Slumdog Millionare and the Oscars

February 27, 2009 at 5:27 am 8 comments

For the past couple of days, I have been observingm with mild amusement, the various reactions of desis about the movie Slumdog Millionare. It has ranged from righteous indignation to apologetic explainations to uncomfortable silences. Movies about poverty in India have been made before, movies dealing with underworld, prostitution, exploitation – all have made their appearances on the Indian screen.And yet, this one movie has left many of us unsettled in so many ways.

Some of us think the movie is not Indian at all. And celebrating it’s success is like cheering for the opposition. I am on the fence on this one really. I mean, the director is British, but the actors are Indian, location is Indian, music is Indian, technicians, assistant directors and half the crew is Indian. The story is written by an Indian. That makes the movie pretty Indian to me. If we were to solely go by who is directing the movie, then “Sixth Sense” would be a Tamil film. Even if you are a purist, then we can at best call this an Indian-English movie. And really, why should anyone be upset because we are cheering any movie for that matter? It all boils down to personal taste right?

Then, there is the issue of why we are cheering for Oscars so much? Agreed, The Oscars is not truly an international movie award. It caters to Hollywood and has just one measly category for foreign films. But undoubtedly, it is a fact that it is one of the most glamorous and publicized movie awards in the world. Anyone winning the Oscars gets a lot of attention, and that brings subsequent plump assignments from international film makers with it. Now, this does not mean desi cinema is not good, but it would take an idiot to refuse good work for a hefty sum of money and some international acclaim. No wonder Anil Kapoor was milking every minute of it. We need to suck it up and realize that Filmfare awards are simply NOT as famous as the Oscars and stop giving our fellow countrymen dirty looks when they are gushing about how happy they are that A R Rahman won.

And finally, the movie itself. Yes, it shows the slums of India. It shows corruption, underworld and prostitution. Infact, so many movies about the underworld by our very own Ram Gopal Verma and they were all very well appreciated by our public. No one thought India was being depicted in a bad light then. Is it the fact that the movie was made by a British guy and the whole world gets to watch it that gets our goat? Or is it the uncomfortable feeling that we cannot really deny many of the things that are shown in the movie jabbing at us? Many of my fellow desis start making excuses about India whenever a non-Indian mentions that they watched the movie. And the most common grouse is – “Why show only the slums? India has so much else going on”. Well, this was a movie based on a story, not a documentary about India. If Danny Boyle told he had made a documentary about Mumbai, maybe there could be some justification for the indignation, but this is a story – a fairytale. And seriously, if we feel so much for our country, maybe we should dig our heads out of the sands and look around. And do something. Instead we are sitting in a country far far away and acting like we are the governament appointed ambassadors whose sole responsibility to protect and maintain the image of India.

As for myself, I thought it was a very cleverly made movie, the story itself may not have been credible, but the cinematography was beautiful. And it was worth the one time watch. I am happy India won at the Oscars (yes India – A R Rahman and Resul Pookutty are Indians, remember?) because it gives the Americans a chance to know that there is a world out there outside of the USA. And why do I care so much about the Americans? Because I live among them.


Entry filed under: Random Banter.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. La Vida Loca  |  February 27, 2009 at 5:46 am

    I liked the movie and loved that it swept the Oscars. So that’s that.

    Clueless: Your lack of justification just hits the right note!

  • 2. Enchanted  |  February 27, 2009 at 6:59 am

    I loved watching the movie. In fact I watched it way before it was hyped so much. Just heard about it on the day from a friend who was going to watch it and I just tagged along with her to watch the movie. I dont care who made it. I just felt i was experiencing the same Mumbai i have left behind and that was enough. As for oscars, i dont care who gets it either. The real intention of the movie is to please crowds and not get oscars. but at the same time i am also proud as a desi that indian musicians and actors are getting global recognition.

