Lessons from the Slumdog!
Slumdog Millionaire  

OK, now we have no excuse. Indian cinema can be understood and appreciated by an international jury – the proof is Slumdog Millionaire. We have often wondered about what stands between Indian cinema being accepted at a global stage. There have been explanations that maybe cultural differences stop our kind of cinema from being understood by an international audience and jury. This has been accepted as a fair explanation or excuse (whatever you think it is) because there is undeniably a big difference between the film making ethos of India and the west (the hub of world cinema). But this explanation aka excuse cannot be used as a convenient shield next time the question is raised.

Slumdog Millionaire is Indian in every way, that is if you are willing to overlook the fact that the director, screen writer and the production house are from Britain. The story is adapted from a book by an Indian author, the co-director is an Indian, the cast is almost entirely Indian (many names from Bollywood), the crew is Indian and the music is by an

Indian and the movie is set in perhaps the most representative cross section of everything that constitutes India (Mumbai).

The ‘Indian’ness of the movie does not end just with the cast and crew, it goes much deeper. It has been made in true Indian film style, there is romance, song and dance, drama, melodrama, Anil Kapoor breaking into a jig, a very ‘Bollywoodish’ final few frames and a more than generous sprinkling of Hindi. In fact, the movie is more Indian than many Bollywood and Kollywood movies which have stories set partially or wholly in London, New York or other such cities. That is why Anil Kapoor was quick and sharp in his response when an interviewer doubtfully asked him whether the movie can be called Indian.

Slumdog Millionaire has been made by a British director, but there is no mistaking the Indian touch to it. In fact, even Danny Boyle has admitted that it is the vibrancy and limitless possibilities of Mumbai that excited him so much. He also said that he has been able to capture just a tiny portion of that and would like to come back some day to make another film with the city as its epicenter. We should consider Slumdog Millionaire to be the first Indian film to have received international acclaim and also take this as the vindication of the Indian style of film making. We don’t have to change our tastes and styles to be accepted internationally. It can be done the Indian way. In short, we don’t have to look up to Hollywood, just search within to find that masterpiece.

So much about Slumdog’s ‘Indian’ness. A few very interesting bits and pieces that have been heard over the days which makes us believe that there is such a thing as destiny. The day after the Golden Globe, Rahman was seen on TV, giving an interview and he said that the first time he was approached for Slumdog Millionaire he was so busy that he was ‘just a heartbeat away from saying no’ to Danny Boyle. But something ‘within him told him to accept it’. Another very interesting fact heard over the last few days is that the ‘Jaya ho’ song, a decisive factor in nailing the Golden Globe, was originally composed for Subhash Ghai’s Yuvraaj. But Ghai could not accommodate that in the movie and it ultimately was offered to Danny Boyle. One can’t imagine how far the wonderful song would have been heard if it had been included in the disaster that Yuvraaj was.

Definitely, destiny played its part in Indian cinema’s biggest moment at the world stage. One can imagine that there will still be many who would contradict Slumdog Millionaire being called an Indian film, but that is a debate which cannot ended with just a few facts and figures. So, let the question remain uncomfortably unanswered. Finally, there has also been quite some hue and cry about how Slumdog Millionaire painted a very poor picture about India to the world, showing the slums, garbage and poverty. Well, it is difficult to understand why only this movie should be subject to such questions when there are many Indian film makers who revel in showing the not too bright sides of India like the underworld (Ramgopal Verma being the specialist), corruption, communal violence and poverty. Why should anyone feel offended just because this time, the truth was shown by a British director? Another uncomfortable question and maybe a few uncomfortable admissions might put it to rest.

But for the moment let us applaud all that went in to Slumdog Millionaire. It has proved that cinema that is steeped in ‘Indian’ness can indeed have a global impact.

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