- “O Saki Saki,” a song from a Bollywood movie, has become a viral TikTok dance trend.
- But South Asian creators have criticized the altered dance, saying it sexualizes their culture.
- Some creators told Insider the trend reflects the way South Asians are stereotyped by western society.
In recent months, TikTokers have been taking part in one of the latest dance trends on the app — a Bollywood routine from a scene in “Batla House,” a 2019 film produced by Indian record label T-Series. The song, called “O Saki Saki,” is beloved by many within the South Asian community, who have been posting TikToks of themselves dancing to the routine ever since the film’s release.
But now, the dance has gained popularity among another group of creators, who are primarily white, and who have altered a key move from the routine in the videos. Where “Batla House” actor Nora Fatehi drops to the ground to perform a dramatic series of hip thrusts during the film, TikTokers have switched the move out for a body roll — a dance move characterized by a slow fluid movement of the hips upwards and then downwards.
This trendified version of the routine is commonly used alongside sped-up version of the song, an audio clip that has featured in 126,000 videos
But it has also sparked backlash from South Asian creators, who told Insider they think the videos are wrongfully sexualizing the routine and that this reflects a broader history of western societies fetishizing and appropriating South Asian culture.
Many South Asian TikTokers are speaking out against white creators getting the dance wrong
Naomi Namboodiripad is an Indian dance creator with 323,000 TikTok followers who specializes in Indian classical dance forms.
Namboodiripad told Insider that the original dance wasn’t intended to be sexualized, but rather “energetic,” so when a non-South Asian person performs the body-roll version, she thinks it’s like they’re “fetishizing Bollywood and South Asians in general.”
“There was no acknowledgment of where it came from, they just took it and sexualized it,” she said.
In response to the trend, Namboodiripad, along with several other South Asian creators, made dance videos to demonstrate how to do the dance correctly, along with captions saying things like, “That ‘body roll’ I keep seeing yt ppl do is NOT the original dance,” and, “Don’t tell us how to dance our dance.”
South Asian creators told Insider they think their culture should not have to be sexualized in order to be celebrated
Debotri Dhar, a lecturer in South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan who specializes in Women and Gender Studies, told Insider that the “sexualizing” of the “O Saki Saki” dance is a clear instance of South Asian cultures being “exoticized and orientalized,” explaining this refers to a history of western societies “disproportionately highlighting those aspects of another culture that seem mysterious and intriguing, and playing down any similarities in cultural practices.”
Dhar told Insider this is a continuation of a “longer history of sexualization” passed down from the colonial era, which she said created “generalizations about the savages and sages of other cultures, sexualizing the bodies of Black and Brown women in the colonies because they did not dress and eat, live, and love per the norms of Victorian morality.”
Sully Iqbal is a 25-year-old TikTok creator based in London, of half-Pakistani and half-Indian heritage. He made a video saying he thinks backlash to the trend from South Asian people is a “good step forward” for the community as it shows that individuals are using social media to push back against stereotypical portrayals of their culture.
“I feel like people are finally coming to the opinion that this kind of representation isn’t true representation. That an orientalized representation isn’t really what we want. We want good representation, which showcases all the other great things about South Asia and the region as a whole,” he said, adding, “We want to get to show that we are beautiful, but it does not need to be in a way that’s hyper-sexualized.”
Namboodiripad told Insider she also feels that western society disproportionately picks up on elements of South Asian culture that they can exoticize, such as the “sparkly dresses” seen in Bollywood films, but said she wishes that people showed appreciation for different and more diverse aspects of the culture.
On TikTok, she has previously stated that as a performer of Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical style that originated in Tamil Nadu, South India, she often receives judgmental comments about why she dances in bare feet, and she told Insider that many people think of such elements of South Asian culture as “primitive.” However, she said she wishes that people broadened their awareness and appreciation of South Asian culture, instead of showing interest in only certain, sexualized representations of it.
“I just really wish that South Asian culture was more respected,” said Namboodiripad, “and that more people were advocating for a culture where we can be humanized and seen as individuals, who are just one small part of a bigger culture.”
The dismissal of the criticism on TikTok is troubling to South Asian creators
Several South Asian creators who called out the modified dance were met with criticism and negative comments, mainly from people who said they preferred the routine with the body roll and that the original dance felt too “aggressive.”
Namboodiripad said it was “infuriating” to see South Asian people being criticized for doing the dance the correct way. “The idea of having someone else say, ‘Hey, you’re doing it wrong,’ even though they don’t even know what’s happening, it makes you feel inferior.”
She also said that negative comments about the original dance were a reflection of the way Indian culture is often rejected and looked down upon as a lingering effect of colonialism.
“Historically, ‘aggressive’ has been used to describe cultures that are not white, so people describing the dance in this way feels really harmful when you consider that India was colonized and its people were made to feel lesser than white Europeans,” she said.
Insider previously reported that Britain’s colonization of India, before the country gained its independence in 1947 and established its constitution in 1950, created a notion that white people were intellectually and culturally superior to people of color, and that this notion still persists against minority cultures today.
Namboodiripad told Insider that the way many non-South Asian creators who performed the dance incorrectly still appear as the top videos under the “O Saki Saki” TikTok audio, having received more views and likes than South Asian dancers who did the routine the correct way, demonstrates how false notions of white superiority have entered the social media space.
“Why are we not being respected for what we do? Why does it have to be a white creator that has to take our culture in order for it to be uplifted?” she said.
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.