In recent months, TikTokers has been involved in one of the app’s latest dance trends – a Bollywood routine from a scene in “Batla House”, the 2019 movie produced by Indian record label T-Series. The song titled “O Saki Saki” is loved by many within the South Asian community, who have been posting TikToks for themselves dancing the routine since the movie’s release.
But now, the dance has gained popularity among another group of creators, who are mainly white, who have changed a major step of the routine in the videos. Where “Batla House” actress Nora Fatehi falls to the floor to perform a dramatic series of hip movements during the film, TikTokers shifts the move outward in order to roll the body – a dance movement that features a slow movement of the hips up and then down.
This trendy version of the routine is commonly used alongside the quick release of the song, an audio clip that has been featured in 126,000 videos.
But it also sparked a backlash from South Asian creators, who told that they believe the videos sexualize routine and that this reflects a broader history of Western societies that infuse and appropriate South Asian culture.
Many South Asian TikTokers are speaking out against the misuse of dance by white creators
Naomi Namboodiripad is an Indian dance creator with 323,000 followers on TikTok who specializes in Indian classical dance forms.
Nambodiripad told that the original dance wasn’t meant to be sexual, but rather “energetic,” so when a non-South Asian person performs the body-rolling version, she believes it “impresses Bollywood and South Asians in general.”
“There was no acknowledgment of where she came from, they just took her and made her sexual,” she said.
In response to this trend, Nambodiripad, along with several other South Asian creators, have created dance videos to show how to do the dance properly, along with captions that say things like, “The ‘body roll’ I still I see yt ppl doing it is not an original dance” and “don’t tell us how to dance our dance.”
South Asian creators told that they believe their culture shouldn’t be sexual in order to be celebrated
Depute Dar, a lecturer in South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan who specializes in women’s and gender studies, told that the “sexualization” of the “O Saki Saki” dance is a clear example that South Asian cultures are “exotic and bright,” the interpretation of this suggests to the history of Western societies “which disproportionately highlights those aspects of another culture that seem obscure and intriguing, and diminishes any similarities in cultural practices.”
Dhar told that this is a continuation of a “longer history of sex” carried over from the colonial era, which she said created “generalizations about savages and sages from other cultures, and the sexualization of black and brown women’s bodies in the colonies because they didn’t dress, eat, live and love according to the rules of Victorian Ethics”.
Sulley Iqbal is a 25-year-old TikTok content creator based in London, of half Pakistani, half Indian descent. He made a video saying that he believes the backlash from South Asians is a “good step forward” for society because it shows individuals are using social media to respond to stereotypes of their culture.
“I feel like people have finally come to the view that this kind of representation is not real representation. And Orientalist representation is not what we really want. We want good representation, which showcases all the other great things about South Asia and the region as a whole,” he said, adding: To show we’re beautiful, but it doesn’t have to be in an overly sexual way.”
@naomi.nambo Replying to @itsmeyamiloofficial ik this particular person prob just wanted attention but Indian classical dance is done in bare feet so stop saying it’s gross because you are uncultured and white – I see this so often so plz stop sharing your awful thoughts 😘 #dance #bharatanatyam #mohiniyattam #kuchipudi #culture #traditional #insensitive #cultural #browngirl #desi #mallu #southindian ♬ original sound – 1 million followers
Nambudiribad told that she also feels that Western society disproportionately captures elements of South Asian culture that they might Westernize, such as the “glamorous dresses” seen in Bollywood films, but said she wishes people would show an appreciation for different and more diverse aspects of the culture.
On TikTok, she previously stated that as a performer of Bharatanatyam, a classic Indian style that originated in Tamil Nadu, southern India, she often receives court comments about why she dances barefoot, and told that many people think of elements of South Asian culture as “Primitive”. However, she said she wishes people would expand their awareness and appreciation of South Asian culture, rather than only showing interest in certain sexual representations of her.
“I really hope that South Asian culture is more respected, and that more people advocate for a culture where we can be humanized and seen as individuals, who are just a small part of a larger culture,” Nambuderebad said.
Rejecting criticism of TikTok worries South Asian creators
Several creators from South Asia who called out the modified dance were met with criticism and negative comments, especially from people who said they preferred the routine with body roll and that the original dance felt too “aggressive”.
Nambuderebad said it was “outrage” to see South Asians being criticized for dancing the right way. “The idea of someone else saying, ‘Hey, you’re doing it wrong,’ even though they don’t even know what’s going on, makes you feel inferior.”
She also said that negative comments about the original dance were a reflection of the way Indian culture is often dismissed and viewed with contempt as a lingering influence of colonialism.
“Historically, the word ‘aggressive’ was used to describe non-white cultures, so people who describe dancing in this way feel really harmful when you consider that India was a colony and its people feel less than white Europeans,” she said. .
previously reported that Britain’s colonization of India, prior to the country gaining independence in 1947 and the establishment of its constitution in 1950, created the idea that whites were culturally and intellectually superior to people of color, and that this notion still holds against minority cultures today. .
Namboodiripad told that the way many non-South Asian creators performed the dance incorrectly still appeared as the top video under TikTok’s “O Saki Saki” sound, getting more views and likes than the South Asian dancers who performed the dance. Routine the right way, he shows how misconceptions about white supremacy have entered the social media space.
“Why don’t we have respect for what we do? Why should a white creator have to take our culture in order to elevate it?” She said.