Top 10 Hollywood Movies That Portray Indians in a Negative Light

top 10 Hollywood movies that show Indians in negative light
Top 10 Hollywood movies that show Indians in Negative Light

Hollywood is notorious for portraying stereotypes, especially when it comes to depicting India. Indian representation in Hollywood films has often been far from accurate, showing Indians with a stereotypical cringe-worthy accent and as cab drivers and call center workers in most movies. We are also seen as a country that is poor, intolerant, backwards, unhygienic and filled with slums. Few of these Hollywood movies have even won prestigious awards, in spite of their misleading representation of India. 

This wrong, and often negative, representation has perpetuated harmful myths about Indians on a global scale. However, India is a country that boasts of rich culture and heritage. It has varied languages, arts, cuisines and religions that are millennia old. With rapid development in IT, Commerce and Science, India is a huge economy today that has made its place in the global diaspora. Hence, it is unfair that some Hollywood movies represent India in a way that it was 50 years ago. 

Let us get into the following ten Hollywood movies that unfortunately show Indians in a negative light:

1. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire
  • Genre: Romance/Crime
  • Run Time: 120 minutes
  • Director: Danny Boyle
  • Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan
  • IMDb Rating: 8.0/10

Slumdog Millionaire” is an Oscar winning movie directed by Danny Boyle in 2008. Set against the backdrop of Mumbai, the story follows the life of a young slum dweller named Jamal Malik. In the movie, Jamal participates in the hit reality TV show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”. As the game progresses, we see flashbacks of his painful past, filled with hardships, grief, and exploitation. Even though it’s a highly acclaimed movie, “Slumdog Millionaire” has faced criticism for its portrayal of India in a negative light, especially due to its depiction of poverty, violence in the slums of Mumbai. The film sensationalises the characters’ struggles and oversimplifies India by focusing only on such things as poverty or hardships. It has been deemed to be a stereotypical representation of India and not a genuine one that should’ve been more nuanced. 

2. Short Circuit 2 (1988)

Short Circuit 2
  • Genre: Comedy/Sci-Fi
  • Run Time: 110 minutes
  • Director: Kenneth Johnson
  • Cast: Fisher Stevens, Michael McKean, Cynthia Gibb, Jack Weston
  • IMDb Rating: 5.7/10

Short Circuit 2” is a family movie that centers on Johnny 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney), an affectionate, self-aware robot with a good heart. The film unfolds in New York City, where Johnny helps his friend Ben, who is a struggling toy inventor. They try to revive Ben’s business but face many people who try to sell or use Johnny for selfish reasons. Fisher Stevens played the character of Benjamin Jahrvi, a role for which he faced criticism for having an exaggerated Indian accent and maintaining Indian stereotypes. He was also criticized for donning a “brown face” and using makeup despite being a white man. The moviemakers did the same in the preceding movie, “Short Circuit” . Although these portrayals may not necessarily be seen as offensive, they do reinforce certain perceptions about Indians in movies made by Hollywood.

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3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Genre: Adventure/Action
  • Run Time: 118 minutes
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Amrish Puri, Ke Huy Quan
  • IMDb Rating: 7.5/10

Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom” is one of many installments of the Indiana Jones franchise where the archaeologist goes on an adventure in India fighting against an evil priest. The movie’s depiction of Indians is filled with stereotypes and cultural inaccuracies. It has shown India’s culture and religion in an exaggerated manner. The Thuggee cult is shown as bloodthirsty fanatics and showcases villages with practices like child labor. There’s nonsensical Hindi dialogue and a sensationalized portrayal of Goddess Kali worship. The film provides a one-sided view of India and it only gives negative aspects about the country’s rich culture, but not its positive side or any representation of its people.

4. The Party (1968)

The Party 1968 Film
  • Genre: Comedy/Thriller
  • Run Time: 99 minutes
  • Director: Blake Edwards
  • Cast: Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Natalia Borisova
  • IMDb Rating: 7.4/10

The Party (1968)” is a comedy film directed by Blake Edwards about an Indian man named Hrundi V. Bakshi (played by Peter Sellers). In the story, the protagonist, Hrundi V. Bakshi, causes havoc at a Hollywood party after he was mistakenly included in the invitation list. The theme of the movie is “fish-out-of-water” wherein Hrundi is an outsider who is seen saying and doing odd, unclassy things in a crowd of rich and elegant Hollywood elites. In this regard, the film represents Indians in a negative manner via racial stereotypes and cultural caricatures. Further developing this theme, Hrundi’s character is portrayed as foolish, awkwardly behaving and socially unsophisticated, thereby corresponding to the image of an “inept Indian” or person out of his native land. This character played by Peter Sellers, who is a white man, wears ‘brownface’ makeup which makes it even worse. Besides that, some other Indian roles shown in the film are rather traditional or submissive; hence they further perpetuate stereotypes concerning Indian culture. 

