After the economic downturn, Bollywood films have a new object of ridicule: the non-resident Indian.
Desi Boyz is confirmation of a new kind of Bollywood star
There was a time when the object of ridicule in Bollywood movies was a villainous Indian who had designer facial hair and a dastardly agenda of revenge and greed.
Over the past couple of years, however, it's no longer the Indian man who has provided the comic relief, but the Indian abroad, the so-called non-resident Indian (NRI) who has gone out into the world in search of riches and ended up losing both community values and the ability to discern friends from foe.
The latest example of this trend to mock the NRI is Desi Boyz, starring Akshay Kumar and John Abraham. It's about two Indians who go to the UK to study at Oxford University before getting good jobs working in finance in London. When the recession starts to bite, the two guys are forced to take jobs as exotic dancers to make ends meet in a club called "Desi Boyz". In the process, they become bitter rivals on the circuit.
For those thinking this story sounds familiar, that's because it's an adaptation of the British hit The Full Monty.
It's not the first time in recent months that the pursuit of wealth on foreign shores has led to characters getting their comeuppance. In the big summer hit Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Hrithik Roshan plays a London-based financier named Arjun who has lost many loves because of his propensity to work rather than relax. It's a state of affairs that causes him trouble when he wants to join three old school friends in Spain for a bachelor's party.
Once reconnected with his pals, Arjun's new life becomes the source of much amusement to his old friends, who mock him for losing his roots.
There are similar moments in the romantic blockbuster romance Mausam, which was released earlier this year and included a song mocking a NRI man about his character when he returns to India for a wedding.
It's all a far cry from the 1990s and the decade that followed when the NRI were treated as kings in Bollywood films. It was during this period that distributors realised there was a lot of money to be made by catering to the NRI audience. In 2002, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham opened third at the UK box office and was the first Bollywood film to open theatrically in Germany, turning Shah Rukh Khan into a star there. It also helped him make inroads into America.
The hero of the film is Rahul (Khan), who has been to university in England. When he returns to India, he defies his father (Amitabh Bachchan) and marries a local poor girl. This causes a rift in the family that is only resolved a decade later when Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) ventures to London to heal the rift. The sympathies of director Karan Johar are with Rahul, who is shown to be kind and loving and only desiring to do the right thing.
The success of the film came at a time when there was an explosion in the number of films being shot abroad and catering for international audiences. Johar followed up Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham with the New York-set 2003 film Kal Ho Naa Ho, with heroes who were inevitably NRIs seen as progressive and modern.
However, the credit crunch and the market crash that followed in the West, while India continues to boom, has seen filmmakers turn the tables and poke fun at the short-sightedness of those who left India to make money when the country itself is doing so well. Also, now that the market for Bollywood films has begun to mature in countries such as the UK, Germany and the US, filmmakers have realised that the NRI audience will come to see films even when they are being made fun of.