Sunday, February 22, 2009

Of Slumdogs and Scotsmen

It's Oscar Night!

As Oscar night pends, the Slumdog discussion continues in India as elsewhere. This week on Desi Pundit, Lekhni asks "Why do Indians hate Slumdog Millionaire?" and gives some thoughtful answers.

I find this an endlessly fascinating discussion. A lot of the arguments are familiar; brings back memories of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing in the golden days of hip-hop (for you young peeps, that was the 1980s). At that time, I lived in New York City where the move was set.

"Why didn't he show this, and not that?"
"Why does he depict Jews that way?"
"Why did he have to end it in violence - shouldn't he have been more 'positive'?"
"how come most of his characters have no jobs, isn't that a stereotype?"
"Such portrayals will only further mainstream America's bad image of Black urban America,"
and so on.

Being Black American did not spare Lee from harsh critiques from his own people.

Such criticism ignored the achievement: Lee had made the most powerful film about American race relations in decades, and dared to ask (and pose answers for) many taboo questions. So it wasn't perfect; what is?

As I've spent way too much writing time the past 2 weeks answering Comments, I will reproduce some of mine here:

In answer to the critique

"Why didn't Slumdog Millionaire also show middle-class, prosperous India? The west just wants to perpetuate the image of Indian poverty." --

The movie did depict modern, middle-class, glass-front India- I remember finding the scenes in the flat-screen TV bungalow with security guard such a contrast with the slum scenes. The film does show that India has changed, and is changing. A character also says, “see the slums where we grew up? now it’s all high-rise housing.”
The call centre scenes were also filled with educated, well-dressed middle class youth. Middle-class “new India” was not the sole focus, but it was represented.
Director Danny Boyle is experiencing “the burden of representation” — what every artist, in film or other media, encounters when portraying or addressing an historically underrepresented people, nation or topic. The (usually well-meaning) artist is unfairly expected to redress every mis-representation of the topic that has occurred throughout the centuries, all in one two-hour film, 30 minute sitcom or 500 page book.
So let’s all look forward to AR Rahman’s Oscar win and more!

Mere desh mahan.

 Related reading:


Vikas Gupta said...

Hello Sirensongs!

Again valid observations on SM and Indians! You may recall I had comented on your original SM post and even hyperlinked to it.

I wrote this today:

The Bananafish said...

I think I must be the only non-Indian to dislike SDM. Regardless of the old/new, poor/upwardly mobile India, I thought it showed Indian society as being cruel. Cruelty seemed to pervade the themes of the movie, but I have never thought of India as being cruel. I wonder if anyone else felt that way. Perhaps I'm way off on this.

Anonymous said...

This just had to happen... People arguing back and forth about what SDM's all about, whether it deserves Oscars et al.

Honestly, I have no idea what the fuss is all about! It's just a movie, and in my opinion, a poor one at that. Not because I'm Indian, not because of the Slum depiction or stereotyping (actually, that's the only part of the movie that was commendable. It is really like that in Mumbai) but because of the thought that an average movie is being applauded and appraised way beyond what it's actually worth.

As an avid movie goer, I look for entertainment value, nothing else. The small things matter to me. Flawlesss storyline, acting, direction, cinematography, dialogues, sound track, etc. actually matter more to me than mindless bickering about what the movie depicts, or who directed it or whether it's hurtful to black/white/brown people or some kwap like that...

Personally, I feel only A.R. Rahman and his crew deserve any awards for the movie... The sound track was indeed wonderful, and the timing/sense/blend perfect. The youngest child actors deserve a standing ovation. Everything else was way too usual Bollywood-ish and failed across the lines, again, in my opinion. I'd give the movie a 7/10 max.

As for GG, Oscars, et al, it's their opinion. I don't care much for who wins. It doesn't actually indicate anything. They have tough choices to make, and are usually under a lotta pressure from various factions. I've seen much better, more deserving movies, both in Hollywood and Bollywood. Just watch the movie, if you enjoy it, well and good, if you don't, watch another :)

As for @The Bananafish, India is everything. There is cruelty, there is love, there is fighting, there is bonding. There are differences and similarities in magnitudes no one can understand. The director was right in that department of depicting wanton cruelty in the beginning. If he'd stuck more to realism as the movie progressed, the movie would truly have deserved the Oscars it received. Also I was of the opinion that I was the only Indian to dislike SDM, as per the turnout on Twitter...

Thank you, @Sirensongs for your insights... India is indeed rising. I'm not patriotic, I just observe :) Peace out.

The Bananafish said...

Sorry to highjack your thread, SS, but I'd like to reply to Delta RX. DRX,I wasn't arguing against SDM winning awards; in fact, I was quite happy for all involved. Yes, India is everything, just as any large country has many different aspects to its culture. I don't think the country is cruel, although I found the pervasive cruelty in the film quite disturbing. Regarding SS's comparison to Do the Right Thing, I thought Spike Lee was far more ambitious in that film than Danny Boyle was in his. I thought Do the Right Thing was a thoughtful, well balanced treatment of race relations in America. I saw no such attempt at balance in SDM, nor some broader treatment of Indian society that would bring it to the level of art that Spike Lee achieved. The people involved in SDM seemed to be a family, and for that and for my great fondness of India, I was very happy to see the awards and to see Rahman win.

Sirensongs said...

@Bananfish: Someone wrote a book (about SE Asia) called "The Lands of Charm and Cruelty." I think it's completely appropriate. Not only I but my other long-term foreign friends here are struck by the brutal, unforgiving nature of everything in India.

It's not the only place, of course- the American South has been much the same. Flannery O'Connor captured a great deal of this cruelty in her fiction, similar to what Roy depicted decades later in "the God of Small Things."

Sirensongs said...

@Delta Rx: Sure there are better movies! ---Just probably not this year. Timing is everything. :-)
If you enjoyed the insane editing style, Boyle' "Trainspotting" is a much better movie!

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The Bananafish said...

SS, Flannery O'Connor is probably my favorite author. Was obsessed with her for a few years, reading everything she had in print. I wanted to name my daughter Mary Flannery, but my wife vetoed it. I didn't find this level of cruelty in her stories, but that might be subjective. I have a very low threshold of tolerance for some things, and could not get through the first couple of chapters of God of Small Things. Some things are quite different in Asia, as you say.

Lakeside Techies said...

Hey Slumdog Millionaire won 7 Oscars. This is just great, isn't it ;)