With regards to recent letters in SN on the movie Slumdog Millionaire, people talked a lot about the movie during my extensive travel in India earlier this month (in the cities as well as in the remote villages). The writers are right in noting that the movie is not shown extensively in the cinemas in India and there is much anger over it.
Some Indians criticized the movie while others expressed pride in its achievements at various international movie award ceremonies (Golden Globe, British Academy, French, now Oscar, and others). Controversies over the movie and its title are understandable, given that the truth is bitter to swallow. But the eventful journey of Slumdog has won the hearts of a billion people if not more.
In NY, there is a similar response, as in India, among the large Indo-Guyanese population to the movie. As in India, some Guyanese expressed outrage that the producers focused only on the negatives of Indian (slum) life in the cities. But in general, the movie has won the hearts of almost every Guyanese I spoke with in NY. In general, Guyanese expressed mostly positive remarks about the movie especially after winning so many awards at various international ceremonies. Pride emanates from the faces of Guyanese and a special function is being organized by Berbician Ashok Ramsaran to honour the producer in Queens in April and to raise funds to help the slum children of Mumbai.
The historic achievement of winning eight Oscars gave a special feeling among Guyanese. It was the focus of their discussion (the only thing they talked about) the day after the Oscars including at the mandirs where the auspicious festival of Shivratri was observed. There is no doubt that the movie’s achievement will be cherished as a landmark in the history of Indian cinema and among the many Guyanese who love Bollywood movies, even though the movie is not a Bollywood make. It is in large measure a Hollywood movie, directed by a Briton and released by the Americans and British and shown in mainstream cinemas around the globe.
Guyanese love popular Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor, one of the man figures (financier) behind the movie, Gulzar, a fantastic lyricist, perhaps the best in the business, and AR Rahman, the musical genius who regularly tours NY and Trinidad where I saw him for the Bollywood awards. I also met Rahman in Mumbai Marriott Juhu three years ago at a function hosted by Finland’s Tourism Department to promote Bollywood filming in Finland. Rahman is phenomenal. He won two Oscars for his excellent music. He richly deserves the honours.
Whether one likes the movie or not, it is historic for an ‘Indian’ movie to win eight Oscars. No Indian movie (of almost 1500 released annually for decades) has ever won an Oscar although individual Indians received the prestigious award over the years. The internationally acclaimed Satyajit Ray received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar a few years ago; he was a master film-maker beyond comparison.
Slumdog’s Oscar success will surely have an impact on the course of Indian cinema not only in India but in the West as well, setting high standards and forcing movie makers to focus on more real life experiences rather than the make-believe fantasy of Bollywood’s songs and dances. Slumdog is a reality, not a fantasy or a fallacy. The movie brings into focus the abject conditions in which slum children in India survive. I know. I travel to India regularly and have experienced life in the slums which I would visit to donate gifts to the poor. In fact, I just gave out educational utensils to some children in the slums of Delhi and Mumbai. Slumdog is a largely accurate reflection of the arduous day-to-day struggle of slum dwellers in every major city. The movie has projected a dirty face of India, and Indians need not feel ashamed about the movie. Instead it should be used as motivation to help transform the slums of Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi, and other major cities to make these cities shining. On this note, the team behind the movie deserves the highest praise for bringing into focus the dark side of India as well as for its many achievements in cinematic production.