    Clueless: Same here! I had to go to an artsy theatre to watch this movie. And there were very few people in the theatre. We all know that the most publicized award shows rarely go into the technicalities of the award category. Popularity does sway a few votes.

  • 3. cynicaldee  |  February 27, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Clueless,As we’ve talked about this exact topic for like 300 hrs this week:) ,I still feel its a personal acheivement.Indians and India need not gloat about it …Gloat about NGO’s who work with these kids,Gloat and make lots of noise about the lakhs of soldiers guarding the borders…This how ever is good but does not make India proud..It make ARR proud:)

    @Clueless: There is no doubt we don’t celebrate real heroes in India. Just look at all the celebrities joining politics and you will know we are a nation that gets swayed easily. But at the same time, I feel we need to appreciate excellence and recognize it. And AR Rahman is beyond excellence to me.
    However, I do agree that the PM going gaga was a little overboard. But what to do , paapa, he must be thinking if he does not congratulate, then Amar Singh will quickly snag these people for his party!

  • 4. cynicaldee  |  February 27, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    See that is why India is great…We want to do stupid things first before some one else does:))
    Haha..But nice post

  • 5. Priya  |  February 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    “….If Danny Boyle told he had made a documentary about Mumbai, maybe there could be some justification for the indignation, but this is a story – a fairytale…..”

    True. But then there is no reason to so quickly and authoritatively make it an *Indian* fairytale. Its not the fact that the movie *won* that I’m complaining about (if you could call it complaining). The fact that the poverty and the corruption and what not is the *only* thing that seems to have come through about the Indian existence. And my personal point was that there is more to life in India than just all that.

    RE: about doing something for the people there – I do. I just don’t talk about it. For me at least, the distance away from India actually allowed me to see the struggles that people there go through. Quiet needlessly often. When I was living in India the conditions there eventually just became par for the course.

    Interesting perspective on the reaction of desis – although I’m not sure I agree entirely. 🙂

  • 6. Sakshi  |  March 1, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I just Loved the movie… it was well made… story was great… and technically the movie is a treat to watch.

  • 7. Gowri  |  April 1, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Well, do you actually think they would have given a movie set in India the Oscars if it portrayed a positive, developed image of India? I think not. It might be hard to accept, but the mighty West does not want to come out of the third world stereotype it associates with India. Yes the RGVs and the Kashyaps and now Rakesh Mehra too has made a movie showing the “cow worshipping” India, but giving a movie that shows ONLY the ugly side of a country an Oscar for the best movie, sort of legitimizes what’s shown; and the unsuspecting, uneducated masses of the world lap it up as the whole truth. It’s not the Oscar that does the damage, its the publicity the movie gets after the Oscar that does the damage.

    Clueless: We have made hundreds of Bollywood movies showcasing the evil western culture and its wayward women and how they are later domesticated by the “son of the soil” hero. I bet they won Filmfares too. But do you see any American up in arms about how their country was portrayed? I still don’t get why we need to care so much about their opinions. Maybe a movie with India in a positive light would not get Oscars, but why do we care so much??

  • 8. Gowri  |  April 2, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Because we are Indians and hate the world getting to see only one side of our country. Let me give you an analogy (I know u know I suck at this, but still) Don’t parents feel disappointed to see their “multi-talented” progeny hide behind a chair while they prod him/her to sing and dance at a party like they do at home? It’s the same feeling. I feel, there’s so much my country has achieved in the last couple of decades; but now thanks to this movie, and the publicity the oscars have generated, the world gets to see the old, under-developed, corrupt side. Sure, that’s there, but there are better things too now! And believe me, the “developed” world does not want to see it or let it be seen, at least not yet. Do you think a more optimistic portrayal of India in “The White Tiger” would have still won it the booker? Again, why do we care? Because Booker = bigger reach.

    Oscars are America’s Filmfare, agreed, but they have a much much wider audience than just the United States, don’t you think? Who in Korea would know about Filmfare? But they certainly would about the Oscars, and do you see how that very reach does the harm?

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