Sunday, January 25, 2009
6370: Indians Dog Out Slumdog Millionaire.
From The Chicago Tribune…
Some Indians find ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ a tired depiction of their lives.
The story of an impoverished street child in Mumbai, which has won 10 Oscar nods, is a stereotypical Western portrayal, Indians say, that ignores the wealth and progress their country has seen.
By Mark Magnier
MUMBAI — Even as American audiences gush over “ Slumdog Millionaire,” some Indians are groaning over what they see as yet another stereotypical foreign depiction of their nation, accentuating squalor, corruption and resilient-if-impoverished natives.
“Slumdog,” which earned 10 Oscar nominations last week, including one for best picture, is set in Mumbai, is based on an Indian novel and features many Indian actors. Yet some critics attribute the film’s international success in large part to its timing and themes that touch a chord with Western audiences.
“It’s a white man’s imagined India,” said Shyamal Sengupta, a film professor at the Whistling Woods International Institute in Mumbai.
The story of an orphaned street urchin overcoming hardship to win a fortune on a game show and walk away with his childhood sweetheart—capped by a Bollywood ending of dance, song, love and fame—provides a salve for a world beset by collapsing banks, jobs and nest eggs, some people here say.
The film was released in the U.S. days before Mumbai came under attack by militants. That may have strengthened its connection with foreign viewers, analysts said.
Mumbai was an ideal backdrop for the international production, wrote Vikram Doctor, a columnist in India’s Economic Times, because it is a “cutting edge, if rather crummy, place” that has slums along with posh restaurants favored by the global glitterati. “Who after all is interested in unremitting squalor, sameness and sadness?” he wrote.
The film’s mix of Indian and foreign talent, and English and Hindi dialogue, has sparked debate here over whether it’s an Indian film. It was based on a novel by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, directed by Briton Danny Boyle, best-known for “Trainspotting,” adapted by British screenwriter Simon Beaufoy of “The Full Monty” fame and acted by Indians and foreigners of Indian descent.
“These ideas, that there are still moments of joy in the slum, appeal to Western critics,” said culture critic Aseem Chhabra.
Others, such as Shekhar Kapur, who directed “Elizabeth,” say it’s Indian. “What’s most relevant is that ‘Slumdog’ is the most successful Indian film ever,” he said. “It was directed by a British director and funded by a European company, but so what? ... Foreign crews are very common in Indian films now.”
“Slumdog” saw its Indian premiere Thursday, in Mumbai.
At the star-studded premiere, Boyle responded to criticism here that the film focused too much on prostitution, crime and organized begging rackets, saying that he sought to depict the “breathtaking resilience” of Mumbai and the “joy of people despite their circumstances, that lust for life.”
For some, the underdog theme is passe. Rags-to-riches tales dominated Bollywood through the early 1980s as India worked to lift itself from hunger and poverty.
With India’s rising standard of living and greater exposure to foreign culture, Bollywood increasingly has turned its attention to middle-class concerns.
“Within the film world, there’s a desire to move beyond the working class and lower sectors of society,” said Tejaswini Ganti, an anthropologist at New York University.
The ambivalence some Indians feel toward the movie doesn’t preclude it from becoming a success in India, experts said. “There is still a fascination with seeing how we are perceived by white Westerners,” said Sengupta, the Mumbai film professor.
Many workers in Bollywood also have transferred onto “Slumdog” their hopes for an “Indian” Oscar after homegrown favorite “Taare Zameen Par” failed to garner a nomination. “Taare,” about a dyslexic child who finds an outlet through art, was the latest in a string of Oscar letdowns dating to 2002.
Critics here point to other foreign depictions over the years they consider inaccurate, distorted or obsessed with poverty and squalor, including “Phantom India,” “Salaam Bombay!” and “City of Joy,” in which a doctor played by Patrick Swayze arrives to save the titular city.
Some people add that the criticism of “Slumdog” might be its focus on issues some people in India would rather minimize.
The country has seen enormous benefits from globalization. But “Slumdog” raises questions about the price paid by the people left behind and the cost in eroding morality. For India, this hits a nerve, after a top Indian IT outsourcing enterprise, Satyam, reported this month that it had faked profits.
“A lot of people felt it was bashing India, but I disagree,” said Rochona Majumdar, an Indian film expert at the University of Chicago. “We’re too quick to celebrate ‘Incredible India,’ she said, referring to an Indian tourism slogan. “But there is an underbelly. To say we don’t have problems is absurd.”