As a car blasting Balam Pichkari slowly weaves its way down the road of your colony on Holi day, and the windows of your home shudder in sympathy with the booming bass, one can’t help remembering that, as usual, Bollywood has a lot to answer for. Just like Hollywood made the world believe that cowboys were rugged gun-toting adventurers, instead of the pastoral cattle driving laborers they actually were, no different from the cow herders who cause a traffic jam on your way to work with their bovine trains, except that in America, white cowboys lynched the Red Indians, whereas in India, the lynched as well the lyncher are brown, as probably is the cow.
But speaking of saffron, getting back to the colorful hijinks of Holi, Bollywood really did a number on the world, and by that, I mean around 33,000 song-and-dance numbers, presumably one for each god. Right from the days of yore, it has presented a sanitised, even redacted version of the real-life revels.
From Amitabh Bachchan’s earthy baritone in Rang Barse to Anu Malik's more unfortunate warbling in Do Me a Favor to the aforementioned Balam Pichkari, Bollywood has always set the soundtrack for Holi, and subsequently, much of the template. And while life imitates art, in this case, art doesn't reflect life.
No one’s denying the vibrancy and joy and energy of the festival in real life of course, but aesthetically speaking, it’s a lot different from what’s happening on the big screen. Instead of heroes with bared washboard abs, you get uncles with barely covered paunches, and instead of unsuitably garbed heroines being pawed at decorously, you have girls who would really just like not to be groped if that’s not too much ask. Where’re the annoying kids who fill their pichkaris with mucky puddle water and go around maniacally spritzing random people on the road with it? Where are the twins of those kids who start pelting pedestrians with water balloons, from upstairs balconies and passing by vehicles, a whole week before the holiday itself? And where, oh where, are the creepy, inebriated men?
If Indian movies and TV serials are to be believed Holi is all fun and games, certainly roguish but never offensive, nor so rife with harassment, whereas too often the latter are true. Given the profusion of intoxicants, the revelry can often swing into criminal behavior, with some celebrants unable to control themselves or their friends, and things can get out of hand, and we don’t mean color or water balloons. Every year, one hears of people being assailed with eggs or cow dung or worse.
And, of course, the concept of consent apparently goes on holiday on Holi day (just like not asking for permission before making terrible puns). Given that, like any other man, I can’t imagine how bad it gets for women in a festival in which inebriants are free-flowing, physical contact is encouraged, and faces lost in a sea of color, I won’t elaborate on that aspect, but the stats are self-evident. It’s not for nothing that cops celebrate Holi the day after the festival, given that they have to remain especially vigilant on a day that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
So maybe instead of providing Indians, and the rest of the world, with bright and colorful wholesome family entertainment, our entertainment industry could shine a spotlight on some of the more black-and-white aspects of the festival.
Sure, there is always food, there is always bhaang (if you’re into that sort of thing), and there is always rang and paani and naachna and gaana and the rest of it, but there’s also a dark underbelly. In real life, on Holi, calls to the police complaining of harassment and worse, drunken brawling, hooliganism, and vandalism spike multifold, but on screens, the dance goes on. But I guess, "Bura na maano, Holi hai."