From Orientalism to Occidentalism: Turning The Tables Through Parody
Seeing patronising white chefs, vloggers and TV presenters travelling to India to ‘unravel its mysteries’ and getting euphoric at the ‘exotic spices and colours’ was annoying enough. So we produced a short film where the (fictional) TV presenter Shagufta Shahnaz travels to London to unravel the blandest food of Britain.
The trend of white British/American vloggers travelling to use India’s (and other parts of the world’s) landscapes and people as a background décor, is nothing new. This obsessive fascination and fetishisation of the East is what Edward Said called Orientalism in 1978. We see people in front of monuments of which they know nothing about the story, and taking selfies with people whose names will never appear in the end credits. The smell, the colours, the noise are ‘disgusting’ yet ‘exotic’. The poverty is ‘repulsive’ yet ‘fascinating’. As a result, we took the worse lines we found on YouTube and the BBC, and adapted them to the British context.
Here, Shagufta is fascinated by the blandness of English food, the dirty but mysterious river Thames, the grey and smoky streets, and the rainy weather. Shagufta assumes that British people are the descendents of crusaders and colonial officers. Shagufta probably watched the glittery series Made in Chelsea but observes that the English Middle-Class is all about getting drunk. She notices the strange habit that people have of eating pizza, and finds it resembles a giant naan cooked with vegetables on it. And most horrific fact, toilets don’t have lotas.
Because Orientalism considers its subjects as an object of desire and fascination, it denies their humanity. And it hurts. Seeing cultural or religious traditions labelled as ‘strange’, focusing on marginal topics and saying that they represent a whole country… Presenters talk to shopkeepers assuming they understand English, so Shagufta talks to a shopkeeper in Urdu. We saw on BBC a presenter comparing their contact in India to a maid on family pictures from colonial times, so Shagufta finds a shopkeeper who reminds her of a colonial officer. We saw presenters bursting into random people’s houses, asking the to cook Indian cuisine, so Shagufta bursts into an English lady’s home and asks for a Christmas dinner in the middle of the Summer. We saw presenters installing a cooking table in front of children playing on the streets, so we filmed a cooking scene in front of Middle-Class people playing tennis. At the same time, we’re interrogating the colonial heritage: people genuinely think that curries are a national British dish, and that it is okay to say ‘chai tea’ or ‘naan bread’; while the latter literally mean ‘tea tea’ and ‘bread bread’.
Some lines are also a tribute to the famous sketch ‘Going for an English’ by Goodness Gracious Me, which was a similar exercise. In the end, we hope that people will realise that it doesn’t make sense, as if we could reduce Britain to a country populated by ‘tactical chunders’. One video cannot change decades and century of biased perspectives that transpired not only in the media, but in literature, arts, politics and academia… however, it was a cathartic exercise for all the people involved. So we wanted to share this feeling, that although we cannot rewrite history, we can have our share of laughter.
Original idea: Javayria Masood
Script, Screenplay, Filming and editing: William Barylo
Additional ideas: Abbas Zahedi, Parlé Patel
- From Orientalism to Occidentalism: Turning The Tables Through Parody - August 3, 2017