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5. A Passage to India (1984)

A Passage to India (1984)
  • Genre: Adventure/Drama
  • Run Time: 164 minutes
  • Director: David Lean
  • Cast: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox
  •  IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

The 1984 drama film “The Passenger to India” is directed by David Lean and is based on a novel of the same name written by E.M. Forster. The storyline tells us about a young English woman called Adela Quested who goes to India with her old friend Mrs. Moore in order to visit her son Ronny Heaslop who is working as a magistrate in Chandrapore ruled by the British. This film reflects on issues of colonialism, racial animosities and cultural differences as Adela becomes involved in a scandal involving an Indian physician named Dr.Aziz (played by Victor Banerjee). The movie is criticized for depicting India and its people in a negative light. Indians are presented as either exotic creatures or inferior compared to their British counterparts. Further, in the trial scenes the movie upholds negative stereotypes about Indian males as sexually aggressive ones.

6. Octopussy (1983)

Octopussy 1983 film
  • Genre: Action/Thriller
  • Run Time: 131 minutes
  • Director: John Glen
  • Cast: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Kabir Bedi
  • IMDb Rating: 6.5/10

Starring Roger Moore, “Octopussy” is a classic James Bond movie set in India and filled with thrilling action sequences. The death of a fellow spy sends James Bond to India as he discovers a counterfeit scandal and a Russian general bent on starting the next World War. This action-packed movie is the quintessential James Bond story, giving an immense thrill to whoever watches it. However, its portrayal of Indians compromises the film’s credibility since they are portrayed as caricatures and negatively stereotyped. The film perpetuates stereotypes by either portraying Indian characters as mystical figures or villains relying on cultural relics. It also does injustice to India by showing it as a country ridden with snake charmers that sleep on nail beds. 

Also read: Top 10 Bollywood Movies Where Actors Played Triple Roles

7. Phantom India (1969)

Phantom India (1969)
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Run Time: 6h 3m
  • Director: Louis Malle
  • IMDb Rating: 8.1/10

Directed by Louis Malle, “Phantom India” is a 6-hour-long travelogue/documentary that takes the viewer to the heart of India. The documentary was originally published as a seven-part miniseries. It’s said to be the director’s best work, expertly revealing the true beauty of India at a time when there was no Internet. The documentary got mixed reviews. Some people argue that it sometimes presents an unflattering view of India by overemphasizing poverty, social stratifications, and certain cultural practices without considering the other side of the coin. In fact, the Indian Government had asked the BBC to stop airing the show, and when the BBC hadn’t, it was told to shut down its operations in New Delhi (which it did, briefly). 

Also read: Top 10 Bollywood Movies on Indian Army

8. Gandhi (1982)

Gandhi (1982)
Gandhi (1982)
  • Genre: Thriller/Drama
  • Run Time: 191 minutes
  • Director: Richard Attenborough
  • Cast: Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox
  • IMDb Rating: 8.0/10

Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” is an incomparable film and a masterwork of phenomenal production. This expertly crafted saga on the life of Mahatma Gandhi (played by Ben Kingsley) and the Indian National Movement won eight Academy Awards and was nominated for 11 categories. The film has, however, received its fair share of criticism, especially when it comes to the misrepresentation of India. It shows India’s culture in a little bit of a bizarre manner when we see foreign characters traveling in cars and Gandhi traveling on an elephant. In other scenes, we see Indian people begging with their hands out as Gandhi passes through the road. These small scenes make a bigger impact on how India is perceived globally. 

9. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
  • Genre: Adventure/Comedy
  • Run Time: 88 minutes
  • Director: Danny Leiner
  • Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Ethan Embry, Neil Patrick Harris
  • IMDb Rating: 7.0/10

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” is a comedy movie starring John Cho and Kal Penn that gained commercial success for its crazy humor. Harold Lee (played by John Cho) and Kumar Patel (played by Kal Penn) take recreational drugs and get high. In their intoxicated stupor, they go around New Jersey trying to find White Castle burgers that they saw on television. The movie thrives on Indian American stereotypes, specifically depicted in Kumar’s character. He is bright academically but socially awkward, with his over-ambitious dad compelling him to pursue medicine. In addition to that, the movie throws in more ethnic stereotyping, resulting in jokes about cultural differences that are widespread and sometimes offensive.

Also read: Top 10 Bollywood Movies on Sports: Inspirational and Motivational

10. Basmati Blues (2017)

Basmati Blues (2017)
  • Genre: Musical/Romance
  • Run Time: 106 minutes
  • Director: Danny Baron
  • Cast: Brie Larson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Saahil Sehgal, Scott Bakula
  • IMDb Rating: 3.9/10

Basmati Blues” is a rom-com movie that was directed in 2017 by Danny Baron and stars Brie Larson. It happens to be another example of the “white” Westerner as savior or bringer of civilization to non-Western cultures. In this story, Lindi (played by Brie Larson) is a white scientist who travels to India, where she propagates GMO rice among illiterate peasants with the aim of reducing poverty rates. But she later finds out her company has been exploiting them and decides to join their side instead. This storyline reflects the colonial view that people from the West are brave and altruistic, while Hindus are simpletons who must be saved.

We can enjoy these movies for entertainment but it’s important to view them critically in terms of their portrayal of Indian characters and culture and the implications for society if the stereotypes are perpetuated.