It appears that “Slumdog Millionaire” has garnered more momentum after the 15th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards last Sunday. My dear friend Babita and I are now patiently waiting for the Oscar to roll out a fantastic night of dance and songs with two songs from the film being nominated this year. The modestly budgeted film won major awards against and upset many big budget productions. A few weeks ago, news broke that although the film has found its international audiences and has charmed most critics, the responses from India, particularly Mumbai, was less enthusiastic.
Tastes of film could often be very personal and subjective and I would agree with both ends that 1) “Slumdog Millionaire” is indeed a good movie. The narrative keeps my attention through out the whole screening and the music score was fantastic. As someone who have a soft spot for great and yet simple writing, the script is perfectly crafted. At the same time, responses from audiences of the West and the rest versus India and Mumbai are both legitimate. At the very least, these responses present two realities: Hollywood-fed and orientated audiences want something non-Hollywood and therefore a survival story from the slum captures their taste and imagination. For that, I applauded the writers, actors, directors, marketers and all other that involved in making the film. On the other hand, Bollywood-inspired audiences want feel good magical moment, entertainment, and imagination in their films! They want escapism and the joy of spectatorship that movie industry used to offer. For that, I salute them their insistence. After all, to escape the slum, one goes to the movie. What is the point when you walk in to experience a “virtue” slum from the real slum?
To me, it would be as liberating as the Obamania if Slumdog wins the Oscar for a few reasons. First, no doubt, Slumdog is a British film and there is no need for me to go into details about British Colonialism and the migration of Indians to England and the rest of the world. But, there is nothing “British” about the film… or shall I say “Indianness” in the film has greatly overshadowed any “Britishness”, if there are any. Second, the “Indianness” presented in the film, if there are such things, is not excruciatingly Indian but universal. The joy, the pain, the heartbreak, the empathy, the sympathy, and all other named emotions known to men, women, human, and non-humankinds could all be experienced whether you are Indians or not or whether you embrace “Indianness” or other cultural/ethnic identities.
The most amazing story from Slumdog, to me, was the transnational, transculturality, and transethnicity that the film has created. Yes, the film is a British film but if it wins the Oscar, an Indian film also won! It will bring cheer to the Brits, Indians, and me. Could film cross cultural boundaries easier than the human and non-humankinds? Ask youself, how many tries have other “national” film industry try to win an Oscar or recognition but have failed? The over-hyped up “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” was a joke that I can still feel the shame from that film! Malaysia also have tried to send some ridiculous “national” films to compete in International Film festivals, which had only added more shame to my book of shame.
The so-called push to embracing era of globalization has always come with hypocrisy in reality. So a film made from a copycat film script could be nominated as Malaysia film but a foreign director could not be nominated as best director all in the name of protecting local talents, if we ever have more than a few. The so-called “Chinese” films from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, “the mothership of all Chinese”, have all tried shamelessly to acquire a piece of glory from the Oscar without any success. Still, endless Kung Fu fighting films are made with one burned more budget than the one before and scripts reused from the so-called ancient texts with new takes!
Regardless if “Slumdog” wins or not in the Oscar, it should sent a very clear message to many self-secluded national film industries all over the world. Yes, the message is clear. The film could not be made without British talents and influx of British-South Indian immigrants and sensibilities but it could not also be made without the real slum in Mumbai and Bollywood talents! If a mix of the two could create such a long lasting effect, what are we actually missing by staying secluded with fears and anxiety?
Regardless of which realities you have subscribed to, when the film wins, the director is British and the film is still British but the actors are all Indians (in India or oversea). The British Indian is nothing less than the Indian in India. But, I wonder when and at what cost that would take for the others to realize this like the Indians! Standing on stage at the 15th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards last Sunday was four very proud Indian talents even though the film is British! I also wonder when and if the others have woken up, would the Indians be so far ahead and advance that they could not be seen, let along to catch up?