Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Notes from watching its most racist moments

As seen in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the India that everyone seems to really like is made up of elephants, villages, snakes, maharajahs, child labour, arranged marriages, poverty and of course Kali

Kuzhali Manickavel October 15, 2019 09:32:16 IST
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Notes from watching its most racist moments
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is really no different from the tons of other pulpy stories out there featuring white people, Kali and India

  • As seen in this film, the India that everyone seems to really like is made up of elephants, villages, snakes, maharajahs, child labour, arranged marriages, poverty and of course Kali

Allegedly Problematic' is a monthly column by Kuzhali Manickavel, which takes a cheeky look at literary/cultural offerings from the past that would now be considered, well, problematic — and asks, 'But are they really?'.

Read more from the series here.

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Read part 1 of this column.

So in this column, we are supposed to be taking a closer look at the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to see if it’s really problematic or nah. It totally is problematic but let’s do this anyway. I want to start by saying that I really do not want to watch this movie. Like, REALLY. I have a feeling it’s going to be bad and also stupid and as an old person, my tolerance for this combination of things is very low. But in the interest of fighting racism on the internet, I know I must do this. So here we go, I shall watch and post any notable notes below.

Oh my God it’s almost two hours long RIP me.

This opening song is amazing.

Why am I enjoying this movie so far?

SMALL ROUND!!! He is the best thing in this movie.

This Indian village is just…wow.

It has everything that’s supposed to be Indian — huts, wailing brown people, poverty and village elders who are fluent in English.

I like how they keep mobbing and touching the white people, LOL.

No cows tho. HOW CAN YOU PORTRAY INDIA WITHOUT COWS OMG!

So the food on the infamous palace menu is a number of smaller snakes inside a big snake, beetles, eyeball soup and chilled monkey brains for dessert.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Notes from watching its most racist moments

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Notes from watching its most racist moments
I just had that myself. Just now.

Would it be bad if I just skipped through some of this?

I’ll just skip this as well.

This is the last part I’ll skip and then I won’t skip anything else.

Except this. I’ll skip this and that will be it.

Aaaand here is the famous heart surgery scene.

What are those guys doing, push-ups?

No, I think it’s some kind of prayer dance. An Indian prayer dance. That’s what it is.

Why did Amrish Puri and that other guy do this movie?

Could it possibly be for the money?? I wonder…

Does anyone else feel bad for Kali? Feel she gets picked on a lot for these kinds of stories.

Oh I forgot about the child labour angle.

God these kids are weird.

But I thought voodoo was from…you know what? Never mind.

It’s over, thank God.

Okay, so wow, obviously. What else can we say about this movie which we kind of watched but not really? Well for one thing, it is bananas from beginning to end (what we watched was bananas anyway). This is not a movie that claims to offer a nuanced and rich picture of Indian culture. It is not bothered about getting things right. It is only concerned with telling the story it wants to tell. It doesn’t matter that Indians, on the whole, do not eat chilled monkey brains for dessert. What’s important is that we say they do because it’s part of the story.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Notes from watching its most racist moments

Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom is really no different from the tons of other pulpy stories out there featuring white
people, Kali and India

The movie is really no different from the tons of other pulpy stories out there featuring white people, Kali and India. Sometimes the white person is a saviour, like Indiana Jones, and sometimes they are just hapless white folk caught up in the exotic mysteries of India. But one thing that remains a constant is that Kali is super scary and India is mostly made up to suit a storyline.

Elephants, villages, snakes, maharajahs, child labour, arranged marriages, poverty and of course Kali — this is the India that everyone seems to really like. This is the India that gets written about, that people make movies about. And I feel like this is the mentality that really, really wants the writer from India to be from a small, temple town, rather than a city.

As Indians, we are often overcome with pride when we see the rest of the world take notice of us in some way. But perhaps we need to consider what it means when people only notice us on these terms. Would it have been terribly difficult for the Indiana Jones team to get their India stuff right? Probably not. But obviously they felt there was no need to get that stuff right. And that is something worth thinking about.

In our next column, we dive headlong into another incredibly problematic movie — Murder By Death! Yay!

Kuzhali Manickavel is the author of the short story collections 'Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings' and 'Things We Found During the Autopsy', both available from Blaft Publications

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