The release of SlumDog Millionaire (or should I say Mansion-Lion Millionaire, to escape the wrath of some obscure organisation in Bihar) has sparked a new debate about whether the West only appreciates works depicting India in a bad light. This year’s Booker prize winner ‘The White Tiger’ also portrays India in a shady light, taking off the garb of India Shining and exposing the darkness gnawing at the Indian hinterland. Salaam Bombay and City of Joy are two other names that come to my mind. So, does the Academy feel that only the movies showing “third-world countries” as poor and riot-affected with a teeming population of slum-dwelling, malnutritioned beggars deserve an Oscar nomination, whether such movies/novels help the west to mentally reinforce its superiority over the emerging economies or just as the title suggests, they are a bunch of perverse morons who get a sadist satisfaction seeing all this misery in the world. Though everything points in only one direction, I beg to differ. The Academy has always recognized movies with an underdog theme, movies depicting the victory of human spirit in the face of adversity (Million Dollar Baby-OSCAR, Best Picture….Cinderella Man-BAFTA, Best Original Screenplay, Lagaan, eh?) and so is the case with SDM-the story of how even a slum-dweller can aspire to win a quiz show. To paraphrase Obama, “Yes, he Can….and so CAN WE”….
Yes, India is not just about the slums, poverty and communal riots. but it being just a minor part of the big picture doesn’t make it any less real. Its just that people are more interested in seeing this minor part(which we Indians want to brush away under the carpet as just another insignificant detail). But isn’t that natural? We appreciate movies like No Man’s Land, Cidade de Deus, Freedom writers, or for that matter any Holocaust movie more than a normal drama or romcom. Everyone wants to see something different and I don’t see anything wrong in that. And as for those who say that this sends a wrong message to people about our country, I don’t think the opinion of a person changes just on the basis of one movie and if it does, then the opinion of such a credulous and impressionable person wouldn’t matter much anyways.
P.S. Quite a few examples and ideas have been contributed by Rahul and Smit.