Representation vs. Reputation

Priya Kiran

Where did the question “log kya kahenge?” come from? The question which has destroyed dreams and ignited insecurity. The question South Asian parents often ask as a tool to direct their children into the “right” direction. Well let’s break the question down – “log kya kahenge?” or “what will people say?” Who are these “people” our parents are always worried about? They could honestly be anyone, but when you really think about it, you know that these “people” are the aunties and uncles watching your every move. Why? Maybe it’s because they truly care about your future, or maybe it’s to compare your success to their own child’s success. This question has been around for generations – and whatever the intention of the interest is, each family does sit down and talk about people they know. That’s a fact. As humans we are always interested in other humans, who they are, what they’re doing, how they got to where they are, some more than others. It becomes toxic when judgements and unhealthy comparisons are intertwined in the opinions people have of others. So a year ago when Bravo released a trailer showcasing Indian American families in their new reality TV Series Family Karma, I could only imagine the aunties and uncles of the community around those families saying “log kya kahenge?”.

My family LOVES reality TV, specifically reality TV on Bravo. It’s something we grew up on. Getting to spend an hour pretending we’re part of the rich and famous cliques around the country (The Real Housewives franchise), or getting to imagine that we’re the ones touring the multi-million dollar homes in LA or NY (Million Dollar Listing) was all just pure fun! That’s the beauty of reality TV, sometimes it’s a nice escape from the reality we live in, especially during the pandemic. When Family Karma was announced there were – understandably – mixed signals from the South Asian American community. Some were ecstatic about finally seeing themselves represented on screen in the reality TV universe, while others were worried that the South Asian community would be represented in an unfair and stereotypical manner. Both of these reactions stemmed from the lack of representation of South Asians in the media industry. Even in my own family group chat we were cautiously excited, constantly making predictions about the cast and crew.

March rolled around, quarantine was just beginning, and Family Karma premiered. As expected, some people loved it, some people hated it, but no one can deny this was an incredible step for South Asian representation. My sisters and I had to remind ourselves that these families were not our family. Yes, they represented us in a general aspect, but this is only the beginning of representation. As South Asia narratives become more popular in western media, more people will be able to share their own individual story. The cast of Family Karma are merely telling theirs. 

Reflecting on the premiere now, a whole year later, it dawned on me how brave those cast members were. I know what you’re thinking – “Reality TV stars? Brave?” I know how that sounds; however, think about the culture we come from. Think about every aunty or uncle who has asked you way too many personal questions at a function. Think about every time your parents have said “log kya kahenge?” These families looked at the question “log kya kahenge” in the face and said “let them talk”. The families in this show opened up their homes and lives for judgement not only from pure strangers, but also from the members of their own community. It’s reality TV, people will make their own opinions about this cast with the minimal knowledge they have about their life, strife, and struggles. Sure, these families have boundaries, and probably won’t broach certain topics on screen; but for the sake of representation they let the cameras come in and document their livelihood for the world to see. That right there is so special and so brave. 

There will always be people who talk – it’s up to you to decide if you care about what they say. 

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