When Culture Machine's recent video on TamBrahm Boys, released as a part of its Sassy Sistah series, was making the rounds in the office, it finally ended at my desk as the subject of a fun copy. Just for kicks, you know.
The term 'TamBrahm' immediately set small alarm bells ringing in my head, but Sofia Ashraf's name was on it. So I reassured myself that this was something sensible.
I started watching the video with a wide grin, but as the song progressed, my expression changed, as the words tripped by:
“tan brown bod”
“simple, gentle, so totally yum”
“I fly higher than his GPA”
And add to this making the poonal, a sign of casteism, look sexy.
Ugh. By now, sirens were blaring in my head. An argument broke out with a colleague on whether the video was glorifying a particular caste, and she asked me to read their press release to put the song in context. If only I knew this was going to make matters worse.
The release says:
“The ‘Tam Brahm Boy’ is the first video in the series that will give a quirky take on everything South Indian, including our delectable Tamil Brahmin boys! Whether it is his dorky glasses or his geeky demeanour, there is something incredibly attractive about the personality of the Tam Brahm boy that appeals to all the women in South India (and sometimes, even in North India). Sofia Ashraf, a new member of the Blush team in the south, is seen sharing her extremely strong opinions in a love song objectifying a typical Tamil Brahmin boy using hilarious southern stereotypes.
Being an avid content creator, Sofia Ashraf has brought out an important aspect of our society and how women’s sexual emotions are treated in our country through the stereotypical depiction of the infamous south Indian boy. Apart from being a very entertaining and humorous, this video is eye-opening and definitely a must watch.
Speaking about the video, Sofia Ashraf, Producer, Culture Machine said, “Hidden beneath the camp disco beats and south Indian clichés, this song actually carries an idea. I believe that women in this country are denied our sexual urges. This song is an unapologetic expression of primal desires and I hope that over time it becomes acceptable for Indian women to speak out about our passions and our sexuality stops being demonised.”
The press release adds for good measure that this is the same Sofia Ashraf who brought us the ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ video.
There has some been some outrage on this on Facebook walls and on YouTube. Yet, people ask, why is this a problem? It is just a fun video, right?
People have argued recently that the word TamBrahm itself should be kicked out of our discourse because casteism is written into it. I don’t think we need to go that far. For instance, if you are making fun of the TamBrahms by calling out their privilege, like we did here, we think it is OK (some people might even disagree with that).
But when you glorify the TamBrahm Boy misleading stereotypes, even for fun, you are endorsing their caste-superiority. And it is important to understand that there is a difference between ‘making fun’ and ‘making something funny’. The Culture Machine video is funny, but it also manages to glorify the TamBrahm boy.
Here are the assumptions that the video makes – that TamBrahm men have beautiful hot bods, that they are simple and gentle, and that they are really intelligent because they have high GPAs.
All of that is patently, demonstrably false and specifically misleading in a casteist way.
Many TamBrahm boys are fed generously on desi-ghee and creamy curd all their lives. Their high sugar levels and bellied-bods are often directly linked to their caste-privilege.
That they are stereotypically simple or gentle is laughable. If I have to generalize, I would say they hold bundles of insecurities, sometimes passively aggressive, can be anger-ridden maniacs or drunk on patriarchal power.
As for their super-intelligence. Sigh, I don’t know where to begin. Suffice to say these are the exact kind of caste generalizations that we need to get rid of.
This also perhaps goes to show how detached certain elite sections of activists in the country are from other issues that we face as a society.
I am aware that Ashraf and team did not intend to make a casteist video, and that the focus was on female sexuality. But this is why intersectionality is important. If you are fighting for gay rights, but don’t care for your casteism, then you are failing. If you are a feminist or an environmentalist, and don’t see how caste pervades our lives, then you are failing.
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.
Update: Responding to some of the negative reviews that the video has been garnering, Sofia Ashraf took to Facebook to state that the video "is in no way meant to be casteist or supremist".