Across major cities in India, banners have gone up recently to promote a new television show on India’s popular network ZeeTv. The Indian reaction to them has been negligible, but westerners, especially Europeans have had quite a different reaction to the billboards of ‘Hitler Didi’ , literally translated as Hitler Sister.
The name of the new television series is, for some, a painful reminder of how the dictator – whose name has become synonymous with ultimate evil - still has admirers in parts of the world.
Hitler Didi is perhaps a misleading name for what is essentially a television soap - a show about a woman who lives on her own, making it in a man’s world, without the cushioned backing of a live in family. Not exactly edgy stuff for a western audience, but pretty radical for a country where most women are still expected to live at home till marriage after which they move in with their husband’s family.
“The main character is a little tough and strict that is why we called her Hitler,” says the show’s executive producer, Amit Sharma.
Rati Pandey, the actress, who plays Hitler Didi, told an Indian website, “so far I have received good responses...people have started calling me Hitler Didi and I am glad about it”
Neither the producer nor the actress seem bothered at the thought of offending people’s sensibilities by the flippant use of the name of one of history’s most reviled dictators. Sharma says that the show’s senior producers saw no harm in using the name for a lighthearted television comedy.
“The show is about a working women dealing with her own problems. She doesn’t have a husband and has to provide for her family. She stands for today’s modern women who have to be a little mean to get by in society”
The term PC (Politically Correct) seems to have permeated every aspect of life, especially in the West, so is it now time to include culturism to the growing list of ism’s - ageism, sexism, racism - that are the metaphorical landmines of society? Hitler’s crimes deeply affected generations of Europeans, but hardly touched India at all, and in fact, there are certain aspects of fundamental Hinduism and that have much in common with National Socialism (think of the concept of brown shirts, the adoption of the swastika, the militaristic worship of the male form).
Franziska Roschner a 25-year-old German student at Mumbai University knew before coming to India that some aspects of Indian culture could be shocking to her. The swastika for example stands for light and prosperity in Indian culture, but has a much darker meaning in Germany. The inverted swastika that became the infamous symbol of the Nazi party is now banned in Germany. But memories cannot always be made to vanish.
“On my front door in Mumbai, there is a swastika engraved in the doorframe. So I can’t get it out. If you want to enter my apartment you have walk underneath that Swastika and none of my German friends liked doing this.”
And Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” long banned in Germany and most European countries, is to be found in most book stalls and shops in Indian cities. And though Roschner has learnt to accept these sights from a past airbrushed out of her German world, living in India has forced her to confront other things she finds painful.
“When a guy, who tried to talk to me in a crowded club in Mumbai, heard I was from Germany he gave me a Nazi salute. I was shocked, said I couldn’t talk to him and turned around. I just didn’t believe that he could have done that,” says Roschner.
She finds it hard to understand why Indians don’t empathise more with the kind of sentiments the younger generation of Germans have grown up with. After all, while Europe was battling Nazi oppression, India was going through its own freedom struggle. But Indians don’t always consider the two World Wars as an integral part of Indian history. Indians were used as cannon fodder in both wars and suffered enormous casualties.
In a country famously touchy about so many subjects , ranging from Bal Thackery’s militancy to lesbians to women in skirts, that cinemas, publishing houses and bars live in fear of attack, its seems strange for non Indians to see subjects that would be taboo in the west, as a topic of light conversation in India. Perhaps globalization will change that soon, but for now, Hitler Didi continues to entertain Indians with the idea of a woman being mean enough to survive on her own.