After watching Slumdog Millionaire two weeks back, I couldn’t decide if it was Oscar material. If this is Oscar material, hundreads of Bollywood masala films made in past five decades deserve multiple Oscar nominations too.
It is a fast-paced, entertaining affair that constantly makes you want to ask how does it end? Everyone knows that the movie is about Jamal, a product of Mumbai slums who becomes a participant in Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and by a twist of fate, knows all the answers because his life has been a twisted struggle of caste, class and slimy underworld. I strongly have a feeling Vikas Swaroop’s Q&A might have been a simpler affair than Danny Bolye’s Hindi filmish extravaganza.
With the stamp of a foreign filmmaker and so much adulation
and critical acclaim and those coveted Oscar nominations make it difficult to hate the movie completely but if this wins a best film or best direction Oscar, we should stop bothering about India making an Oscar-worthy movie. We’re doing a good enough job. (Though A R Rhaman must win at least one trophy, he deserves every bit of it.)
Though the sequence where Jamal gets Amitabh’s autograph was unnecessarily disgusting. I’ve nothing against the said ‘poverty porn’. Setting a story in povetry stricken India is not a crime.
From Ramgopal Verma to Prakash Jha, everyone has exploited this aspect. Mumbai slums just happen to be the backdrop of the film. But the trouble lies with the fact that people who have made it seem to be in a hurry to finish the film off. Important incidents zoom by (perhaps in the name of slick editing), sometimes without making an impact and certain unnecessary scenes do end up as a drag.
India is very sensitive when it comes to projecting an image. If we think we’ve arrived on the global scene, we should let our hair down about who is thinking what about us if they see our slums and all things negative about us. In fact, Hollywood and many other countries are mature about presenting their turbulances and problems in a creative medium (How good it is, would be a different matter). Many of their movies (including some Oscar winning ones) show their ghettos, poverty, misconceptions, abusive relationships and what not. Why can’t we be cool about our problems. But we seem to like to watch debates over showcasing India’s poverty with popcorn instead of dealing with some real issues.
And talking of real issues brings me to another prize winner. The White Tiger that I just finished reading yesterday.
Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker winning story is full of dark humour, biting reality of Northern India and satirical view of the Indian enterprenuers and the wannabes. Like Slumdog, White Tiger could be accused of the ‘poverty porn’. But Adiga has wrapped his story around a very strong protagonist. The anti-hero Balram becomes symbol of poor, talented, misunderstood, ill-treated, depressed yet determined youth of India at different stages of the novel.
The story is told in form of the letters that the protagonist writes to the Chinese premier. Balram starts his life in a small village somewhere near Dhanbad. Once dreaming of getting proper education, he ends up becoming a driver to a rich coal-mine owner’s son in Delhi. How he manages to kill his master and invent a life of an enterprenuer in Bangalore makes an important part of the story as along side it, Adiga projects the constrasting life of rich and poor across India.
He does something which Chetan Bhagat has not done so far – project the troubled Indian youth in simple language minus the glamour. It is not a perfect story but it works. Just like life. Just like India.