#TrendsIMO: Why Are We So Stuck Up Still On Getting Acknowledgement From The West?
Lata Mangeshkar’s snub at the recent Oscars and Grammys prove yet again, we are not a part of mainstream culture
I have to admit, there was a time in my life where the validation from my peers in the United States, my birth country and the place that I still call and will always defend as my home, mattered more than anything.
I grew up watching all the award shows – Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, Emmys and dreaming that one day I’d be able to attend the ceremonies and even one day, win one of them, or who knows, be the recipient of an EGOT. But my life went in a different direction (of course, never say never) and over the past decade, the majority of my time spent has been in India, the birthplace of both my parents who unfortunately haven’t been around this past decade to share in my experiences while living here.
I still partake as much as I can in the entertainment world, and thankfully because of my work, I’m often even able to express my thoughts and opinions about whatever is going on.
Last week at the Oscars, there was great disappointment put forward by countless Indians across the globe about the Motion Picture Academy’s failure to include Lata Mangeshkar, the “nightingale of India”, one of the most celebrated female singers of all-time and Dilip Kumar, one of the most well-respected and critically-acclaimed actors of India during the event’s In Memoriam section.
I was not part of the chorus when it came to decrying their omissions. Having lived through the past year, I know how many Covid-related deaths there have been and for the Academy to reduce the number of individuals to fit one song must have been a challenge. In my mind, for some reason, I didn’t really think it was a big deal because the Oscars have notoriously been snobbish when it comes to anything India and in particular, Bollywood.
I did however anticipate while watching the In Memoriam at the Grammys that perhaps they’d at least show a picture of Lataji and maybe, just maybe, even Bappi Lahiri. Honestly, my expectation was only for seeing Mangeshkar’s face somewhere during that Steven Sondheim tribute especially because there’s literally no one in the Indian music industry that has such a long history as Lataji, so it seemed they may throw us a bone.
As it turned out, neither artist was featured and I instantly knew that Twitter and the Indian diaspora would be up in arms about this and not missing a beat, they’ve begun to pounce the Recording Academy now.
I must say it was a serious blunder on the Academy’s part to omit Lataji from the section. Nearly one in five humans in the world are of South Asian descent. We all may not know Lataji’s entire catalogue of songs, but chances are, we know at least a half dozen of them. Chances are, every musician, music historian and anyone who knows anything about India, knows Mangeshkar. Can that really be said about any other musician that had their name featured in this year’s obits?
Of course, it’s really not the Grammys fault. They may attempt to be seen as global but the truth of the matter is – they are a straight-up American organization. They celebrate the occasional breakthrough artist, but how many are actually from other parts of the world without breaking through first in America?
ABBA was nominated this year for their first Grammy ever! ABBA! This is literally after their entire library became the soundtrack to multiple generations and then the best of their hits became a musical, a movie and well, ABBA is now as American as apple pie. It took 40 years since their last album release for the band to score their first nomination (they lost it by the way).
So in a world where ABBA exists but doesn’t even register in Grammy’s consciousness until 2022, should we really be disappointed that they didn’t show a photograph of Lata Mangeshkar in their In Memoriam section? Would a photograph even have been justice enough as a tribute to a woman who literally sang on behalf of 20 percent of the Earth’s population for more than 60 years?
Which makes me then ask the question – why are we still hung up on getting acknowledgment from the West? Every Indian and Indian diaspora newspaper today is celebrating the victories of Ricky Kej and Falu aka Falguni Shah. Some, that are more focused on the South Asian diaspora are also celebrating the victory of Arooj Aftab. While there is no reason we shouldn’t celebrate them, why exactly do their wins matter so much?
Is it so we can feel like we’ve made it? Made what? A.R. Rahman won his Oscar and Grammy for his work on Slumdog Millionaire, a film that many Indians still trash to this day because of how India was depicted. Yet, we celebrate his work as the ultimate achievement, despite knowing he has composed and created far superior soundtracks that wouldn’t even be considered for these award shows had the film not been a commercial success in the United States.
We need no further proof of this than with the inclusion of Bhaskar Menon, the first Indian to head a global company (EMI) and often touted as being the catalyst in helping Pink Floyd reach the level of success they did in the United States. Menon leaves behind an incredible legacy but that legacy matters to the Academy and thus his inclusion was a no-brainer.
At the end of the day, we need to stop fantasizing about an achievement we can’t reach unless we actually realize we have to conform to the confined worlds we often believe to be the entire world. The Grammys have never represented us, neither have the Oscars and year after year, griping about the legacies of our artists not being honored is both unnecessary and also pointless.
Lata Mangeshkar isn’t an icon because she was nominated for an Academy Award. Her legacy won’t be tainted because Rachel Zegler wasn’t singing as her photo passed on the stage at the Grammys. But her image and her voice will be compromised if we believe for even one second that her value is based on those who don’t know her. Let’s focus our time and attention on the more than 2.5 billion listeners who know and love her.
Let’s also keep in mind that her voice, even if never credited, lives on in Top 40, in hip-hop, in films (Hollywood and Bollywood) and beyond.
And as a footnote, can we please begin the process of having reputable award shows in India and South Asia that recognizes our excellence? Maybe we wouldn’t chase the Grammys if we had our own version that wasn’t sponsored or paid for but rather, a genuine attempt to celebrate music and the musicians who keep us going…no matter what.