There was once a widely held belief that Oprah could do no wrong. The media mogul amassed a devoted following who lapped up her advice, from lifestyle choices to book recommendations – and it didn’t hurt that she gave away cars to her audience members.
But now, as her OWN network is struggling to stay afloat, the once-infallible entrepreneur is taking flak for her India-focused show that aired over the weekend.
Critics are saying the series, Oprah’s Next Chapter, which devoted two episodes to India, draws a simplistic and caricatured portrait of the country.
On the trip, Oprah visits a family of five living on $200 a month in a Mumbai slum, has dinner with an upper-middle-class family and stops by the home of Bollywood stars Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan.
One of the main criticisms was that Oprah asked one of her hosts, the upscale Mumbai family, that “I heard some Indian people eat with their hands still?”
This prompted an Indian writer, Rituparna Chatterjee, to pen an open letter chastising Oprah for her ignorance, saying that using hands to eat is an established tradition in India that has nothing to do with a person’s wealth.
Ms. Chatterjee also questioned Oprah’s motives, saying: “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?”
Others tweeted their frustration with the way the show portrayed India to Western populations, with one commenter saying: "The avg American thinking of India as a place with snake charmers and elephants as main mode of transport, I can understand. But Oprah???"
But not everyone thought the show was beyond redemption. While Gargi Gupta, a writer for Business Standard, described it as "an unflattering, outmoded, selective and clichéd representation" of India, she found that Oprah’s questions to the slum dwellers, asking about their hopes and dreams, showed respect for human dignity, an approach "that television anchors in India… would do well to learn."
Do you think the series inaccurately portrays India?