Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bollywood Weddings

Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement, and Marriage in Hindu America, by Kavita Ramdya

I ran across this short academic book at work, and promptly had to take it home, since anything Indian or Bollywood always catches my eye. I guess you could call it an ethnography of how Hindu Indian immigrant communities in the US have worked out a pattern for how to get married that blends Indian and American ideas and identities, drawing upon the "third culture" of Bollywood movies for inspiration. When the older immigrant generation is used to arranged marriages, and the younger American-born generation wants more autonomy, how do you compromise?

Ramdya chronicles a pattern that often blends the two cultures and affirms both. She studied 20 different couples, all from the wealthier section of the immigrant community, and how they met, dated, and got engaged and married. She points out where older Hindu practices have been dropped and where they have been preserved, and makes a special effort to describe how, most of the time, emphasizing an Indian heritage also strengthens an American identity.

It's an academic work and so a little less exciting than I would have liked, and a little repetitive (because it conforms to academic norms). Had it been a more mainstream work, there would have been more photographs--in color!--and more emotional engagement with the various couples' stories. I enjoyed reading it and learning more about how modern Indian-Americans tend to get married.

Now, this book focused exclusively on wealthy families who could afford lavish, stylish weddings and (in most cases) trips to India just for wedding shopping. It's not about more ordinary middle-class folks, so don't expect to see anything that mirrors your own wedding unless you spent over $15,000. It continually surprised me to see practices like ice sculptures, strapless wedding gowns, and hired DJs described as traditional and expected elements of any normal American wedding. But ordinary middle-class people is not what this book is about.


Eva said...

I'm quite curious abt this! Have you read Quincinera? It's a fascinating look at the US Latin@ community & Julia Alvarez definitely addresses the money issue (i.e.: normal families going into debt/using all of their savings on lavish parties instead of, say, college funds).

Jean said...

I did read Quincinera! I think it must have been just a little while before I started this blog. It *was* fascinating.

I would love to see this wedding topic addressed in a similar way, actually--with a wider variety of people and more involvement, and color pictures (because really, how useful are B&W photos in a book about Indian decoration?).