The Bachchan-Boyle-blog saga; or the Slumdog story
Danny Boyle’s little film, Slumdog Millionaire has made it big. With four Golden Globe wins including major ones like Best Film and Best Director it has become something of an Oscar favourite. A film like this would have encouraged yawns from the Indian masses and at best would have received critical nods and intellectual appraisal at film festivals. But then Rahman went and won a Golden Globe and we went a tad berserk that an Indian received an international award, and dreams for India’s first actual Oscar (Satyajit Ray’s was an honorary one, and Aamir was always a non-starter) have resurfaced at an embarrassing level. For some reason the Oscars appear sacrosanct to us, the superior awards to the lowly, Third-World, manipulations evident at the Filmfare etc. Since we have taken to worshipping Aamir Khan, his word against popular awards is the word of god and his weird preference for ‘untainted’ Oscars makes them holy.
But Aamir aside, Slumdog is unique in the reception it has received more than a fortnight before its release. Agreed that it is the most pirated films of all time, but I do wonder if the all-knowing, opinionated public has really watched the film, or is the public just judging it for the inevitable indignation that is considered politically correct behaviour from any Third-World citizen. I am most curious to find out if Amitabh Bachchan, the most “disgusted” of the lot has actually seen the film.
What Bachchan said: “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. 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.”
Bachchan acknowledges that the film is based on a book by an Indian but doesn’t quite realize that that contradicts his statement. Even if one is to agree with him about the Orientalist view of Danny Boyle or any white man for that matter, this is a unique case as the meat for the film comes from an Indian.
The cast of Slumdog was vehement in its defense of the film. Actor Irrfan Khan said, “The film is based on (a work of) fiction and it takes a cue from what Vikas Swarup narrates in his book Q&A. It is not that Swarup wrote the book in the backdrop of Mumbai’s posh south Mumbai locality and Boyle deliberately set his film against the background of the city’s slum in order to run down India’s economic progress…Anyway, why get jittery about India’s poverty and try to hide it? Because, the fact is, we are a poor country and poverty is there for all to see. Is there any harm if it is highlighted in a film for the sake of realism?”
No one quite expected the kind of backlash Bachchan’s statement invoked, the sharpest of them all coming from a blogger with The Guardian in UK. Nirpal Dhariwal said, “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. 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.”
Meanwhile, the media quoted Boyle saying he respects the view of Bachchan. Though no actual quotes of Boyle saying this are available, perhaps him not defending the film was construed as such.
In the days that followed, Big B, as Bachchan is popularly referred to, has backtracked, (who wouldn’t in the face of unprecedented criticism that you are just not used to) and has once again used his most popular tactic till date – an amused criticism of the media. He has gone on about how headlines are picked and how it is morally incorrect and what have you. How he managed to convince people (and by that I mean Danny Boyle) that a headline like Big B rubbishes Slumdog, is not appropriate for his statement about the movie disgusting nationalists and patriots is anyone’s guess. Bachchan has also written an official letter to The Guardian saying that attacks on his person by reporters and bloggers of this paper display the “most extraordinary level of misreporting.”