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Oprah ‘India Special’ panned for being ‘snobbish’

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey has been criticized by Indian audiences and critics after the broadcast of a show based around her much-publicized trip to India earlier this year.

The ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter’ India Special, has been variously described as “snobbish” and “ignorant” with one commentator saying the show presented India in a “very poor light”.  

During her travels, Winfrey visited a Mumbai slum, the Jaipur Literary Festival (where she taped an interaction with noted author Deepak Chopra), a widows home in North India rounded off with a must-see trip to the Taj Mahal.

The episode also filmed Winfrey spending time with families, from the slum-dwelling poor to upper crust millionaires, including being escorted by Indian film icon Amitabh Bachchan and his family to a glamorous Bollywood party hosted in her honour by leading Mumbai socialite Parmeshwar Godrej.

One of the major criticisms against Winfrey is when she asks her dinner hosts, an upscale Mumbai family who lay down a lavish meal for her, “I heard some Indian people eat with their hands still?”

CNN-IBN journalist Rituparna Chatterjee blogged: “Oprah, your comment about eating with the hand is really not that big a deal to us; we are used to gross Western ignorance regarding our ancient country. But as a responsible public figure about to air a show that will be beamed across the world, you should have done your homework. Using our hands to eat is a well established tradition and a fact none of us are ashamed of. Our economic distinction has nothing to do with it.  A  millionaire here eats the same way a pauper does. You have been to Asian nations. You should know that. ”

Questioning Winfrey’s motives, Chatterjee adds, “Poverty is an inseparable part of India, you say, and seek out the human stories that make the grind bearable. But which India have you come looking for? The one that shops at state-of-the-art supermarkets and vacations abroad or the one whining about their misery in tiny holes of homes with LCD televisions on the walls? The India that scrapes by with $200 a month but sends its children to subsidized government schools to pick up fluent English? The India of your press information – fascinating, with its many-headed goddesses and grimy, naked children playing by roadside hovels – or the India of the future – an economic superpower that looms large outside the range of an average American’s myopic vision? ”
A critique of the show by online news site Firstpost.com writer Rajyasree Sen described the two-episode series as “myopic, unaware, ignorant and gauche. This was Middle America at its best worst.”

Winfrey’s tour of a Mumbai slum, where she meets a family of five living in a cramped room, was also criticized by Sen, “And the slum is where Oprah’s ‘oh-my-god-how wonderfully-pathetically-quaint-to-be-so-poor’ avatar stepped out in full glory. .. Now I’m not surprised that Oprah was surprised to see an entire family living in such tiny quarters. Although I’m sure she could find cramped ghettos in the U.S… She did look for a shower head in the toilet and seem amazed to hear they bathed with a bucket. And she marveled at how all their clothes fit onto a small shelf. She pointedly avoided any mention of the massive LCD TV which adorned their wall. That would have killed the sob story. When their older daughter told Oprah that she’d like to go to London to study further, Oprah also played her role as American ambassador to the hilt and said, “No. Come to America, it’s a lovely country. It’s the best”.”

– UKAsian Staff

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