Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

It was nice to see "Slumdog Millionaire" garner the main prize at the Golden Globes over the weekend. But the brickbats which came its way the next day from the Big B was say the least - I dare say it sounded like a case of sour grapes.

Although I have not seen the movie yet (and I look forward to the weekend to tick that off on my to-do list) or read the book (which will arrive soon, I hope), some folks did warn me about the picture it painted of India, and its darker side. I think the average Indian (not very different from me) is caught between two critical issues; the primary feel-good factor of an India-centric movie earning plaudits at a major awards show, while on the other hand (s)he wonders if the gora director is actually taking a condescending dig at India and its poverty. At the same time, if Danny Boyle had shifted locales and the hero actually came from some impoverished corner of England/USA, I doubt anyone would have turned a hair. The fact remains that the film is based on an Indian book, written by an Indian author, so it was but natural for the director to choose an Indian background.

At the same time, the Big B's views got me thinking about our 'colonial hangover'. The venerable Dr. Ramachandra Guha had just written about what he called our 'craving for Western approval' the other day in the Sunday Magazine of the Hindu. The telling line in there is the killer-punch in which he muses on a theory he has "long held about our self-proclaimed patriots — that the more Indian and the more Hindu they claim to be, the more they seek and need certificates from White men."

I cannot really think of a bright, vibrant movie made by a Westerner, using an Indian locale (note: I am not counting Mire Nair's "Monsoon Wedding"). Two 'mainstream' movies which come to mind immediately are "Heat and Dust" and David Lean's masterpiece "A Passage to India".
All said and done, the latter plays on a lot of standard Indian stereotypes portrayed in the Western media (and believe it or not, Wikipedia actually has a whole section devoted to these stereotypes!). And the movie had its share of Oscar nominations, in addition to winning the Golden Globe back then for "Best Foreign Film"! I eagerly await the Oscar nominations and the final ceremony (more out of wishing to see if Heath Ledger is nominated and wins for his master-role as the Joker - every time I watch the movie, I appreciate his work even more).

On a slightly tangential note, I happened to watch Santosh Sivan's "Before The Rains" over the weekend on DVD. The camera-work was phenomenal (or were the locales just mind-blowing, I wonder?), the plot rather gripping and the acting was top-notch. I have to admit that Rahul Bose and Nandita Das have horrible accents, both in their Malayalam enunciation as well as their contrived effort to sound earthy and shed their convent-educated accents. But at the same time, I am not sure if a Mohanlal/Mammooty (or any mainstream Malayali actor) would have done justice to Rahul Bose's role - the vulnerability of the man just shines through in his eyes.

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