Thursday, January 15, 2009

Amitabh Bachhan on "Slumdog Millionaire"

Here's Amitabh Bachhan's much tom-tom-ed and much trumpetedcomment on "Slumdog Millionaire". The Big B is upset that a "murky underbelly" exists in most developed nations. Yes, it does, but is Bachhan aware of the "murky underbelly" in Mumbai? In the above post is a description of the larger-than-life existence of the "Superstar of the Millennium". Oh, it's all about the attention, the sneer turning to admiration, the ice melting, the "ladies with large and affectionate smiles," oh, really? What wouldn't I give to be in his place. But on second thought, the guy needs it all, remember how he got hauled over coals for the wedding of his son and then some thing or the other he says.

"On blog, comments for the film ‘SlumDog Millionaire’ and the anger by some on its contents, prompt me to say the above. If SM projects India as Third World dirty under belly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky under belly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations. Its just that the SM idea authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a Westerner, gets creative Globe recognition. The other would perhaps not.

"The commercial escapist world of Indian Cinema had vociferously battled for years , on the attention paid and the adulation given to the legendary Satyajit Ray at all the prestigious Film Festivals of the West, and not a word of appreciation for the entertaining mass oriented box office block busters that were being churned out from Mumbai. The argument. Ray portrayed reality. The other escapism, fantasy and incredulous posturing. Unimpressive for Cannes and Berlin and Venice. But look how rapidly all that is changing. Retrospectives in Paris and New York. Dedicated TV channels running Hindi cinema on prime timings. Premiers at Leiscester Square, the home of all Hollywood royalty, thronged by hundreds on the street in cold biting weather. Affable recognition at most corners of the universe… And a dear friend from Los Angeles wires in that Hollywood is abuzz with India and the phenomenal talent that exists there. We’re talking cinema still!"

Today I came across Shobhaa De's blog article defending Bachhan and here's her view, linked here in an attempt to be democratic, of course. I too am a big fan of Bachhan and Bollywood (but to escape from the tedium, and have revel in some intellectual slumming once in a while) but when a movie like Slumdog Millionaire makes it to the marquee there's no point in running it down by saying that our third-rate, playing to the gallery, completely nonsense entertainers are the standard bearers of good cinema. Grow up, will ya?

Anthonybhai, ever respectful of the Big B's big reputation asks, "Sir, sir, which Bollywood movie won an award? An awkwardly created movie called "Lagaan" tried and failed. How are things changing in Bollywood, sir? Can we attach some realism to movies like CC2C?" I say, "Shhhh, Anthonybhai..., Big B will be angry if he reads this."

And then this appears on Bachhan's blog today: "What a colossal joke this is all turning out to be !! Without reading the text of my blog or the purpose behind mention of ‘SlumDog’ an entire machinery of abuse has been directed towards me.

"Fact is. Some one mentioned the film on my blog. Some expressed opinion for it, some against. And yes they contained some strong assumptions. I merely put both of them up and invited debate. I have done this many times on several issues and there has been great involvement. Media, in India has taken the pros and cons of OTHERS, as MINE, built their headlines and put it safely out, thereby, causing the consternation. All the expressions that have been attributed to me are in fact the expressions of others. Or perceived impressions of others. Where is the indication that this impression is concretely mine ? There is none !! And now after having castigated me for something not attributable to me, it has made my real opinion on the film after seeing it, impossible. If I do not like it there will be greater abuse. If I like it, there will be abuse." Seems, the guy was misunderstood, for which my sincerest apologies, Bachhan-saab, but I will let the above blogpost stay.

And to add more mirch masala, this appears too, "Amitabh Bachan was specially invited for the premier by Akshay Kumar. Although being a special guest, Big B arrived in his escorted mercedes at the venue 25 minutes late. He walked straight through the carpet leaving the crowd disappointed." Fact is Bachhan arrived an hour earlier than Akshay and Deepika and had to drive around London as the organisers told him Akshay hasn't arrived and therefore to go sight seeing around the venue. Poor guy, he is really misunderstood and people like to take a swipe without even thinking, even me!


@lankr1ta said...

Do you think that the Big Bs and the rest of the makers of "quality" Indian Cinema( I use this in the most sarcastic way possible) protest the "poverty as shown by the Westerner" because they feel guilty of enjoying their affluence even while living in the middle of it? Somehow the personal attack they take this movie to be( and indeed the way they react, it is personal not a movie to them) seems as if they now need to negate it to justify why they are not doing anything for the less fortunate than them. It is not really escapism, bu denial in order to keep a comfortable status quo. What do you think?

