Congratulations, Criticism & Controversy
Love it or hate it, you just can't ignore it.
First, let me congratulate the makers of the film "Slumdog Millionaire" on winning multiple Oscars. It was no doubt a highly entertaining film, and all of its (mostly Indian) critics will have to concede that fact. Danny Boyle and his production crew managed to get under the skin of the Indian psyche and capture the raw energy, the breathless dynamism, the cruel environment in which enduring hope flourishes despite all odds, of the country we call our motherland. But great art does not seek to attain a consensus of appreciation, but rather, an array of conflicting views.
Also deserving of applause and appreciation is our very own A R Rahman, the musical genius who has touched the heart of every Indian with his melodies for years now. He is a living legend, and the world has now belatedly recognized his genius. He deserves every bit of his success. But I would also like to add that the award goes to his individual genius and not to India as a whole. If people are happy that Rahman won the award, then great. But if they think that this is somehow an honour bestowed on our country, then they are deluding themselves. If anything, it is almost sad that Rahman's genius could reach the world only through a foreign production.
The movie certainly had flaws and many critics have pointed them out. But I, for one, do not think that there is anything wrong in the movie's portrayal of India. Of course it doesn't entirely accurately convey the conditions in today's India. But then, why on earth would you have such an expectation from a film? Innumerable Bollywood films portray extremely lavish settings and extravagant locales. Does anybody complain that they do not portray the average Indian man? Why should they, and similarly, why shouldn't foreign film makers have the liberty to portray whichever section of the country they wish to? Why such double standards? Many others have claimed that the film is not, by itself, an extraordinary specimen of film making, and certainly not worthy of an Oscar. Such views are held almost exclusively by Indian critics and I explain this under the heading 'Paradox' below.
Indians, unfortunately, get very worked up about India's image in the western world. We want to be loved and celebrated by the West, and every little pat on the back or a smile of appreciation is magnified in importance. Theories abound as to why we behave this way, and most of them suggest that it has something to do with having a colonial mindset that craves validation by the West.
The fact of the matter is that Slumdog Millionaire was a movie that was conceived and created by British filmmakers. It so happened that India was where they chose to set the story in. It is NOT, as many people believe, the 'world's-window-into-India' nor is it how everyone in the West will eternally view us. I find it funny, if not downright ridiculous that people have gotten agitated over its portrayal of India as a wretchedly poor and cruel place. I also wonder why an ancient civilization is so insecure about its own identity.
What explains the fact that western critics are almost unanimous in their acclaim of the film, while the film has not quite been accepted by the Indian masses or critics. I think the reason for this difference of opinion lies in our own identity as Indians. We Indians have long known of the existence of the India portrayed in the movie. We've all seen urchins, and orphans, amputated gangs of beggars, exploited children and abject poverty. But for the western audiences, this was an entirely new world, uniquely tragic yet magnificently hopeful. Indian viewers, who do not feel this novelty, are obviously less impressed. I think that explains the paradox of the movie receiving rave reviews everywhere except the country in which it is based.
What I would like to see is a global awareness of the issues confronting the slum-dwellers and an effort (national or international) to solve their problems. With more awareness might come real answers. I end this with a moving slideshow of Dharavi Slums.