In 2006, when Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (or simply Borat), was released, it was promptly banned in Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen’s titular character is a Kazakh journalist, but his portrayal bears no resemblance to the country, its culture or people. Many in Kazakhstan were livid at the caricature in the mockumentary — in which Borat interviewed real people, pretending to be a journalist and revealed some of the hypocrisies of American life. The character, meant to be deliberately offensive, also portrayed the country as backward, feudal, deeply patriarchal and primitive. Cut to 2020, and the Kazakh ministry of tourism has changed its tune in line with the dictum that PR professionals and Donald Trump live by — there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
The Kazakhstan government released a short video, which coincided with the release of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm on October 23. In the video, tourists are seen enjoying the food, the spectacular natural beauty and sights in the country, and each of them rates their experience as “very nice!” — Borat’s catchphrase. It turns out that in 2006, tourism saw a spike as a result of Borat. This time, cleverly, the Kazakh government has decided to cash in on the sequel instead of banning it.
The fact is that the people of Kazakhstan are not who the Sacha Baron Cohen films satirise. Borat’s over-the-top personality is just the hook — the punchline comes from the powerful, the elite of US society and their racism and sexism. Their suits are better, the jargon more polished, but in the interviews with the “Kazakh journalist”, they reveal their bigotries and with Borat, say “very nice!” to discrimination. For the filmmakers, Kazakhstan was clearly just a remote country in which to base their character. But in the US, particularly for conservative politicians, the fictional journalist has shown that perhaps there is such a thing as bad publicity.
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