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To win or not to win

February 24, 2009

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.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2009 6:23 am

    Bravo and take a bow now, before the jerks come along and chuck a few mean words at you.
    I hate saying this, and I can’t tell you how much I hate using this phrase, but this whole ‘colonial hangover’ thing is so true – even for the things we put on a pedstal and those that we vociferously pull down. Validation must now be spelt as Walidation, as in W for White.
    Brilliant criticism and observation. Absolutely.

    I know! No jerks yet but I’m not giving up hope.
    Walidation – hah! Totally. You are so right – isn’t what this guy is saying also a result of the colonial hangover? Don’t rejoice because I don’t want to give the white man who made the movie to know that we Indians are happy. What a sad way to live, with such self-conscious restraint. Remember Robert Benigni when he won for “Life is Beautiful?” He jumped over seats to the stage with unadulterated joy. And the whole world not just Italians and Americans rejoiced with him. For anyone unAmerican to achieve recognition on a world stage with the hugest exposure possible is a feat. And I need to look away from my fellow Indians because the movie is not really Indian? So petty.

  2. February 25, 2009 4:58 pm

    I’m still trying to put my finger on why so many people are getting so bent out of shape about this movie. It was a well-made movie, it had a great message, it taught us something. Most of it is true, some of it is fantasy. The thing about whether this is an Indian movie or a Hollywood movie, whether Indians should be proud of it or not – why should anyone care?

    THANK YOU Sujatha! Well what I’m going to say, I’m going to get lynched for, but as a country we operative as a collective. Caught up in various identities that define us more strongly (and we let them) than I see in the West. The individual tends to get a beating. So A.R. Rahman cannot enjoy his ENTIRELY individual achievement in peace without answering to the collective. And that’s a total drag.

  3. February 25, 2009 7:31 pm

    great post…

    i just found this on Ibnlive…now the UPA is crediting itself for creating a ‘conducive environment’ that led to ‘Slumdog’ sweeping the Oscars.

    “We are proud of the conducive environment created by the UPA Government with its special emphasis on inclusive democracy. India has now become ‘achieving India’,” Abhishek Manu Singhvi had said earlier.

    you are absolutely right, ‘individual success’ goes to the way side.

  4. February 26, 2009 5:48 am

    Excellent reasoning on the individual vs. collective mentality. Also it’s funny how the collective comes to fore to take credit, while the blame is always individual.
    @ Sukanya – OMG. This takes the cake. Not better than the NDA. buggers.

  5. March 3, 2009 8:23 pm

    Watching Anil Kapoor bloviating and acting all ‘look ma I haz won big awards!’ was the highlight of this whole Slumdog run for me. And as a girl from Madras, watching A.R.R amass award after award was nothing short of sublime.

    I’m glad you’re blogging again. *hug*

    Punk!!! How are ya? And how dya find me?? I want to say the same girl. Why you not blogging – podi!!

  6. girlonthebridge permalink*
    March 5, 2009 10:05 pm

    NM and Sukanya – jeez I didn’t see that about the UPA. That’s a laugh!

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