Finding my Disney Princess
As a young girl, I loved every single Disney princess. To me, each story was just the perfect combination of the expected fairytale storyline and the unexpected characters, actions, and plot. One of my favorite Disney princesses was Princess Jasmine as the movie Aladdin resonated most with me. After all, I could extract small bits of my heritage from the cultural inaccuracies of the film—namely, the Royal Palace in the fantastical city of Agrabah mirroring the Taj Mahal of India, elephant statues being placed throughout the architecture, and Jasmine’s pet tiger being named Rajah (king).
However, as the Disney princess movies remain popular with this new generation of young girls, I can’t help but wonder – Should we continue letting these young girls struggle to find representation on screen like I did? Or, can we finally represent an overwhelming part of the population by highlighting a real-life Indian princess?
Live Action Galore
Earlier this year, Disney released its live-action remake of the beloved film The Little Mermaid. Prior to the film, Disney had already released remakes of the stories of Aurora, Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine, and Mulan. And, scheduled in the next few years, are the remakes of Snow White and Moana.
In an effort to provide a sense of representation, Disney is making these live actions with a more diverse cast, like starring African-American Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid and half-Columbian Rachel Zegler in the upcoming Snow White. While diversity is refreshing to see on screen, Disney can easily focus their attention on making new storylines with an ethnically unique character to begin with.
And, given that India is the most populated country with a staggering 1.4 billion people, I think it’s fair to say that an Indian Disney princess has been long overdue.
No Tokenism, Please!
Look, Disney can easily take the word “princess” and slap on a basic Indian name at the end. But, “Indian” shouldn’t be just another item on Disney’s checklist of ethnicities to cover.
Oftentimes in the past, this attempt for inclusivity has led to widely stereotypical and lazy portrayals of Indian characters. For example, “Jessie” character Ravi Ross was a highly unathletic, math-obsessed nerd who spoke in an exaggerated Indian accent. And, I could point to several other characters who follow the same profile (ahem, Baljeet from “Phineas and Ferb” to name one).
My Disney Princess Candidates
So, in case Disney can’t think of any Indian princesses to take inspiration from, here are some of my favorites:
Number 1: The Rani of Jhansi
Also known as Lakshmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi defied gender norms from the beginning. At a young age, Bai learned to read and write, along with learning martial arts, fencing, and sword fighting. When she was 14 years old, Bai married the Maharaja of Jhansi but soon became a widow. As the British East India Company attempted to annex Jhansi, Bai immediately declared her loyalty to Jhansi, saying, “Main apni Jhansi nahi doongi” (I will not give away my Jhansi). Bai courageously undertook an army, leading them through the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and protecting Jhansi during the Siege of Jhansi in 1858.
Number 2: Razia Sultana
After her father, Sultan Iltutmish, died, Razia Sultana succeeded to the throne as the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. Even though she was one of the few female rulers during that period of time, Razia Sultana took authority as soon as she came to power. She organized the government, consolidated her power, suppressed revolts by Turkish nobility, implemented governmental reforms, and enabled a renaissance of arts and culture!
Number 3: Akkadevi
Princess Akkadevi, also called Gunadabedangi (“beauty of virtues”), was the princess of the Chalukya dynasty of Karnataka. Akkadevi was an inept administrator and skilled military commander. In fact, she was known to be as courageous as the Goddess Bhairavi. She also promoted education, housing, feeding, and clothing for hundreds of students. Even more so, she authorized the building of Jain and Hindu temples.
Final Thoughts and A Rumor!
As I researched for this article, I stumbled across rumors that an Indian Disney princess is in the works! In December of 2022, Deadline exclusively reported that the film is being undertaken by Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha and screenwriter Paul Mayeda Berges. Other sources have even claimed that the princess will be named Ananya.
Unfortunately, since then, the news hasn’t been heavily publicized or covered by any large-scale organizations. Even then, the possibility of an Indian Disney princess gives me hope. Perhaps Disney has finally understood the importance of ethnic diversity on screen. And, perhaps, this new generation of Indian girls won’t need to pick apart Aladdin to get their fair share of representation.