Monday, February 09, 2009

The Fuss about Slumdog Millionaire Redux

The news has it that Slumdog Millionaire won seven prizes including Best Picture at the British Academy Film Awards. The movie went into the ceremony with 11 nominations and won 6 prizes, Best Film, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Music, Cinematography, Editing and Sound. The film has created a controversy in India, as in some opinions, it shows the country in an 'unflattering' light. The BAFTAs have a reputation for suggesting the winners at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. All four of last year's acting prize winners went on to take home Oscars.

I have browsed through almost half of Slumdog Millionaire. I think it looks like an interesting watch. But since I have not seen the film in its entirety and nor am I the sorts to cheer for a film at award shows, the objective of this post is not to debate the merits/demerits of the film and its golden run at awards. The purpose of this post, in continuation to the last one, is to bring about greater clarity than I exhibit in the earlier effort.

I do not understand the hue and cry over debating the nuances of 'representing' India. Our TV channels are/were also going on about the same and how the 'West' only fetes poverty in India. They point to the Booker Winner, The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga and the movie Slumdog Millionaire. In The White Tiger, Adiga sets out to show a part of India that we hear about 'infrequently': its underbelly. As noted in the previous post, years ago, Satyajit Ray faced the same allegation from these image conscious Indians.

The current controversy started after Amitabh Bachchan made a point in his blog about Slumdog Millionaire. I think Bachchan ought to be counted as one of the most moronic, insecure and politically dumb public figure of the previous generation. Despite his father, a great poet with a left progressive intellectual position, this illustrious son is a classic example of feudal-filial concerns, selfish, ignorant and paranoid. All his success and the respect that 2-3 generations of Indians have showered on him are wasted on a person like him. Without doubt, the celebration of Bachchan was due to his movies, acting skills and charisma, not his political stance. But in such circumstances, Bachchan ought to limit himself to enacting the card board characters he has always excelled in, but being the opportunist, Bachchan does not let go. I wonder why Bachchan does not speak on the violence against the North Indian migrants in Mumbai, or his chosen silence on Gujarat 2002 or the innumerable issues that plague all our lives including his but it is important to keep in mind that the issues that we chose to speak (and its selection) about are a reflection of our politics, regressive or feudal.

In the earlier post, I hastily concluded that the Indians including Bachchan who have raised the question of the 'poverty' of India, are merely jealous of the success the movie, and the refusal (through the surprising success)to respect the lines of hierarchy that Bollywood thrives in. It appears galling to them in terms of what Danny Boyle (director of Slumdog) has done. Bollywood films are talked about for their fantasy proportions, far removed from reality and the co-option of poverty only through a disinheritance and romanticism.

Two things can be said about the issue, one is that post-1990 economic reforms, India has changed so much that we live in denial about our poverty, about the inhuman level of existence of a large section of our population. The world in the past two decades has largely been flooded with images of sky scrappers in Gurgaon and Bangalore, its a rude shock to awaken to the degrading imagery of Slumdog Millionaire and The White Tiger. We had neatly tucked it away, the farmers suicide was an aberration, the slums were being readied for beautification- its residents- problematic immigrants and so the question about 'representing' India.

I ought to clarify, I do not think Gurgaon/Bangalore/Hyderabad represents India nor do the slums by itself, though, when people speak of representation vis-a-vis Slumdog, that is exactly what they have in mind. It is difficult to imagine how a single imagery, whether of rootless sky scrapers or of filthy township, representing anything, least of all a country as varied and different as India.

Secondly, the movie Slumdog is based on a book by an Indian bureaucrat called Vikas Swarup, the book is called Q& A. It was a successful novel though of course not in the same league as Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy or Amitav Ghosh, but nevertheless successful. The book is about 3 years old if I am right. No one bothered to attack the book, until the movie came into the award lists.


Lightlight said...

excellent post. I may object to the movie on its flaws etc. but one does suspect that the vehement reaction to it is something to do with our perception of image in the neo-liberal world order.

In fairness though, the book bears little resemblance to the movie (except for the central plot and device)- so maybe that's why it didn't get attention.

Have you seen it yet? I haven't- it's getting hard to be the native who hasn't seen it haha!

SK said...

@ DENIAL--True that!