Thursday, January 15, 2009
Reel versus Real
A great deal of hullabaloo is being created about the movie Slumdog Millionaire of late. The film has been showered with accolades and honours across the globe.
Frankly, I wasn't the least bit interested in watching a movie in which the principle storyline was some poor kid becoming a millionaire on a quiz show. I suppose I am a little cynical when it comes to overnight rags to riches stories.
But nevertheless in the end I did end up watching the movie, purely out of curiosity, in order to see what the fuss was all about.
And what shall I say? I was smitten by the movie. Now I cannot stop raving about it. Soon, I began to download the songs, reading reviews, interviews of the stars connected with the film and etcetera.
A few days later news has it that the movie has won four golden globe awards including best music by our very own A.R. Rahman.
Yesterday while skimming through the usually dreary headlines, I came across a news article which said the Big B of bollywood....aka Amitabh Bacchan has slammed the movie accusing it to portray India in poor light.
I suppose that invoked the ire of the fellow netizens who in turn accused Mr. Bacchan of being jealous, unfair and insensitive.
Ironically there was an iota of truth in what he said, nevetheless I suppose he said it the wrong time. The last thing you must do, is critisize something when that particular something is currently the beloved of the people.
But I guess celebrities wont be celebrities if they didn't court controversy. So there you have it. The basic mistake of saying the right thing at the wrong time.
And why is the timing wrong? Well, on one hand you have the usual masala bollywood flicks going down the drain as it fails to woo the public, and on the other hand you have brutally realistic cinema depicts the rise of a slumdog amidst the vile underbelly of Mumbai.... captivating the hearts of millions.
Thus Mr. Bacchan's comment couldn't have come at a more inopportune moment. Obviously the junta gets the impression that the "Shahenshah" of Indian cinema is a trifle jealous.
Nevertheless while I myself am awed by the film I cannot entirely disagree with the Big B in this regard.
Its relieving that western filmmakers no longer depict India as the land of snake charmers and scantily clad bimbettes dancing to the tune of an elephant. But at the same time, no western filmmaker has depicted India in a positive light either. I still remember watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where Indians were depicted as barbarians eating frozen monkey brains for desert. I was positively aghast at the very idea.
While technically slumdog didn't weave ridiculous depictions of India, nevertheless it did depict things that some people would prefer to ignore.
Like the anti muslim riots, luring orphans to be beggars etc. Obviously they were the central themes on which the plot was based, but nevertheless I would prefer, if it was something meant to be seen by the Indian audience only. Perhaps to awaken their conscience and wean them off the their usual diet of mindless entertainment that bollywood offers. Not something the western audience ought to have seen.
Now we all have skeletons in our closets, and the last thing we would want, is the remainder of society to be aware of them. The riots, the poverty, corruption are all things that India is obviously not proud of. Nevertheless the last thing it would want is court infamy by depicting its problems to a third party stranger. Namely the west.
The west obviously in its films has depicted its own pitfalls. But nevertheless it has shown its greatness as well.
India on the other hand has so far been shown as a land of poverty, misery and eccentric natives.
It would do us all a world of good if someone along the way portrayed India in better light. Especially to the west. I do suppose they still take us to be monkey brain eating oddballs who are now poor and wretched to boot.
A little while ago, I saw a movie called 'Rang De Basanti'. It was revolutionary in its own right and I quite liked the storyline. It dealt with a couple of youngsters taking on corrupt Indian politicians by revolutionary means. It did significantly well in the box office. And it did arouse the conscience of the younger Indian generation. Now I suppose a movie like that would have been appropriate enough to be introduced to the western audience. It introduces a different India. An India with a well educated youth. An India which is eager to deal with its problems, albeit a little differently. An intelligent India.
But I don't suppose that ever happened. And the west shall never have even the remotest notion that Indians are actually a civilized race.
But for the love of God the last thing I would want is the west to see kind of nonsensical cinema bollywood churns out by the dozen. That would give them the impression of Indians being melodramatic singing and dancing lunatics.
I cannot blame the west for depicting India the way they do. Frankly bollywood has done precious little to propagate the better side of India. The only thing that has been done so far has been to export Indian actresses to hollywood to make absolutely forgettable hollywood movies, which no one in his right mind would want to watch.
Countries like China and Japan have created reasonable cinema which the western world could digest and appreciate. Even western directors have made decent Kung Fu flicks. Their reputation remains thus intact, as that of a civilized eastern race.
Every country has its own set of problems. But the last thing they'd want would be some third party stranger to make the world aware of its sensitive issues.
I wonder how would China feel if a western director employed Chinese actors to portray the oppression faced by the Tibetan people. Both the Chinese government and its people would be hopping mad.
A majority of the world knows China for its cuisine and kung fu, while only a few know it for its issues with Tibet.
Unfortunately so far India is still known as snake charming, elephant riding natives who persecute the minority and do rope tricks in their spare time. I actually once met a Russian who asked me whether we still ride elephants.
A precious few across the world are aware of the rich Indian culture that has inspired millions.
Bollywood obviously has the ways and means to propagate our country in better light.
But whether or not it chooses to do so is another question.