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I seriously have been resisting getting into the debate over Slumdog Millionaire (2008 ) and thought like every busy-for-nothing “type” let film critics, media and editorials battle it out. I was happy with the “Golden Globes” and “BAFTAs” pouring in for A.R .Rehman (one of my favourite music Directors). Moreover, who cares what the rear view of a mirror is as long as it clearly reflects my image on its surface! Then, I watched the movie… re-watched with some friends…then re-watched it alone, this time to understand what comes in the way of my appreciating it and the already famous awards and acclaim that have come for it. I read the reviews, the debates and counter-debates raging over the movie. Decided to forget it — but strangely couldn’t! So, had to plunge into…better than being “sleepless in Mumbai” 🙂 .

Well, let me try to piece together my confusion…

The movie is brilliantly packaged, technically sound with a contemporary story-line and significantly “cleverly marketed” as a “rags-to-riches” and a “feel-good story of the decade”. The movie lives in its strongly strewn “moments” — of love, of anger, of orphaned existence, of communal riots, of beggary, of brother seducing a brother’s love, of betrayal, of honesty versus crime, and finally the feel-good factor of “love winning it all” and “virtuous-victorious” kind of ending, which of course makes you sit up in the theatre. “And they lived happily ever after…” thus ends the movie on an optimistic note. But, considering the deaths of Salim (the brother of Jamal Malik) and the Don, if we know the underworld well, then Jamal and Latika will hardly be left in peace, they were after-all the reasons for these deaths and also they have 2 crores in hand. If the cops can be after Jamal, so can be the underworld. However, we are not supposed to question while watching a movie–suspension of disbelief. We all love “happy endings”. But, then why did some of us not smile as we came out of the theatre? Two reasons: (a) We have seen something of this movie in many other Bollywood movies, maybe better versions; (b) The cultural part: I mean the “dog” part…

The first point is the crux of my blog: (a) We have seen something of this movie in many other Bollywood movies, maybe better versions. Let me take you back to a series of movies of late 1980s and 1990s, which had similar subject lines: of course not a “Kaun Banega Crorepati?” kind of story, but stories which you identify as “Mumbaichi Katha” with love stories set in the backdrop of “problems”. They were vibrant, pulsating and often “true” pictures of Mumbai, may not be clinically and technically as evolved as Slum Dog , but had in my opinion superior content narrated in a casual matter-of-fact style. Movies that immediately come to mind are: Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989), Parinda (1989), Baaghi (1990), Sadak(1991), Bombay (1995), Satya (1998 ). No I don’t mean to compare and critique Slum Dog in the lines of these stories, my comparison rests on the fact that they belong to the same genre and to the fact that Slum Dog wins a “Golden Globe”, while some of these movies are not even known in the home audience. When you watch Salim Langde pe Mat Ro… you tend to realize how far the tentacles of the underworld seeped into the chawls of Mumbai. There is no glossing over, no overboard styles and no Mr. Bachhan prototypes in the movie. Of course one of the best examples of parallel cinema that I have ever viewed. The plot is set in the chawls of Mumbai, even the restaurants that Neelima Azim and Pavan Malhotra (in title role) frequent can be imagined as any second restaurant near railway stations like Kanjurmarg or Ghatkopar. The Hindu-Muslim equations which Slum Dog tried to portray for our western and diaspora viewers in 2008, has actually already seen its consummation in Salim Langde pe back in 1989.

When you watch Parinda, the aspect that hits right on your face is the innocent love story of Karan (ironically played by Anil Kapoor) and Paro (Madhuri Dixit) and the way they were killed by the underworld Don Anna (Nana Patekar) on their wedding bed. As far as my understanding, Parinda defines the grammar of movies in this genre. Amazing cinematography (watch the pigeons flocking and un-flocking along with gun shots near Gateway of India in the movie) and extremely touching love-hate relationship between the brothers Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff.

