Sixteen of this year’s 24 Oscars went to films that have nothing to do with America – eight of them went to Slumdog Millionaire.
Two of the other eight went to a film about one man who stood up for a minority of Americans (Milk), two went to a franchise born out of a comic book (incidentally, a dead Australian accounts for one of the two awards for The Dark Knight) and one went to an apolitical animated film that moved us to tears (Wall – E).
Americans had to be content with just three cosmetic awards out of the 13 it was nominated for (only make-up, visual effects and art direction for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), as Aussie host Hugh Jackman poked fun at Brad Pitt.
So, have Oscars suddenly become anti-American?
Just like it is stupid to assume that, it is equally lame to assume that the Oscars are given out to tap into unexplored markets around the world – an accusation made against beauty pageants.
Slumdog won not because the Academy wanted fans or because Hollywood studios are eyeing Asia and Britain markets. In fact, it is the non-Oscar blockbusters like The Dark Knight, Iron Man and Spiderman that actually rake in the moolah. But Oscars do help an indulgent art film like The Reader to be seen, unlike Slumdog that grossed ten times its $15 million budget even before it was nominated.
This year’s edition of the Academy Awards has proved beyond doubt that mainstream Hollywood is running out of sequels and movie franchises, and not just stories. Also, Indian Cinema hadn’t got its due and it was time.
Slumdog Millionaire won eight out of ten not because it’s “poverty porn” as some have alleged but simply because it is a fascinating story about the triumph of the underdog painstakingly put together in a country were chaos rules supreme and truth alone finally triumphs (at least in our movies).
When filmmakers around the world are spending millions on sets and visual effects, one man chose to take contemporary material relevant to our times and decided to surrender to the madness of filming in the most challenging of places. Here’s a team that had the guts to shoot on location – from the slums of Dharavi to the insides of Taj Mahal – in a language and grammar they dared to learn.
It is only fitting that Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy were rewarded for watching and internalising the elements of Indian Cinema. They took the formula of lost and found, brother against brother and anti-establishment angst from the seventies and set it up in a country governed by politics of hate in the nineties that was making its transition into the information age as an IT superpower catering to the needs of the world that outsourced its business to the workhorse that is India.
Though its DNA makes it Indian beyond doubt, Slumdog Millionaire is a baby of the global world – shot by a British filmmaker with a largely Indian cast and crew, it’s based on a book written by an Indian (Vikas Swarup) who used the format of a game show that originated from UK, whose rights are owned by a Japanese company (Sony Pictures Television International) and named after a song by an American composer (Cole Porter).
Now, this was also a show that became a phenomenon in India, thanks to its iconic host. The angry young man who rose from the cinema of the seventies had now become the caretaker of a system that rewarded those who knew the answers. Can an underdog take on this ruthless system? Aren’t films about triumph?
Even murder charges are determined on the basis of intent and any accusation about the filmmakers intent to show India in bad light is only laughable because films at the end of the day are meant to make money and a filmmaker or studio will have be stupendously stupid to diss off a nation that sells three and a half billion movie tickets.
You can see Boyle’s love for song and dance and Indian Cinema by his decision to approach Rahman. And even if there was politically incorrect content in the film, isn’t it the right of the creative artiste to speak free and not be afraid?
Critics of Slumdog can now suck it up because the film is not just highly entertaining storytelling, it’s revolutionary to the point of being inventive.
We are talking about a team that was decidedly determined to find a still camera that shoots 11 frames a second because conventional cameras and Steadicam units were not conducive to shooting in the narrowest of lanes in the slums. The fact that you could see only 11 instead of the regular 24 frames gave the film the edgy feel and a sense of speed, perfect to capture the frenetic pace and energy of Mumbai. This could’ve only come from technicians who are familiar with the sanctity of Dogme school (the cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle worked in a host of Dogme films) that dictates that the filmmakers must be true to the story and let it tell itself by pure facilitation – by setting its characters in real locations and capturing the sounds and sights of that space.
In a world that’s becoming increasingly smaller, matters of nationality are becoming purely academic. It is small-minded to nurture the ‘us versus them’ notion and even racist to view Slumdog as the Westerner’s take because if there’s one thing that’s been the trademark of our nation, it’s tolerance and willingness to assimilate. Remember Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam?
And, as the girl from Alcobendas told us accepting her award: “I, always on the night of the Academy Awards, stay up to watch the show and I always felt that this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world because art, in any form, is and has been and will always be our universal language and we should do everything we can, everything we can, to protect its survival.”
Amen to that, Penelope.
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Penn beats Rourke
“You commie, homo-loving sons of guns,” exclaimed Sean Penn, picking up his trophy. It was a night when the Academy gave the devil his due. “I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often,” he chuckled and acknowledged Mickey’s heartbreaking Oscar-worthy performance: “Mickey Rourke rises again and he is my brother.” This is Penn’s second win in five nominations. He last won an Oscar for Mystic River.
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Kate robs Anne
Yes, poor Anne Hathaway probably deserved this but should take heart in the fact that the Titanic actress had missed out five times before she got lucky.
“I’d be lying if I hadn’t made a version of this speech before, I think I was probably eight years old and staring into the bathroom mirror. And this (holding up her statuette) would’ve been a shampoo bottle. Well, it’s not a shampoo bottle now!” she said. “I think we all can’t believe we’re in a category with Meryl Streep at all. I’m sorry, Meryl, but you have to just suck that up!” But hey, Meryl has been nominated 15 times now and has won only twice.
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Loved the write-up! Absolutely agree with you! Slumdog Millionaire is not to be looked at as a movie demeaning India but as a director’s self-expression. I don’t get people’s point at all when they say-“It just shows the slum-side of India. It paints an ugly picture”. Why can’t people look at the fact that it talks of the triumph of human spirit, of an underdog rising high?! And how else can someone portray a person’s victory, if not contrasted by his extreme poverty!
That Vasudeiva Kutumbakam reference was spot on! And absolutely loved that line-“In a world that’s becoming increasingly smaller, matters of nationality are becoming purely academic.” Very true! 🙂
Glad you are back to writing stuff solely for the blog and not just reproducing your newspaper articles! 😀
Writing solely for the blog?? I am not sure if I will find that much time but will do my best to at least start replying to all comments posted here… like I used to in the good old days! 🙂
Welcome back to the blogosphere!