Gigi Hadid, Zendaya, Tom Holland – these are not names you’d see on the guestlist of most Indian events, no matter how elite. But last weekend saw some big international celebrities land in Mumbai for the opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC).
The event took social media by storm. From Gigi Hadid in a sari to YouTube star Emma Chamberlain posing at the Gateway of India, it’s been an exciting couple of days for Indian internauts to parasocially be a part of. So naturally, they left no stone unturned in posting funny takes and making memes about it.
NRI cousins attending desi weddings pic.twitter.com/l4wBapqU1O
— Abhishek (@MSDianAbhiii) April 2, 2023
Does Zendaya know if her chunni gets stuck in some guys kurta sleeve she is supposed to get married to him?? pic.twitter.com/huVj3UUN9A
— Sameer Sewak (@Naa_Cheese) April 2, 2023
Indian paparazzi fueled hundreds of hilarious reactions and some criticism for how they photographed these stars. In one viral video of Hadid on the red carpet, you can hear a photographer asking, “Is this Shakira? Who is she?”
Another photographer completely butchered the pronunciation of Zendaya’s name, and yet another called out “Ae Tommy!” upon seeing Tom Holland come out of the airport.
— 𝐒𝐚.𝐎𝐧𝐞 राज (@iamSawanRaj) April 2, 2023
There is something quite amusing about how the names of global superstars – ones we otherwise only hear in the Hollywood context – don’t really roll off the Indian tongue. Especially when the paparazzi seemed to be blissfully clueless yet so passionate about photographing them. It feels like two separate universes colliding, and in some ways it is. Indian stars like Priyanka Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan have gone global with their success, but the opposite is almost unheard of. NMACC and even the recent Dior show at the Gateway of India proved it can be done (provided the organisers behind it are as powerful as the Ambani family, of course).
But the weekend’s most debated spectacle was Varun Dhawan inviting Gigi Hadid on stage and lifting her up bridal style. The first and most valid question people asked was if she gave her consent for something like this. As it turns out, she did, and the entire thing was planned. She looked like she was having fun and even shared the video on her Instagram story. That didn’t stop people from speculating. When you don’t know what’s spontaneous and what’s staged, there’s bound to be some backlash. Many found humour even there.
— spider🕸️ Los Angeles (@spiderfromlos) April 4, 2023
Controversies surrounding the treatment of international celebrities by Indian ones are not new. When Ed Sheeran performed in Mumbai, he attended an afterparty full of Bollywood bigshots. Awkward photos of him with Farah Khan, Karan Johar and Abhishek Bachchan received ruthless trolling online. Sheeran did look rather uncomfortable, and it seemed like Farah Khan had lost all sense of appropriate social boundaries. It looked to be a total cringe-fest. Ranveer Singh also received backlash for his hyper-affectionate disposition on Bear Grylls’ show. In contrast, NMACC was a far more respectable affair, given its nature and scale.
Ed Sheeran partying with Bollywood’s elite is morse coding us with dead eyes and plastic smiles, begging to be saved. pic.twitter.com/iPpkE0awsU
— Goddess V (@vforvelvetta) November 19, 2017
The centre’s ‘India in Fashion’ exhibition is putting the country on the map at a level that few initiatives before it have achieved. The lens is a narrow one and leaves out much of India’s diverse textile and fashion history. Some critics question whether it is a step towards the right kind of global representation. Nonetheless, it was an event to remember in terms of its significance for Indian art and fashion. And of course, the memes are hilarious.