabituya/Ben Jahveri ("Short Circuit"/"Short Circuit 2")

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When "Short Circuit" came out in 1986, very few people blinked at Fisher Stevens being cast as Steve Guttenberg's Indian sidekick. Thirty seconds after he appeared onscreen, most intelligent people thought "good lord, what did they do?" Because the film was so wonderful, it was unfortunately overlooked. Then "Short Circuit 2" came out and even the densest of viewers cried foul. Not only did they hire a white man to embody an Indian, they cared so much more about money than characterization they randomly changed his name between the films.

 

Gunga Din ("Gunga Din")

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	The very reason that "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" got it so wrong, this 1939 film was a fun screwball comedy that didn't care a lick about the portrayal of the people it focused on except to make them stereotypically funny. Based on a poem by <span data-scayt_word=Rudyard Kipling that showcases the Indian water-bearer as a hero destined to be lauded by the British soldiers he works for, the film turns him into a mostly subservient and slapstick character with little to no depth.

 

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon ("The Simpsons Movie")

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Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is one of the most well-known Asian Indian characters in the public eye. In "The Simpsons Movie," he reprises his role as a stereotypical Indian shopkeeper, struggling to keep his convenience store alive while at the same time dealing with a too-large family. In a strange role reversal that may have something to do with the widespread love of "The Simpsons," the wildly stereotypical shopkeeper has been accepted by a large part of the Indian-American culture.

 

Mrs. Patel ("Splitting Heirs")

When Eric Idle was cast as Tommy Butterfly Rainbow Peace Patel, nobody was surprised, considering that he wrote the movie. What was also unsurprising was his use of broad strokes for cheap laughs, including his stereotypical Indian mother, a shopkeeper with a too-large family (sound familiar?) that adopted a little white boy so she could get an extra paycheck to help pay her bills.