Liminality in Bollywood Confidential

The character Raveena in Singh’s Bollywood Confidential is in a liminal space between her American and Indian identities. She does not totally fit into either of these worlds. We see her struggle to fit into American culture (specifically through her struggle to succeed in Hollywood).  Later in the novel, when she moves to India, we see that she struggles to fit in there as well. She also does not fit the molds of the stereotypical American or Indian woman.

We see throughout the novel that there is a lack of representation of Indian Americans in Hollywood. This is the basis for Raveena’s conflict throughout the novel. She is forced to move to India where she can find roles that feature women who look like her. For seven years the only roles Raveena can get in America are “ethnic” roles that often do not even have speaking parts such as “a gypsy girl, a belly dancer, and a Mexican cocktail waitress.” The only Indian face Raveena had ever seen regularly on TV growing up was Apu from the Simpsons. At one point Raveena even jokes about changing her name to “Raveena Queensly” so that she will be viewed as only half Indian after Jai points out that, “no one of Indian descent is going to win an Oscar.” Raveena is very “Americanized” yet her Indian heritage holds her back from succeeding in Hollywood. Throughout the book we see Raveena comparing herself to American actresses such as Gwyneth Paltrow. She strives for Gwyneth’s level of success yet her looks hold her back.

When Raveena arrives at Randy’s office in India and is looking around at the posters she is surprised to see “movies starring people who looked just like her.” At the same time, she notes the difference between herself and the actresses on the posters: “her boobs weren’t as uplifting.” We see that she does not physically fit the mold of the stereotypical ideals of feminine beauty. For example, when Siddharth first sees Raveena’s picture he thinks she is beautiful, but then he notices, “she has big feet.” Randy, later on in the novel tells Raveena that he loves American women because “they don’t have all the hang ups Indian women do. American women will have sex on the first date.” We see that Raveena is totally disgusted by this and will not sleep with someone just for a role (no matter how badly she longs for a leading role). In this way, we see how she breaks the mold of the hypersexualized female.

The movie that Raveena and Siddharth are working on is symbolic of Raveena’s dual identity. It is a Bollywood film but takes on American influences. It is called “Taj Mahal 3000: Unleashed.” Raveena’s character is Indian yet she is “like Xena the warrior princess.” This role is presented to Raveena as a leading role and this is why she takes it, yet she notes that she barely has any dialogue and she has “fifty-seven costume changes” and wears “sixteen different wigs.” She is still used as a sexual object in the film. She is there for her beauty and not for her acting. Raveena struggles throughout the novel to find her place as a woman in both America and in India.

14 thoughts on “Liminality in Bollywood Confidential

  1. I found Raveena’s case to be quite interesting. She seems to be an outsider no matter where she is in the world. I feel that this is a problem with many first generation immigrants to the US. I myself am a first generation immigrant, my parents both are from Turkey and I have always felt not at home both in the US and in Turkey. It took me quite a long time to open up and find my place because I was always somewhat an outsider.

    Raveena’s parents also seemed familiar in that my parents are also quite traditional and expect me to be so too. Sometimes I get into arguments with my parents just because they did not really understand the differences between relations with people here and in Turkey. I dont get in arguments as heated as Raveena’s when she revealed that she wanted to be an actor, but explaining the view held by Americans to my parents has always been difficult for me.

  2. Raveena’s situation between Indian and Indian American (stages of liminality) becomes the general conflict in defining who she aspires to be. Her strive towards major roles of acting in Hollywood is limited purely by a physical attribute of her skin color.

    In a bigger sense, many Asian Americans can relate to Raveena’s experience outside of Hollywood in everyday situations. Whether it’s hanging out with peers, or making new friends, skin color seems to be a major precedent factor to who one is inclined, or more likely to socialize with. Comparing this back to Raveena, her skin color prevents her from “fitting in” the mainstream white society that Hollywood tries to portray. In an everyday scenario, skin color pre-determines bias, stereotypes, and natural exclusiveness that stems from not “fitting in” with the hegemonic race.

    As a second generation individual, I feel as if the second generation Asian Americans are paving their own path, crossing boundaries in between liminal and often blurred lines of culture, creating and branding a new culture that is both relatable to their heritage yet modern and adaptable to mainstream society. It’s the second generation that has to build from the ground up, exploring the divides of two cultures, and acculturating the best of both worlds. It is how I perceive my life to be as a second generation adult.

