Sunday, January 18, 2009
"Slumdog Millionaire" could only have been made by a westerner
Danny Boyle's Bafta-nominated crowd-pleaser shows how blind Bollywood producers are to the reality of India:
After its rapturous reception in Britain and America, knives are being sharpened for Slumdog Millionaire. "Vile," is how Alice Miles described the movie in The Times. "Slumdog Millionaire is poverty porn" that invites the viewer to enjoy the miseries it depicts, she adds.
Even that old iconic Bollywood blusterer, Amitabh Bachchan, has thrown his empty-headed two rupees' worth into the mix. "If Slumdog Millionaire projects India as a third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations," he bellowed. "It's just that the Slumdog Millionaire idea, authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a westerner, gets creative global recognition," he added.
Bachchan is no doubt riled, as many other Bollwood no-talents will be, about the fact that the best film to be made about India in recent times has been made by a white man, Danny Boyle. Just as Spike Lee got hissy with Quentin Tarantino after he proved he could make hipper films about black people than Lee could (Lee ostentatiously criticised Tarantino's use of the word "nigger" while littering his own films with the same language), so many Indians will be upset about a westerner having a better understanding of their country than they do. Bachchan gave one of the worst English-language performances in cinematic history with his embarrassingly stupid portrayal of an ageing thespian in The Last Lear. Having failed miserably at cultivating a western audience, it must hurt him to be so monumentally upstaged by white folk on his home turf.
The bitter truth is, Slumdog Millionaire could only have been made by westerners. The talent exists in India for such movies: much of it, like the brilliant actor Irrfan Khan, contributed to this film. But Bollywood producers, fixated with making flimsy films about the lives of the middle class, will never throw their weight behind such projects. Like Bachchan, they are too blind to what India really is to deal with it. Poor Indians, like those in Slumdog, do not constitute India's "murky underbelly" as Bachchan moronically describes them. They, in fact, are the nation. Over 80% of Indians live on less than $2.50 (£1.70) a day; 40% on less than $1.25. A third of the world's poorest people are Indian, as are 40% of all malnourished children. In Mumbai alone, 2.6 million children live on the street or in slums, and 400,000 work in prostitution. But these people are absent from mainstream Bollywood cinema.
Bachchan's blinkered comments prove how hopelessly blind he and most of Bollywood are to the reality of India and how wholly incapable they are of making films that can address it. Instead, they produce worthless trash like Jaane Tu, Rock On!! and Love Story 2050, full of affluent young Indians desperately, and mostly idiotically, trying to look cool and modern.
Slumdog Millionaire is based on the novel, Q&A, by Vikas Swarup. I know Vikas – an Indian diplomat, he loves his country as much as anyone and did it the service of telling its truth with great warmth and humanity. And Danny Boyle's film continues in precisely the same vein. His innovative brilliance, fresh perspective and foreign money was vital. As an outsider, he saw the truth that middle-class Indians are too often inured to: that countless people exist in conditions close to hell yet maintain a breath-taking exuberance, dignity and decency. These people embody the tremendous spirit and strength of India and its civilisation. They deserve the attention of its film-makers. I have no doubt that Slumdog Millionaire will encourage many more honest films to be produced in India. But they should be ashamed that it took a white man to show India how to do it.
This article has been reproduced from The Guardian, UK. It can be found at the link: