Quite soon into Slumdog Millionaire, it is not difficult to see why Amitabh Bachchan was so rankled. Our angry young man from Zanjeer vintage belongs to a country where the poor are fed an endless supply of dreams by Bollywood and its variants, and their few rupees adding up to a tidy sum pocketed by stars, producers, distributors and assorted parasitic elements.
It must have nauseated our Amar, Akbar, Anthony that the poor of Bollywood’s citadel, Mumbai, have to wallow in their own excrement to pursue their film fantasy. Most disconcertingly, these scenes will be seen around the world.
Slumdog Millionaire is good cinema for me because, unlike Bollywood’s pretensive productions, it looks at the Indian state from below — if you were to look at a diseased, corpulent human being, naked, that way, the picture is not pretty.
Thus we have our patriots rushing to their nationalistic megaphones, to deride Danny Boyle’s effort — being entirely foreign — to tell an Indian story that I would think is part-documentary, part-fiction.
Slumdog Millionaire is obviously shocking to our hypocritical middle classes. This insulated set of tax-payers (and a fair number of tax dodgers) may not worry themselves everyday about the state of the nation, but when they see on the giant screen their cities dunked in human waste, their order-loving police confirmed as a vile, corrupt, slobbering and brutal force, Mercedes cars ferrying mafia elements, land sharks and their molls, murderous gangs kidnapping rag-picking children, blinding them and forcing them into beggary and so many other maggots writhing in the rotting Indian social fabric, it is just too much. How could the country tolerate such depiction before all those foreign audiences, when they have been plied PR stuff and slick commercials about India Shining?
You have an Amitabh initially launching a foul critique of the film, but sensing its overall impact, especially with cinema critics abroad, backtracking and telephoning Danny to say how he has been misinterpreted (that is a tremendous feat because our super hero wrote this piece himself on a blog before turning turtle).
It is debatable whether Slumdog Millionaire has the cinematic brilliance to make it to the top Oscars. A.R.Rahman’s score is good, though not exceptional. But the irony of a reality show actually showing some signs of being real (we know that is not normally the case) is an interesting twist for Indian audiences.
If Bollywood, Kollywood and so on were to explore similar themes more seriously, many more slumdogs would rise.