What’s your take?
The last few days have been quite momentous for the Indian film industry due to the release of two sensational films. While one was the Hindi version of a South Indian blockbuster, the other was a western director’s adaptation of an Indian novel. Yes, you’re right. I am indeed referring to the Amir Khan-starrer Ghajini and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. The readers of this weekly column would know me to be more into music and Art than in films and even I had thought it to be better to refrain from offering my humble opinion. But then I could not escape witnessing the highly intense debate on Slumdog Millionarie allegedly depicting India in a big light, which seems to have engulfed the entire country over the last few days. Legendary Bollywood celebrity Amitabh Bachhan had also ventured forth to slam the film and so did a number of professionals from various walks of life. And just a couple of days back, exhorting all Indians to refrain from watching it, Arindam Choudhury of IIPM and ‘Sunday Indian’ fame, claimed Slumdog Millionarie to be “a phoney poseur that been made only to mock India for the viewing pleasure of the First World!” That was the moment I decided to offer my own thoughts.
To start with, I feel we would all do better if we leave aside this talk of “aggrieved national sentiment”. Contrary to what many are saying, Slumdog Millionarie has not been “highly acclaimed just because it has been made by a foreign filmmaker”. And unlike what Mr Choudhury claims, it is also not “an endorsement of an erstwhile imperial mindset of the West and its blinkered vision of India”. Come on! Slumdog Millionarie is just a piece of enthralling cinema with an artistic touch, made with the sole aim of providing entertainment. It is not, and was never meant to be, a portrayal of India’s poverty or a documentary at that. The film is only a story of hope — one that reemphasises the age-old adage that one has to cross a lot of adversaries in order to make it to brighter times. After all, who thought that a movie which begins with violence would progress to become an anthem of friendship, love and joy?
And for those, Mr Choudhury included, who still believe that people like me have an inherent fascination for “satisfying some imperialist design”, I would like to tell them, with my limited knowledge of world cinema, to watch films like Trainspotting, This is England, American History X, and the like. I say this because even these films depict crime, violence, corruption and the darker side of western countries. Herein, one should remember that a country or a place does not become bad just because a film dares to show what we generally try to hide in a corner of our minds. If so was the case, films like the ones which I just mentioned would never have been made. In a way, it is imperative that these types of films are made once in a while. For we need to remind ourselves of the reality we live in. That is the only way we will ever find a solution to the problems plaguing our country. Otherwise, whenever we cross a busy road or junction and find a beggar approaching us for alms, we will forever keep turning our heads away, trying to keep the scene in a remote corner where we are least likely to be reminded of its existence.
If we look at it, Slumdog Millionaire depends to a huge extent on the time-tested Bollywood strategy of a fight among orphan brothers due to a clash of ideologies, the streets, brothels, separation, fights and the final sacrifice for a happy life thereafter. Yes, it is based on impoverishment. But for a change, why don’t we stop looking at the background and concentrate more on the foreground? Despite all this talk about a resurgent India, slums in Indian cities are a fact. Poverty is a fact. We might criticize Danny Boyle for depicting a wrong picture of Indian poverty, but are we aware that the Art director of the film — the person who designed the entire slums and props used — is an Indian, and a Mumbaikkar at that, by the name of Abhishek Redkar? I am sure most of us don’t but still we criticize. After getting to watch such a fantastic response of the world audience towards the story of a couple of orphans in an Indian slum, don’t you think it’s better if take the film as a honest criticism and devise ways to eradicate this poverty instead?
And then there are those who lament the lack of exposure for India’s talents. To be very frank, this theory has started becoming very repetitive now. I grew up listening to this tirade first as an Asomiya, then as a Northeasterner and finally as an Indian. Don’t you think its time to move on? And for all those who want to compare this film with Salaam Bombay, I seriously believe that Art is one subject which should never be judged by comparison. While it is true that the earlier portrayal of Mumbai had its own characteristics, it is also a fact that Slumdog Millionaire is exclusive in its own right. But why am I wasting so much of the editor’s valuable print space? Slumdog Millionaire would never satisfy the traditionalist Indian because it neither has comical underworld dons, glorifying pseudo-nationalism nor raunchy item numbers to satiate the hungry desires of the sexually oppressed Indian masses.
Coming around to something which I am more comfortable doing, I would rate AR Rahman’s music in the film as a commendable effort. For someone who has become habituated with the familiar sounds of Indian films, it did take some time for the film’s music to go down my system. But in retrospect, shorn of its Indianness, the film’s score has indeed fetched a brownie for Rahman. And finally, I would suggest you all to go and watch the film, instead of introspecting about it, and decide for yourselves. I guess that’s always the easiest way around!
Posted on January 15, 2010, in Concerts/ Reviews, Day-to-Day and tagged Aiyushman Dutta, amitabh bacchan, arindam choudhury, arvind redkar, danny boyle, iipm, india, slumdog millionaire, slums, sunday indian. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.