23 February 2009

Danny's Day

If you've read my previous post, then you'll understand this one better. I just saw Danny Boyle's interviews on various channels. Not once, not a single time, in any of those interviews, did he say or even allude to the fact that he was proud that this film came out of Britain or even to the fact that he was the visionary behind it and how he made the whole thing come together.

He talked about the wonderful screenplay, the words that mesmerised him, the people who helped him and kept him going and acknowledged that timing had a lot to do with the success of the film as well.

He honestly said he loved filming it here but wouldn't be able to live in Bombay. He expressed just enough gratitude to be sincere and stopped short of mindless sycophancy to the powers that be.

When will India have a Danny Boyle with the kind of quality, uncompromising work that he's done, the deep intelligence and the humility that stayed in the face of innumerable accolades? A. R. Rahman is probably the closest we have to that.

Take a leaf, all you overblown narcissistic directors of the Indian film industry who find it more important to polish your egos to shiny perfection rather than your movies.

Take a bow, Danny.

Not your Slumdog.

Yes well, it's official. Slumdog Millionaire rocks, it rules and does pretty much anything you want it to, including winning 8 Oscars. Yes, Eight. Of which the much beloved A. R. Rahman won for Best Music and Best Song. And his speech said it all: All my life I've had the choice between love and hate. I choose love. For me, personally, that line deserved its own Oscar. Especially when it comes from the talent-heavy, publicity-shy and reticent Mr. Rahman. I didn't mind standing up and applauding for him.

Then I started switching news channels. 'Our' very own Slumdog Millionaire won. 'Our' Anil Kapoor. 'Our' Frieda Pinto. Even 'our' Dev Patel (why should the Gujjus not suddenly embrace one of their own, even if he does celebrate Valentine's Day and kiss in public?) Suddenly, India is 'ours' and its slums and dogs and millionaires are 'ours' and in the face of a very red, very international carpet, everything about that movie and everyone in it and around it are all 'ours' and we're all smiling and cheering for 'our' movie. What a warm, cosy, almost Christmassy feeling, it is, isn't it? As Rahman said, we are choosing love.

I find it hard though to get sucked in. India is a country which abounds in such hypocrisy. When we need it or want it, it is ours. When we don't, we literally burn it to the ground, or even worse, alive. We don't really understand the meaning of ours. We do understand the concept of laying false claim, though. Perhaps we did learn something from the East India Company after all. What right do we have to say Slumdog's victory is ours? Is it? Did we rush off to get the rights to make this film? Do we bother to anticipate genius and recognise a book for its true worth? What was the last great internationally-acclaimed film made by the Indian film industry that won anything?

Let me remind the overexcited, hypocritical menaces out there- Slumdog is NOT ours. It is theirs. The British people own this film. The Americans who distributed it, own this film. Danny Boyle owns it for his genius vision. Yes, it had Indian actors in it. So what? With the kind of population we have, we can't swing a dead cat anywhere in the world without hitting one! Now don't choose to misunderstand me. I am happy that they won. I am glad their efforts were justified and I'm even happier that the Underdog triumphed. It was a hard enough film to make and to get it to succeed; someone's soul definitely showed through. What I find ridiculously hypocritical is the way every Indian wants a piece of the glory. Why? With what right? Did you contribute to the film in any way, except perhaps to perpetuate the injustice in the slums that the film explored? When 'Salaam Bombay' did the same thing years ago, did anyone care? Does anyone care even now? Don't talk to me of NGOs. This is about recognising talent, not a political discussion. My objection is simply to the blind-sheep, utterly two-faced, so-called 'morality' that Indians have and what's worse is, that they're not even aware of it. We are so quick to hitch our wagon to someone else's success that we have no trouble heralding them as one of our own, close to the national bosom and part of our very fabric. And yet, come tomorrow, come trouble and come the opportunity to really help, this will just be yesterday's news lining someone's kitchen shelf.

Ironic isn't it. A country that carries deep within it a plethora of talent, even gives birth to an international imagination, still needs someone else's Oscar to validate it.

10 February 2009

A revisitation

Ever felt like you wanted to go back and do it all over again? Surely you cannot call yourself human if you haven't. I've been off the radar for a bit as I've been travelling. Strange places like a Mafia-ridden Moscow. And then suddenly, Hyderabad. I've been to Hyderabad before. About two decades ago when I didn't have political opinions. Or social opinions. Or too many opinions. At least that's what I'd like to think. All I remember from then is the Charminar and how frighteningly ugly the surroundings were. I'm in a different Hyderabad as I write this. A dichotomous one, as most large urban areas in India tend to be. But something happened here that made me want to go back and do it differently. I taught. I guest-lectured at a friend's educational institute. I'd never before been confronted by the rising hopes and aspirations of small town India, well-heeled India and confused India all inside one classroom. All looking at me as if I was the box that contained the three wishes. It was daunting for a minute. About ninety minutes later, I disconnected from my body and floated upwards. Probably in reality towards the window because of the heat. And I saw this one woman throwing out questions and giving out answers and this group of young students whose suddenly translucent skulls showed their rapidly expanding brains. It was like peeking into the elixir of youth, knowledge, hope and vitality, all rolled into one. I couldn't for the life of me believe that no cosmetic company had tried to harness the very air they breathed. At the end of three hours and three sweet vended coffees later, I paused. I had just knocked off ten years of tiredness and revisited realms of knowledge and half-lives and reworked my entire understanding of what students outside the cocoon of South Bombay are. And it was so very disconcerting that I didn't know if I should do it all over again to confirm that I hadn't been in a dream or if I should hop on to the next flight to Bombay. I did it again. I wasn't disconcerted this time. I was present. I was with them. I was inside their heads and they were knocking down the doors to mine. I thought for a moment, if I could go back to being a student, I would be this. This energy, this thirst, this humour, this challenge. I would abandon the armour of knowing, the gothic net of false perception, the non-chalance towards life and the taking it for granted.
As I returned to my disconnected, falsely calm gated community, I wondered. Does inspiration need hope? Or does hope need inspiration?