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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 11, February 28, 2009

The Slumdog Phenomenon


Monday 2 March 2009, by SC


The resounding success of Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars—where it won eight awards (including that of the Best Picture)—has been greeted with spontaneous celebrations across the country.

The nation deserves to be legitimately proud of the fact that for the first time an Indian, our finest musician A.R. Rahman, aptly described once as the “Mozart of Madras”, won two Oscars—for the Best Original Song (‘Jai Ho‘), which he secured with another Indian, the distinguished lyricist Gulzar, and the Best Original Score—while a third Indian, sound technician Resul Pookutty from Kerala, shared the Best Sound Mixing Award with two others (Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke). Naturally our leaders have joined countless citizens in warmly congratulating these Indian awardees for their much-valued recognition (though many feel that in Rahman’s case it was long overdue). At the same time it needs to be underscored that in spite of Slumdog‘s cast being almost entirely Indian, unlike in the case of Richard Attenborough‘s Gandhi (which too got eight Oscars), it is an out-and-out British film having a British director (Danny Boyle), a British screenwriter (Simon Beaufoy who has been honoured for the Best Adapted Screenplay) and a British production company (Film 4). As The Independent points out,

From the alleys of Mumbai to the Hollywood hills, it has been a magical journey for the cast and crew of Slumdog Millionaire. But it was a journey made via Britain. Slumdog‘s eight Oscars at the 81st Academy Awards represent quite a triumph for the UK film industry....

But essentially what does the Slumdog convey? According to some, it “signals the arrival of India on the world entertainment stage”. Some others claim that it recognises the “true worth of a soft power”—Brand India. Yet others feel Slumdog was a frontrunner from day one “because it was marketed the right way”. And the Congress spokesman has opined that “in the conducive environment of good governance by the UPA with special emphasis on inclusiveness, we have been an achieving India”, as brilliantly portrayed in Slumdog.

Regardless of all such hollow protestations, what cannot be denied is that Slumdog has given a new hope to the West in general and the US in particular severely hit by the ongoing recession; hence the accolades. As the Reuters report on the awards function at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood perceptively observed,

A ragtag group Indian orphans triumphed at the Academy Awards on Monday morning (January 23) as Slumdog Millionaire took top honours with an against-all-odds love that resonated with recession-weary moviegoers worldwide.

There is quite a measure of similarity here with the way in which Raj Kapoor’s Awara was enthusiastically received in the post-war Soviet Union in the early fifties (as elucidated years ago by the Bombay movie legend himself in his interaction with the just-deceased celebrated film critic Amita Malik—see pages 6-7 of this issue).

However, be that as it may, the real worth of Slumdog Millionaire—and also to a large extent of Megon Mylan‘s Smile Pinki (which film in both Bhojpuri and Hindi, that won the Best Documentary Award at the Oscars, is based on a true story of an Indian girl with a cleft lip who is socially ostracised before a social worker helps her undergo free surgery)—lies in bringing poverty as well as the deprived, the weak and the marginalised constituting the bulk of our populace to the centre-stage of world consciousness. Should this not spur all of us, Indian citizens, to strive our utmost and help uplift the poor, the deprived, the weak and the marginalised from the depths of degradation to a new life of fulfilment (far beyond the pious hopes infused by the excellent film)? Should that happen, it would definitely justify the film‘s runaway success.

February 26 S.C.

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