Sunday, March 15, 2009

Slumdogging and the Missionary

I havent yet seen the movie but this one has some sensibility involved

…Slumdog Millionaire is one more representation of India as the white man sees it, not as we do. It's a five-hundred-yearold tradition. Look carefully, the triumphant picture in the papers could be the enlightened missionary with the tribal boys. The tradition is strong: we've always been cosy with the representations. It's worthwhile to remember we did not tell an Indian story and force the world to recognise it. They told us an Indian story and forced us to applaud it.… (((And gave it eight Oscars.))) One feels awe not for the film, but for its miraculous journey. (((Eight Oscars.))) Clearly, in an increasingly low-brow ocean of publicity and hype, the idea of true excellence is a drowned raft. Not shorn of the hype, but because of it, to an Indian, the film ought to disappoint. (((Eight Oscars.))) It tells me nothing that I don't already know; and it tells me things I know to be not true. Unlike Amitabh Bachchan I have no problems with the film focusing on India's abject poverty. That focus is salutary, and crying out for further exploration. My problem is the opposite - that it trivialises it. (((Eight Oscars.)))

Uses its excreta and chopped limbs to tell a dubious story that leaves the viewer not disturbed but cheerfully smug. (((Eight Oscars.))) You leave the seat exhilarated, not in pain.

The film tells a very big lie: that India's poor have a happy shot at leaping out of their misery into affluence and joy. One day you can be in the crap heap - diving into excreta - and the next running down a slum girl who may have failed to make school but seems to have managed to walk through Vogue's offices on her way to teenage. (((And to walk through eight Oscars.))) With a stunning lack of plausibility (((eight Oscars))) you see the slum child Jamaal grow into a refined public schoolboy who must surely be eating cucumber sandwiches for lunch. India's wannabe wealthy - billionaires among them - would slice their fingers to boast such a sophisticated son. For that accent alone, they would throw in their toes too.

As many cooing admirers have remarked, the director is on a lickety-split run, (((eight Oscars))) pacing his film like a Kobe Bryant fast-break in an NBA finals. Throw, catch, feint, weave, leap, dunk; turn and start running again. Aw! Gee! The camera is shaking, the story is sprinting - there is no way anyone can tell if a few chapters have fallen out, several links of logic lost. (((Eight Oscars.))) You have to be grateful Jamal only grows up to be Dev Patel. Given the absence of any need to explain the miraculous transformation, he could well have become Brad Pitt or Prince Charles. To further celebrate the carnival of implausibility, Master Dev acts with the cool flatness of the cucumber sandwich (that he surely must be eating) - no neuroses of the slums tarnishing his soul.

For those celebrating the authenticity of the film, (((eight Oscars))) here's a secret: the makers clearly had no interest in verisimilitude. (((Verisimilitude, always a Bollywood strong suit. Eight Oscars.))) It's been the rough approach of artists working the India material for the last hundred years. It arises from a clear understanding of "audience". The awgee mobs filling theatres around the world, and paying in dollars or some such muscular currency, cannot tell the difference between Hindi and Hindu or the vast distance between Mumbai and Agra. Much like the American tourists at the Taj Mahal, who cannot distinguish between an unlettered, ignorant urchin and a licensed guide. (((Or the Taj Mahal and eight Oscars.))) The awgee mobs - which include vast swathes of awgee India - will not be held back by the remarkable metamorphosis of Hindi-speaking slum children into English-speaking teenagers - smoothly accomplished whilst riding the roofs of trains, without the intervention of any forms of schooling. Nor will they wonder by what divine principle (((eight Oscars))) some of the desperately destitute speak Hindi and others English. In the happy world of air-conditioning and popcorn - and fountain Pepsi - (((and eight Oscars))) the poor can be made to do whatever we wish. Dance, sing, love, win quiz contests, murder with a Webley & Scott, die in a tub full of currency notes (((and eight Oscars))). What is the meaning of being rich (((eight Oscars))) if you cannot make the poor do whatever you wish? What is the meaning of being Hollywood if you cannot make of India whatever you wish?…

The awgee sociologists also know that the grand hosts of India's grandest shows all come from the slums. Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan - the only two who've ever hosted the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? And, of course, now Anil Kapoor in this fast-break film - (((eight Oscars))) who chooses to host it in English, because the slum boy has lost his Hindi as he grew up (just as Kapoor himself did - the upward mobility from the slums is a veritable avalanche!). Awgee and awgee also know that these grand hosts play sinister games, like planting wrong answers and summarily handing over contestants to the fat and tough police (for electrocution and empathy). The awgee media tells us the film is about hope. And hope, as we all know, is greater than inconsistency, inaccuracy, implausibility, dodgy politics, and partypooper critics (((and eight Oscars))). And since the film is about the triumph of impossible hope, (((like winning eight Oscars as a brilliantly gifted British director in the former Raj))) it is impossibly greater than all of the above. QED. And yes, of course it is also a fantasy, a fairytale. And since, for these poor sods, hope too is a fantasy, it all coheres, hangs together beautifully. (((and wins eight Oscars.)))

The awgee readers of awgee media know that this is the crucial difference between people like Satyajit Ray, (((won only one Oscar to go with his 32 Indian National Film Awards))) Mira Nair (((mere Oscar nominee and won only one National Film Award))) and the Slumdog millionaires. Their films were about poverty and streetchildren; this one's about fantastic hope. (((and eight Oscars.)))

In their heart of hearts, the awgee readers know the poor are desperately in need of hope. They also know that hope is all they can - and will - give them. (((Besides the eight Oscars.))) And let's be honest - false or true, fantastic hope is still hope. (((And eight Oscars is one more than seven Oscars.))) The awgee media knows something even more fundamental. (((Oscars are better than eight lakh of rupees in the bank.)))

Never criticise the celebrity whose interview keeps your shop alive. The road to poverty is paved with robust criticism. The world of entertainment is studded with shining pyramids of implausibility. Each one's true reward is a singing cash register. But great awards, fools argue, must go to the fragile hutments of truth and excellence. (((And the awards go there eight times.))) The wise, on the other hand, (((are too stuffy to go be entertained by knockout movies))) know the awgees at the Oscars better. They know they have a rare gift (as in the film) for turning ordinary shit into tasty chocolate and peanut butter.

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