How Netflix Tries to Drown Sohra, Khasi Hills in Misrepresentation?

And here we are folks, drowning in the muck of misrepresentation yet again, it’s almost boring. This time, we owe the pleasure to Netflix, which in wanting to make a little heart-warming Diwali ad, has instead created one of the most stomach-churning pieces of entertainment I’ve recently seen. Sure, banal corporate festive greetings are always nauseating to the point that we try not to notice them, but this one is different. This one cannot be easily pushed into oblivion because it marks a violent displacement of the reality of the place it aims to represent.

Set in Sohra, Meghalaya, the ad pays homage to the glorious Sohra rain, featuring the relentless and hard downpour which consumes everything else around it – it spoils the crackers, the rangoli, the children’s fun as much as the adults’. Indeed, the Sohra rain has a spirit of its own and is capable of many things, but can it really conjure a situation where Khasi families in Sohra, most of whom are Christian or Niam Khasi, are suddenly routine celebrators of Diwali? Perhaps not. Unfortunately for Netflix, this thoughtful gesture has been gravely under-appreciated and even rejected by local fact-checkers online. They have pointed out that not only is there no Diwali culture in Sohra but that the dramatic rain is also out-of-season. According to them, the Sohra rain is not an October phenomenon, but a monsoon element which generally lasts from late April to August. In October, Sohra is relieved by “ka aiom synrai” or “autumn,” characterised by dry and clear weather.

Yet, some would say that suspension of disbelief is important when you’re trying to appreciate things. Trust me folks, I love Sohra and the idea of people loving and appreciating it too; I love the rain, the fog, the people, the waterfalls, the gorges, and the pork you get there on market days. Sohra is pretty fantastic. But is the representation in the Netflix Diwali ad really Sohra? No, it is a fantastical creation that aims to specifically touch the hearts of mainland viewers, whilst offending the sentiments of local people, most of whom don’t even know what in the world Netflix is! When I spoke to friends from Sohra just yesterday about this fiasco, many of them laughed it off as just another selfish profiteering act by a company from outside the state, riding on the back of their misrepresentation. Being an increasingly popular destination among Indian middle-class tourists, Sohra is now broadcasted across holiday and tourism websites and forums as the ideal paradisical escape from the heat, the pollution and general tedium of Indian cities. So, Netflix wanting to get a piece of the Sohra pie and “putting it on the map” is somewhat foreseeable, and it has done it brilliantly by turning an already fetishized place into something else entirely.

WRONG TRANSLATION OF KHASI SONG POSTED BY NETFLIX (Now Removed)

Let us attribute these magical powers of world-making to the holy trinity of Hindutva colonialism, corporate arrogance and good-old mainland racism. Thanks to their blessing, we are now “known” to be the tribal Hindi-speakers from the rainy fringes of Hindutva Bharat, gleefully dancing to Bollywood music. With over 2 million views of the video on Instagram and about 1.4 million on Twitter, we are now famously a part of the big happy Indian Hindu family. And lastly folks, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t see yourselves in the ad, we are clearly better represented through the bodies of actors from elsewhere. In fact, we should thank Netflix for not making us parade around performing a culture, a religion, a reality so far from our own. Spare us the dissonance.

Happy Diwali everyone. And Netflix.

Raiot

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Gertrude Lamare Written by:

Gertrude Lamare, scholar, pedagogue and a member of Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR),

One Comment

  1. Holiram Terang
    October 25, 2022
    Reply

    Brilliant! Semkhor, and now this one. Appropriation & misrepresentation. Painting in one’s chosen hue putting the real colours under this canvas. Almost making ‘us’ non-existent.

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