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‘Indian movies gave diaspora in T&T an identity’



Port-of-Spain, Nov 29: Indian movies which were shown in Trinidad collectively and cumulatively influenced major aspects of the life of "East Indians", who had been brought there from the Indian subcontinent as indentured labourers, including their values, religion, dress, music, songs, dance and artefacts, a researcher in the field says.

"Bala Joban", which was first shown in 1934, "marks the advent of Indian movies in Trinidad and with which there were subtle changes in East Indian cultural traditions. As Indian movies continued to arrive on the island, their influence became more pronounced, marked by major changes in East Indian cultural programming," Premnath Gooptar says in his doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

Thus, from the performance of traditional songs and dances at public and private events, East Indians began to imitate songs and dances from Indian movies. With time, the limitations changed to re-makes of film songs and dances using Trinidadian and Caribbean rhythms, yet preserving the melody, Gooptar adds.

"Consequently, several changes accrued over the years within major strands of East Indian culture in Trinidad that changed the face of Indian culture in the country, and contributed to the evolution of a new identity for East Indians," Gooptar says.

"It was further argued that this new identity was linked to the imitation of aspects of Indian movies and films influenced the indigenisation of various aspects of Indian culture in Trinidad," he adds.

According to Gooptar, Indian films gave East Indians in Trinidad a national space where their cultural values and their Indianness were legitimized outside the mainstream political life of the country.

"While many saw it as a public space that legitimised their Indianness, it nevertheless heralded the dawn that attuned them to new concepts of Indianism in Trinidad. In the period before the 1980s, a visit to the cinema for the average East Indian was a major justification and celebration of his Indianness."

Gooptar points out that unlike the Afro-Trinidadians who underwent similar colonial and post-colonial marginalisation as the East Indians, they saw representations of Indianness on the Indian silver screen that often provoked a sense of nostalgia and linkage with the ancestral homeland, India.

"They saw a range of Indian lifestyles, mythological symbols and values that revitalised and awakened their Indian identity which evolved into Trinidad-Indo identity, culled from the celluloid images of the Indian silver screen. This was different for the Afro-Trinidadians who were not exposed to African movies but who saw themselves in Hollywood movies in marginalised, disparaging and belittling roles."

Some 148,000 Indians were brought here between 1845 and 1917 to work on the sugar and cocoa plantations, and out of a population of 1.3 million people, the East Indian diaspora represents 43 percent of the population.

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