To win or not to win
My dad sent me this article called Slumdog Shouldn’t have Won probably expecting me to rant and rave and defend Slumdog’s win endlessly. I didn’t. Not because I no longer love the movie. I enjoyed it thoroughly. And if I defended it earlier it was against the crazies who went on and on about a white man making the movie as though he invented slums and they never existed in Bombay prior to his arrival. Besides that whenever someone asked me about the movie I described it as a roller-coaster ride – a fun, gritty movie which uncovered a fantastical plot at a dramatic pace and kept me at the edge of my seat till the end. Does that description sound like this is the best cinema ever? Or that no other movie last year was better?
I responded instead that “I agree. It should not have won”. Milk and Reader were me favourites and I was seriously disappointed Milk didn’t win more awards. At the same time I share none of the bitterness and resentment that the author of this article feels towards Indians who are rejoicing at Slumdog’s win. I don’t have a definitive opinion on why Slumdog won – it could be the appeal of the minority, it could be the novelty of the sounds and visuals, it could be exoticism and hell let me say it – it could just be that the jury really liked it best. That the author holds the Oscars to some special standards is so ironic considering how we treat our own movies in India. Year after year, the Filmfare awards are given to SRK and KJo for some candy-floss, vacuous trash while the Benegals and the Nihalanis are ignored. The National Film Awards has begun to sound like a consolation prize. I don’t expect any better from the Oscars and they never claimed to be any better either. Mainstream audiences whether in India or the West are carried away by the same cliches, the same gloss, the same flavor-of-the-year movies. Some of those shine through despite all the carefully constructed mainstream appeal (Milk), while some others don’t.
Secondly, why all this surprise at us preening at the attention from the Western world? No matter how many times you say SUPERPOWER we have always craved validation from the white man. Amitab Bachchan on his blog (I swear I have a day job besides reading it) never fails to mention all the adulation he gets from some middle-aged white woman in some hicktown in America. When was the last time he gushed about some poor Aunty who sought his autograph in Kanpur or even Dubai or Kenya? But change that setting to the US/UK/ Italy/ “Insert predominantly-white nation here”, the average fan becomes his ultimate validation.
I have no conflict with what the author of this article has written – it’s the premise itself. The idea that the reaction to Slumdog should be resentment and opposition to the West is pointless. Maybe use this chance to look inwards at our own movies and see how we can dig deeper. If we are dissatisfied with Western stereotypes, what are we doing to do to change that? And how do our viewing choices help filmmakers in India that are trying to move the dial?
I don’t grudge anyone their joy over Slumdog. Shooting our fellow Indians down is discrediting their achievement on an individual level. We are so busy either brimming with nationalist pride or ranting about why we shouldn’t be brimming with nationalistic pride that we forget that this is not the work of 1.2 billion people in India. It’s the work of about 50. These individuals have forsaken themselves for the collective and how is that fair to them? So congrats Rahman, congrats to the wonderful kids, congrats to Pookutty and yes, Anil Kapoor, you can preen too for about 2 weeks more. I won’t mind.