When people think of India, there are several images that would come to mind: Holi, colors, temples, Bollywood. In Coldplay’s highly-discussed music video, “Hymn for the Weekend,” each of these stereotypes makes an appearance. The song, which was shot in Mumbai, India in 2015, gathered attention initially as it is a collaboration between Coldplay and Beyonce. Soon, though, the artists were under fire for appropriating Indian culture.
Thirty seconds into the video, there is a child painted in blue, referencing Hindu God Shiva. Later, a beautiful Bollywood actress throws flowers into the air. There are fire breathers and holy men. There is an abundance of heightened colors. Every visual is exactly what the world would typically attribute to Indian culture.
But is the inclusion of these images enough to declare it a case of cultural appropriation?
After watching the video even once, it is hard to deny its beauty. It is “visually compelling,” to say the least. The actual lyrics and premise of “Hymn for the Weekend” take a backseat to the incredible scenery and visuals displayed. The colors, the children playing, the endless chaos of life in India – all of it is stunningly portrayed. Coldplay, as a band, has a certain amount of artistic license that the world can’t take away. What they did with this artistic license is applaudable.
However, while I didn’t take offense to the video, I also couldn’t dispute the critics who are frustrated by its generalizations. For anyone who has been to India or is of Indian origin, it is a seriously stereotypical depiction of the country. This is only a half-baked view of what India is like. In Mumbai especially, the diversity of the city is overwhelming – religious diversity and socioeconomic diversity, from extreme poverty to extreme wealth. All of these ranges are prevalent and seen on a daily basis. In Coldplay’s take on India, however, there is only one side of the extremes displayed.
My biggest, and only, problem with the video is that Coldplay focused on what a large portion of the world focuses on when it comes to Indian society: the poverty. The skew in their depiction is a major drawback. The message Coldplay is sending to the world is one that reinforces what so many people believe about India – that we play Holi year-round, for example, or that we live in the midst of peacocks. Stereotypes such as these exoticize a country that has been exoticized for far too long. For people who know Mumbai, we know that there is so much more to life there. This, in itself, in frustrating.
The difference for me, in spite of my conflicting views on the video, is between appropriation and appreciation. What I saw most was Coldplay’s awe for India. Throughout the video, the band members are seen as integrating themselves into Indian life, as opposed to taking the roles of tourists and bystanders. The cinematography itself is a tribute to the country; the care with which every shot was taken is clear.
Viewers have to remember that the band didn’t set out to make a documentary about India and its people. In a four-minute video, they created a representation of the country that was probably the version of India they wanted to showcase most. Many Indians have found extraordinary beauty in the way our country was filmed.
“There’s a degree of appreciation in HFTW that ‘Bounce’ and ‘Lean On’ don’t possess. All three videos have similar themes, employ Indian dancers and were filmed on location, but HFTW does the best job of keeping cultural context intact,” writes MTV blogger Deepa Lakhsmin.
Coldplay decided that India was worth celebrating. But the West has been celebrating Indian culture for decades, such as in the aforementioned song, ‘Lean On.’ What we should be looking at is how Coldplay chose to celebrate India. They declared their love for the country deferentially, and that is what I appreciated most.