  3. I agree that Raveena struggles to fit in as an Indian- American in Hollywood, and again in Bombay. Her identity and racial appearance as an Indian American acts as a handicap on her in her pursuit to play leading roles in Hollywood films. Her race makes her a victim of the beauty standards in America, when is only asked to play minor roles calling for racial minorities of her skin complexion, implying an “All-look-same” type of racism, when she played “a gypsy girl, a belly dancer, and a Mexican cocktail waitress,” (Singh 5).
    A similar situation can be seen when she is on the plane to India, and the guy in the seat next to her looks at her, then turns away to court the blonde sitting on his left, ignoring Raveena- as she does not match with the white beauty standards she is surrounded by in Hollywood. The same standard that prevents her from getting larger roles.
    Then, when she arrives in India, Raveena ends up facing the problem of the sexualized Asian/Exotic woman, having no power unless she uses sex to gain it. Her lead role is changed to a different one where she must perform “a seductive dance number… [and] must be sexy,” (Singh 102). She seems disappointed when she realizes that again her script is not very long, and instead will be doing more dancing. She is also pushed away at an interview when Randy tells her that they “want to talk to the star,” (97) Siddharth, as if Raveena, the woman lead is not considered a star at all, she’s not important because she is a woman. To add to that, Bani thinks the only reason she landed the role is because she is sleeping with Randy- using sex to get what she wants, and calling sex her only desirable quality (137). And again, Randy continues to sexualize Raveena and try to take advantage of her as a “first-time actress” and a stereotypical-submissive Asian woman, pressuring her into a sex-fueled power-trip of dominance to keep her role in his “to-be a hit” film. Raveena would not have much to choose from if she were to return to America though, being a racial minority and all, so she’s just gonna have to stick it out.

  4. I agree that the main character Raveena is stuck a liminal space between her American lifestyle and Indian heritage in the book Bollywood Confidential. She is not quite American enough to play many of the American roles offered to actresses and when she goes to India to star in the bollywood films she does not fit into the stereotypical role of an indian actress due to her inherent westernization. So throughout the book she struggles with her identity as a woman and as an indian woman. I do enjoy the fact that in the end of the book Ravenna stands up to the stereotypes of Bollywood films and shows her contempt and disdain for how women are portrayed in those films. Like the article “Planet Bollywood” Desai comments on how bollywood films illustrate westernized people as “corrupted and immoral” losing their heritage when they assimilate to America (59). Raveena critiques on the point that Desai brought up in her article when she rants to the audience at the award show about the depictions of Indian women. She rants that girls who live abroad are portrayed as “westernized and have no morals, while the girls brought up in India are virtuous ladies” and how all bollywood “heroes and heroines go to temple, respect their elders and never kiss on screen” but then turn around and dance provocatively when songs break out (205-206). Raveena was not afraid to confront and address these depictions and stereotypes which should show readers that no one should ever just accept societal stereotypes placed on certain races, or on gender/class.

  5. I agree that Raveena’s character in Bollywood Confidential struggles between an American and Indian identity, which is apparent in her acting career. In America, Raveena does not fit into the standards of a female actress, which explains her dry spell of seven years without a major acting gig. Additionally, all the roles that are given to Raveena are “ethnic roles,” – belly dancers, gypsies, Mexican cocktail waitresses a.k.a. just props or background roles. In India, Raveena also struggles to exist as Indian, with her American identity holding her back. Throughout her stay, Raveena struggles with making friends and adapting to Indian life, simply because the native Indians categorize her as American and not as “cultured” as the rest of them.

    As a Vietnamese American and a fellow second generation Asian American, I can relate to Raveena’s case. In the United States, the ideal of feminine beauty is the white, blonde, such as Rachel McAdams, Reese Witherspoon, Heidi Klum, etc. Thus, Asian American women are faced with the hard truth that America does not identity their image as beautiful. We are then forced to conform to these ideals of white beauty. This explains the trend of Asian American women getting tans, dying their hair blonde and making physical body modifications to achieve this “whiteness.” On the other hand, similar to Raveena, when I visit my parents’ home country, Vietnam, I also feel like I do not belong. The first thing they categorize me there is a “Viet Kieu,” which basically means a Vietnamese outsider. Judging from the way I dress, talk, look and act, native Vietnamese people believe I am too Americanized to understand the Vietnamese traditions that they value.

  6. Raveenas cult1ure barriers are that of the classic second generation asian american. She is stuck in a limbo between the white culture she grew up in that always will see her as an outsider. On the other hand, she has been changed enough by trying to fit the standard of the white hegemony that when she attempted to find an acting career in her ethnic homeland, she was different enough to be considered an outsider based on her Americanized cultural values.