RaneForrest said...

I read about two criticisms leveled by Bachchan at SDM. One was the one you've commented on -- its showcasing of India's wretched underbelly. And I agree with your criticism of his criticism.

But I think he has a point about the other criticism, namely, that if it wasn't for a British filmmaker's involvement, it mightn't've gotten the award. I, too, think that SDM wasn't so outstanding compared to some of the best of the Bollywood fare to have deserved the award.

It is, however, possible that, despite portrayals of the underbelly and all that, it was all done with the nuance of a western perspective. And since that perspective is missing in "regular" Bollywood movies, they miss out in western contests like the Golden Globe and Oscar.

John said...

Alankrita, how very aptly put, full marks to you to bring clarity where my writing lacked it. The rich stars feel guilty about their wealth in the face of such poverty they only see from their Mercedes and Audis. I saw a recent MTV documentary about the top Bollywood stars' immense wealth and I was flabbergasted. I knew they were rich but didn't imagine their suits (couple of lakhs) were from Italy and their watches from switzerland (several millions), bought at outrageous prices. Well if the were so considerate to the underbelly they could have given the local "darzi" a few more rupees to stitch a decent suit. Guilt is what makes them become defensive and protect their tribe, yes I say this again "their tribe."

Ajit, I would disagree with you. Just because it had a British director and portrays life in the slum doesn't make it western oriented and therefore conforming to a western stereotype. Actually western perspective is one of snake charmers and rope trick players. After all, what is the motivation to show such poverty if it doesn't exist. It's about a new generation of directors who have gone behind the scenes and discovered the "underbelly." Let's accept that it does exist, and is not something put up by the studios. I have walked through a slum and I know.

Bollywood tries to white wash poverty by glorifying what little of poverty they show on screen because as I said to Alankrita they are guilty of the poverty here. These days if they want to show a street scene they shoot it in Europe rather than in Andheri or Borivli. And they only want fair-skinned girls as dancing companions of the stars, even some of the established dark-skinned actors don't get jobs in films. Affirmative action doesn't exist here and therefore they can discriminate against who they choose to. A "western perspective" is what Bollywood films desperately try to have by hiring white-skinned dancing girls and shooting in Paris, London and Switzerland. But they sorely miss the point.

Sum of what I am saying is the story is about how the poor living in slums in India reacts to the success of a sudden millionaire
and tries to snatch away his millions. It isn't in anyway a "western invention" or a "western perspective" thrust on us because the story was written by an Indian which actually had slums and slum dwellers in it.

Hope I have made myself clear! Do let me know.


@lankr1ta said...

And another thing I wonder about, John, is why we are trying to subscribe to this great global conspiracy to demean India. Actually there is not. Poverty = more than 8% of our people. Slums, dirt, horrific living conditions included. We are the ones who are engaged int eh cover-up of reality the more we protest its portrayal and don't work to make it better.

Bapa Rao said...

What gets lost in the nationalistic-moralistic argument is the dimension of artistic quality and appeal. The movie is very well conceived and well done, and will win a best Director Academy Award, not because the world just decided to drop all its business and demean India at the end of February (how narcissistic is that!) but because, to viewers with eyes to see and a soul to feel, it is just a heck of a movie.

The same is true of Satyajit Ray. When you see his movies, you get the feeling of, oh, so that's what the director's art is all about. That is, if you still have some of sa-hRadyata (or right-heartedness, defined by the ancient dramaturgists as being a characteristic of the righteous audience) left after all the hdeous narcissistic buzzing in your head has done its job.

Yes, there is poverty everywhere as well as in India, and people tend to comment on it. It should be pretty easy to tell when they are doing it for its dramatic value or to simply make some vacuous propaganda point. Slumdog Millionaire is an artistic triumph. See it with an open mind and make up your own mind.

John said...


Agree totally. It's we who are trying to cover up. Most of ads and movies are shot abroad as they don't want to show the poverty here. I just saw a Fiat Linea ad which showed a man and his son, and it wasn't even India they were showing for the launch of a new car in India. How mistaken could they be?

Bapa, I haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire yet, when I do I will be able to judge its artistic merit. I will comment on your post when I have done that. The Satyajit Ray films I have seen have made a great impression on me.

Thanks for your comments!