The second of my case studies is the Hollywood film ‘The Pink Panther 2’ starring Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai. Rai portrays the role of Sonia, a researcher and criminology expert from India who is part of the Dream Team comprising of international detectives brought together to capture the master thief The Tornado. She is exposed to be the culprit at the end of the film. Her most direct opposite male lead is Steve Martin.
Being the only woman to form the Dream Team, it is pretty obvious that there is an element of ‘exoticness’ attached to her character who is from India. She is portrayed as being aware of her attractiveness and uses it to her advantage many times in the film (especially in the scenes immediately preceding the climax, when she thinks that no-one will suspect her to be the thief because she’s so good-looking and she thinks she can just walk away from the situation). There is a dispute as to whether she is the female lead of the film (the other female actor being Emily Mortimer), as she is not explicitly the romantic interest of the male lead of the film.
I wonder how much can be read into the fact that her role was so small. As with previous Pink Panther films (most notably those starring Peter Sellers), the focus has been on the bumbling antics of Inspector Jacques Clouseau. The supporting characters are rarely ever fully developed and most often do not get the same screen time as the protagonist. I find it bemusing, however, that her profession is alluded to (criminology expert and researcher) but she is never really shown practicing her skills. She doesn’t really serve any particular purpose till the very end of the film, when she is exposed as the culprit. There aren’t other women of color in the film, so drawing a comparison isn’t a possibility. The other character of color is an Asian male, but like I said earlier, the supporting characters in this film franchise are rarely ever developed to the stage that their characteristics could be discussed.
Also, the fact that she is the only female member of this international ‘Dream Team’ that has been formed to catch a thief whose notoriety is known all over the world, is worth mentioning. The representation of countries is woefully inept and like I said earlier, Sonia is the only female representative and barring her and the other Asian male character, all the actors in the film are Caucasians. For a film that has its basic premise in being international, it does a poor job of visually representing that global ethnic makeup. It boils down to Hollywood’s favorite notion that it takes a White man (in this case, even a bumbling nitwit) to save the day. As Sonia’s character only makes fleeting appearances in the film, this movie is not exactly the best benchmark to measure the change such roles have undergone over the decades. The character answers most of the questions mentioned in the criteria, but as the role isn’t fully formed, it would not be an accurate marker. At best, this role can be an add-on to the other case studies and help prepare a sample for a comparative analysis with films from earlier decades.