    As bollywood films become increasingly popular worldwide, more opportunities are available for people of south asian descent. This broadening also helps to break racial boundaries simply by exposure.

  7. Even within her own family Raveena is the one who does not align herself with certain stereotypes. She does not conform to the ideal affluent Indian in Orange County, but to “struggling” woman trying to overcome the white hegemonic hold over the film industries. The only cult following she has received over her 7 years of acting had come from a commercial in Japan. Since she is American, she cannot necessarily see the appeal of Bollywood, but can agree to act their for the hopes of making it big in Hollywood. I think she sees herself more as an American and not as an Indian, American born.

    The roles that she has had to endure, or even being rejected to play a slave in favor of a Brazilian model who is a more “marketable minority.” She is caught in the cultural and physical aspects of liminality. She does not favor the customs of her parents and does not fit the ideal beauty of either culture. She struggles to embrace an identity that can help her achieve certain goals.

  8. Raveena, is an Indian American woman who struggles to deal with the pressures that define her as either Indian or American. She is stuck in liminality between the two. That is she is looking for a “fusion” of the two cultures, but the people who are part of each separate world don’t like these combinations. This can be most readily seen when Leela describes the Indian American hybrid as not being Indian food and at the same time the American reader recognizes only half of the dishes, tandoori pizza. This mirrors the situation Raveena is stuck in. She likes the combination of American and Indian food, but traditionalists of either culture would not and cannot appreciate the blend.

    Through out the novel the reader watches as the plot of the movie shifts around Raveena and it is the duality of her culture that allows her to readily switch along with the movie as well as sets her apart from everyone else. Everyone in Bombay can tell that she is not from India and everyone in Hollywood is not looking for the limited ethnic role that they will allow her to play. So Raveena, like much of the book is about the cultural similarities, differences and the transition in between the two film industries.

    It was reminiscent to me of the cultural conflicts I have with my parents. Seeing as how they are both from radically different cultures(Puerto Rico & China) they do not see eye to eye on certain cultural topics. That being said its is the amalgamation of both cultures that allows me to see the beauty of both and think that Raveena is in a similar situation with Indian and American culture respectively.

  9. I agree that the main character Raveena’s situation with her American life style and that of her Indian life style is is evident in her acting career. In many’s opinion, she is neither American or Indian enough to play either rolls. People are stereotypical against people based on their race or ethnicity. Though, often times Asian Americans do not pursue the acting career, when it happens, it is almost impossible to make it to Hollywood. Raveena is currently battling with her identity both as an actor and as a person. She currently holds both of her cultures: Indian, and American, for people don’t recognize her as just Indian or just American.

  10. I can identify and sympathize with Raveena’s situation as a second generation Asian American myself. Since she is part of such a small subgroup in America, it is hard for her to fit in anywhere. She feels that most people that are most similar to her are either American and white or an immigrant and Indian. There is no in between like herself in Hollywood. In some ways I was really fortunate to have grown up in the Bay Area in a community that was mainly Asian American. I think it helped protect me from growing up and feeling like an outsider. My friends and peers were mostly second generation Asian Americans like myself, and we understood each other’s difficulties of attempting to lead as much of an American lifestyle as possible while growing up in a household with parents who were set in their Asian traditions. For example, in high school we would never bring our “boyfriends” home. “Boyfriends” did not exist until college or later in life. In high school everyone was just friends and no one was supposed to go on dates. Now that I am in college and removed from the Asian American community in which I grew up, I feel like I do not have a hard time fitting in with people of different ethnicities, unlike Raveena. However I am also not in a competitive environment where appearances mean more than anything else. Perhaps if I was in Hollywood instead of at a university studying for a degree, I would feel the same pressures that Raveena felt. I do however understand how out of place she felt when she went to India. Even though I haven’t been to China since I was 6 years old, even a visit to the Chinatowns in Oakland or San Francisco make me feel out of place. I can sometimes feel the people who live and work there look at me in a disapproving manner as my parents speak to me in Mandarin and I respond in English.

