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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Millionaire Slumdogs

The movie Slumdog Millionaire released and as expected by many, walked away with honors at the Golden Globes and is likely to do as well at the Baftas and the Oscars. Suddenly out of nowhere came Amitabh Bachchan and slammed the movie for projecting India as Third World dirty underbelly developing nation and causing pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots. Strong words indeed, coming from a megastar and the doyen of Indian commercial cinema. Amidst uproar from all quarters Amitabh Bachchan denied his statement and claimed that he was misrepresented. He need not have done that.

What Amitabh said was right. It is a fact that the movie presents India in a poor light. Maybe his timing was wrong, but then, he was never a good politician, as history tells us. The slumdog phenomenon started a long time back with the Indian authors making it a success mantra. Dominique Lapierre started the phenomenon with A City of Joy. The book was a hit and so was the film. The smarter and the more famous lot of writers in India i.e. then Arundhiti Roy, Vikram Seth and now Arvinda Adiga recognized the potential of presenting India's misfortunes and have written about the misery, corruption, political muck and all that is shameful in India. Shobha De has also pitched in with her book Super Star India: From Incredible to Unstoppable. The formula is just go to any place in India and describe it. weave a story, to make it to the fiction category, around the description of the place and the people and there you have it, a best seller. A ready made best seller waiting to be sold.

The International community, read the westerners, have loved all these books and also recognized them with a showering of awards, like Booker Prize etc. So it is in the mentality of the western reader and viewer to appreciate all that is wrong about India. Why would they have that attitude? Maybe it is a shameful conscience of seeing or reading about such situations in India which moves them or maybe it is just a feeling of power or some kind of relative happiness that, they do not have to live through this kind of a life.

In the movie Munnabhai MBBS, Circuit (Arshad Warsi) tells a foreign tourist, "come with me, i will show you more, hungry people, poor people." The director and the script writer had unwittingly or by design reflected the marked interest of tourists from developed countries, to see the "underbelly" slums, poverty, hunger and everything else that is wrong in India.

Amitabh Bachchan should have made that statement when City of Joy was released. He should have voiced his concern when Arundhiti Roy won the Booker and then again when Adiga won the Booker. That would have been the right time to voice his concerns. When no one complained other Indian authors were loathe to follow. Vikas Swarup just saw the trend and wrote Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle saw the opportunity, having understood the lure of westerners towards the misfortune of this country called India, and made the film. He was bang on target and the movie is doing well.

All these people starting with Dominique Lapierre made millions out of the abject poverty, hunger, social inequities, and all of India's negatives. They are the Millionaire Slumdogs. The live in the same slums that they describe in their books and make millions. But they would not leave these slums, they love these slums because that is where their millions comes from. Danny Boyle is just another one of these Millionaire slumdogs.

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