Monday, February 23, 2009

India Celebrates Slum Dog

Bollywood Crushes Hollywood could have been the headlines in India. But they weren't. Instead, the nation of India is holding celebrations across the land because "their" movie, Slumdog Millionaire, won 8 Oscars. In Hollywood, self-proclaimed center of the movie world, a small movie about a poor kid from India ended up winning Best Director and Best Picture. And quite a few other awards as well. The top government officials in India were falling all over themselves congratulating everyone associated with the movie. At last, Bollywood has arrived.
It really was just a pretty traditional western story. But maybe it's the same for a story from India. Poor child in the slum with no hope, no opportunity, nonetheless gets a chance to get rich quick and marry the beautiful girl. Another young man chooses the path of crime and sure destruction. It's an old story, but we fall for it every time, and cheer the young poor kid as he takes on the rich folks and emerges victorious.

I don't know if I should be appalled that the India film industry calls itself Bollywood, so self-identified with Hollywood. I'm sure someone could make an argument about the elimination of ethnic identity, eradiction of culture. But it's also possible they just use that name as a sign of pride, like "We're as good as ....." Just using the term "Hollywood" to mean the most successful film-making center, not necessarily the best.

But it's kind of fun to watch the Oscars and see the mixture of nominees and winners. The straight white male Sean Penn who, as Robert DiNiro said, had somehow managed to convince people to give him roles as a straight man for all these years. Sean Penn receiving the Oscar as Best Actor for his title role in "Milk," and also being celebrated by some for his outspoken acts on behalf of other human rights issues. There was another white male, this one a gay mormon, which was really wonderful. I'm sure the mormon church just cringed: "There Are No Gay Mormons." Actually, I used to know a gay mormon. He was an alcoholic. Don't let those mormons fool you. They've got the same things going on that everyone else does. They just like to think they don't.

Then there was the Indian music guy, apparently quite celebrated in his own country but relatively unknown to us. That's one of the problems with U.S. culture: we don't respect other countries' music, film, art. We're very isolated.

The director of the film, Danny Boyle, is an Irish Catholic born in England. You could certainly tell he was not an American since one of his biggest goals for the Oscars was to bring as many of the cast members to the U.S. as possible for the evening. Many of the cast members are relatively poor, and could never have afforded that trip on their own. Seems like a pretty nice guy, and everybody had something nice to say about him.

Then we had the best supporting actress, Penelope Cruz, from Spain. Best Actress, Kate Winslett from England. Who else? Somewhat of an international tone for the evening. Best documentary was a film about a little girl in India.

I won't say it was the best year for movies, but there were some that were worthwhile. I loved Rachel Getting Married, for example. I haven't seen Frozen River, but I love Melissa Leo so look forward to seeing that.

"Slumdog Millionaire team walks the red carpet at Oscars." (from The Times of India)
"British director Danny Boyle shepherded the extended ``Slumdog Millionaire'' family down the red carpet Sunday to the Kodak Theatre for the Academy Awards ceremony. ``Some of the cast are from very poor backgrounds but it's wonderful to have them all here because we treated them all as equals throughout,'' Boyle told an interviewer for the E! cable television network. The nine cast members - who played the three main characters in the rags-to-riches fairy tale - were all on hand for the Oscars ceremony. The two youngest cast members, who still live in Mumbai's slums, were making their first trip outside India. Freida Pinto, the Mumbai-based model who made her screen debut as the hero's love interest in ``Slumdog'' described her experience as ``career-changing.'' ``This is the happiest moment ever because all nine of us are here ... and it's wonderful to have everyone back together in one big `Slumdog' family,'' Pinto told ABC television. The six younger stars of ``Slumdog Millionaire'' - the boys dressed in tuxedos and the girls in formal dresses - were greeted with cheers and blew kisses as they walked the red carpet. ``It's unbelievable,'' said Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, 15, who plays the hero's brother as a teenager in the film. ``We never thought we'd be here but we are.''

From India Times, reprinted from Economic Times:
"God Save Rahman. That's what Allah Rakha Rahman means. And that's what the country said Monday for the man who became the first Indian music director to win two Oscars for his score in the globally appreciated film "Slumdog Millionaire" and for the film's theme song "Jai Ho".

"Rahman, a household name in India for his contribution to Bollywood, as well as regional cinema from the south, has been the cynosure of all ears since 1992 when he burst on the Indian musical scene with his refreshingly different tunes for the Tamil film "Roja". He has moved on from being a celebrated composer in India to a global music supernova who has entered the record books as the first Indian to get a Golden Globe, the first Indian to get the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for music and the first Indian to bag a golden Oscar statuette. With "Slumdog Millionaire", Danny Boyle's rags to riches drama based on a book by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, the 41-year-old Rahman has stuck gold - and so has India and Indian music. The film had 10 Oscar nominations, including three for Rahman - he was nominated for Best Original Score and two for the Best Original Song for a motion picture with his songs "Jai Ho" and "O Saaya".

"It was another first for an Indian. For India, the "Slumdog" awards story, which some say is as improbable as the film itself about an 18-year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai who goes on to win a staggering Rs.20 million ($410,000) on India's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" game show, is not just about the BAFTAs and the Oscars. It is also recognition of popular Indian cinema in the West that for long has shunned Indian movies as too long and too full of song-and-dance sequences. Rahman's exuberant score has shattered all those perceptions, and shown that the West likes the sound of India. "It's a moment of pride not just for me. India has done it," Rahman said modestly. "

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