  11. can identify and sympathize with Raveena’s situation as a second generation Asian American myself. Since she is part of such a small subgroup in America, it is hard for her to fit in anywhere. She feels that most people that are most similar to her are either American and white or an immigrant and Indian. There is no in between like herself in Hollywood. In some ways I was really fortunate to have grown up in the Bay Area in a community that was mainly Asian American. I think it helped protect me from growing up and feeling like an outsider. My friends and peers were mostly second generation Asian Americans like myself, and we understood each other’s difficulties of attempting to lead as much of an American lifestyle as possible while growing up in a household with parents who were set in their Asian traditions. For example, in high school we would never bring our “boyfriends” home. “Boyfriends” did not exist until college or later in life. In high school everyone was just friends and no one was supposed to go on dates. Now that I am in college and removed from the Asian American community in which I grew up, I feel like I do not have a hard time fitting in with people of different ethnicities, unlike Raveena. However I am also not in a competitive environment where appearances mean more than anything else. Perhaps if I was in Hollywood instead of at a university studying for a degree, I would feel the same pressures that Raveena felt. I do however understand how out of place she felt when she went to India. Even though I haven’t been to China since I was 6 years old, even a visit to the Chinatowns in Oakland or San Francisco make me feel out of place. I can sometimes feel the people who live and work there look at me in a disapproving manner as my parents speak to me in Mandarin and I respond in English.

  12. The struggles that Raveena face as an Indian-American and inability to find her own niche in life is something that many 2nd generation Asian Americans face. It becomes extremely problematic for her to get a role in Hollywood films because her ethnicity. Asian American, similar to Raveena, are often marginalized in movies, with limited roles that are “exotified.” I agree with this blog when it states that the beauty standards in America are cultured to fit a specific look, hindering minorities from attaining lead roles in American movies. There is definitely a power and resistance described in the book, where Raveena is limited by the different culture of America, yet she is able to stand up to the stereotypes that restrain minorities from being given the same chance as Americans. Once again we see the idea of liminality come up that is portrayed in the character of Raveena and the struggles she deals with throughout the book. The idea of “controlling image” also comes into play in this story, as Asian women and minorities are expected to fit into certain roles and act specific ways. This also solidifies the idea of “model minority” and stereotypes portraying Asian women as passive, hyper-sexualized, nurturing, and servile. As women in roles are portrayed with only these characteristics, Asian American women not in film are are also expected to act in similar ways to the marginalized and poorly represented Asian women in Hollywood.

  13. Raveena’s liminality is interesting because it is similar to that of Bradley and Vincent’s from Yankee Dawg You Die. All three of these characters are trying to find a place within the entertainment, specifically acting, industry. In the plot of these stories they all seem to have to compromise their original cultures or traditions in order to get any type of work within the industry. Raveena finds this challenge too difficult in Hollywood and travels to India to seek work in Bollywood. She realizes that even though she is Indian and beautiful, casting directors in Bollywood are looking for women who are less Indian and as is mentioned above, “don’t have all the hang ups Indian women do.” Even though these characters are all relatively stuck in a liminal zone, Raveena is a woman and thus is subjected to not necessarily ridiculous roles such as Bradley and Vincent, but she is subjected to hypersexual feminine roles that focus more on her female qualities and the mystic, that is associated with her ‘otherness’, and not on her actual acting.
    It is interesting to see that Raveena doesn’t get any acting roles and the roles she does get contain very few lines and focus on her looks and female qualities. In America, this is obviously reflected on television where many times South Asian Americans are stereotyped as doctors, gas station employees, taxi drivers, etc. Some examples include Sendhil Ramamurthy aka Mohinder Suresh from Heroes who plays not only a taxi driver but also a geneticist, Aziz Ansari who is a comedian who’s hosted MTV Awards and is in Parks & Recreation and also Mindy Kaling who is the first South Asian American to be the main lead on American television, this in itself is a breakthrough but it is evident that some racial and gender politics are still at play due to her career as an OB/GYN. The roles played by South Asian American actors are minimal, but South Asian Americans are becoming more visible on the screen but always without racial stereotypes.

  14. Raveena is trapped in a liminal space as an Indian American trying to make it big in Hollywood. As an Asian American young woman, I understand Raveena’s frustrations as she feels her forever-foreign ethnicity restrains her from reaching her full potential. She does not fit comfortably into either the American group or the Indian group because neither see her as one of their own. If her skin tone was just more fair, and her name was a little less revealing of her ethnicity, she would have been just like every other young American lady living in Southern California. After all she was born and raised in America and participates in its popular culture (obviously). It just seems ridiculous to me that it is possible for people to grow up in a certain culture and not yet not belong just because of superficial factors. In my close relationships class I learned that humans have a need to belong in a society. Asian Americans are not accepted fully into American society nor in the society of the country where their ancestors are from, and this can be very detrimental to one who has to endure it throughout one’s whole life!

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