Baaghi and Sadak make you fall in love with the young, angry Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt as they battle it out for girls stuck in the red-light area of Mumbai. Sadak especially brings out amazingly well the horror of attempting to tinker with the “business” of these people. Sadashiv Amrapurkar roaring and maneuvering against Sanjay Dutt as Maharani makes you literally shiver. The “murk” of the profession is menacingly narrated with a “shrug-off” kind of narration.

Bombay of Mani Ratnam and Satya of Ram Gopal Verma are cult movies. The first, set in the backdrop of Hindu-Muslim riots of 1991 featured Arvind Swami and Manisha Koirala — a Hindu-Muslim couple strangled in the riots, are looking for their lost twin kids Kabir Narayan and Kamal Basheer in the gullies of riot-ridden Mumbai. The pain of parents who have lost their kids, the pain of two frightened siblings torn-apart by violence and the dangerous communally instigating speeches of the Hindu and Muslim leaders, Bombay is truly a Golden Globe material. I love the A.R.Rahman of “humma-humma” or “Tu Hi Re…” unabashedly more than the A.R.Rahman of “Jai Ho!” The second, Satya of RGV, marked some of the all time highs of Bollywood art.The “cool-suave” Chakravarthy playing the title role gave a new-look to new-generation underworld-operating Mumbai. Urmila Matondkar in the role of “Vidya” makes you fall in love with “innocent love” all over again.

Watch these movies if you have already forgotten them! Mr. Boyle — India has seen it all! But thanks for showing it to the “West”. Slum Dog is a cock-tail of some of these movies, combined with the cultural dimension. That brings us to the second point: (b) The cultural part: I mean the “dog” part…. Unless we learn to love ourselves for whatever we are and whatever we have, we will be kept calling “dogs” . Mr. Sekhar Kapur says in his blog that even Bandit Queen was funded by the West and so was Elizabeth, what’s wrong if Boyle makes a movie on India? Of course, nothing wrong. Except for the “Millionaire” part. Danny Boyle has chosen to make a movie on the slums of Mumbai — he has lived, shot the movie in slums and even appointed slum children as his protagonists. That’s philanthropic! But that is also forms of capitalism and neo-colonialism. Mr. Kapur doesn’t visualize the future where instead of him being a film entrepreneur, he might end up being “employed” by the huge number of Hollywood production houses investing in Indian cinema. I don’t want to see small-time Indian production houses being engulfed by the large MNCs of Hollywood. We will then have cinema made only for people living in the West. The “dog” isn’t actually slums of Mumbai. In fact, “slum dog” can be seen as a metaphor for Indian cinema, for Bollywood especially, and for India which is visualized by the “West” as a gigantic mind-boggling slum. Considering the huge success of Bollywood worldwide, “slum-dog” seems to pun on the fact that Bollywood (the slum of Hollywood) is making it big in the world film circles. However, what seems unfortunate is not the West seeing India as a “slum” but Indians perceiving themselves “through the lens of Slum Dog Millionaire” . Yes! we have slums, we have underworld, we have poverty we have communal tension! Face it! But which country in the world doesn’t have it! Racism in US or England is a different form of communalism. Look at Southern United States, the situation is extremely difficult there. There is poverty in US too — and the poverty there is worse because of its psychological dimensions. In India people who live in chawls, many of them wouldn’t want to leave those chawls for their entire lives. Some of them choose to live there. For example, look at Tehelka’s recent report on Chawls in their website.

If you intend to watch Slumdog Millionaire, watch it for its clever concoction of “Indian” stories and for its cinematography. I have high regards for Mr.Boyle, because he could actually “sell” a Bollywood masala to the West, and showed that India also has its unique story-telling capacity. But my point was that Indian cinema is also capable enough to sustain on its own. The yardstick for Oscars, Golden Globe and such awards should not define our cinema-making capabilities. The movies that I cited above in my article are some examples drawn from both parallel cinema and main-stream commercial cinema. We are capable of matured movie making even without international acclaim.

Maybe that’s what they call — “art for art’s sake” …