Friday, April 17, 2009

Salam Bombay, Slum dog millionaire and Slum Trade

Long ago a book is written by one of the influential filmmaker, composer, and artist, author Satyajit Ray. The book made it clear and point out about duel position of Indian cinema. Our Films, Their Films” is a collection of insightful, contemplative, and revealing critical essays and personal memoirs by Satyajit Ray. Ray's concise, candid, and often thematically overlapping expositions on Indian and international cinema reveal original sensibilities in his own evolving creative process, also a refined, accessible approach towards the aesthetic appreciation of all forms of art - that shape the logical arguments of his film criticism.

Despite a deep admiration for several key works of international cinema, Ray offers an instructive analysis on the pitfalls of blindly imitating contextualized, foreign aesthetic conventions in the creation of an indigenous cinema.

"The present blind worship of technique emphasizes the poverty of genuine inspiration among our directors. For a popular medium, the best kind of inspiration should derive from life and have its roots in it. No amount of technical polish can make up for artificiality of theme and dishonesty of treatment. The Indian filmmaker must turn to life, to reality. De Sica, and not De Mille, should be his ideal."

Amitabh Bachchan, a famous Bollywood actor said in his blog, “If Slumdog Millionaire projects India as a third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.” Mr Bachhan’s statements are absolutely right and raise the question why they (west audience) don’t love to watch their existing murky underbelly.

Other way, as we can see now more of Bolliwood film are made on foreign location, exotic foreign location such as New York, Switzerland, newzeland, Australia etc. Those stories of the Bolliwood films are painful irony of Indian realities. More blonde haired ladies are required or used in song-dance scene to entertain Indian audience. More melodrama, more circuses are used in these lollipop/popcorn entertainment. So what are the Bolliwood’s realities? Bunch of some illogical but slick, glossy extravaganzas, those are mostly imposed to audience in the name of films.

Ray suggest in that book: "What our cinema needs above everything else is a style, an idiom, a sort of iconography of cinema, which would be uniquely and recognizably Indian."

So, are Indians simply so hung up about a 'phoren' (Foreign) degree, blind influence, copying films, they want one even though they have no claim to it? Is this proof Indian love all things 'phoren'? Or do we have a talent and aptitude for deception and fakery? "Foreign things have a status value which the swadeshi doesn't," says social scientist Shiv Vishwanathan. In other words, it is another instance of our love of the foreign tag, a colonial hangover. And "It just shows their hypocrisy.”

It is very nice to see porn movies of others but dirt start hitting the roof when you got to see some one you know. The Times rightly reported in one of the articles written by famous columnist Alice Milles, Slumdog Millionaire is poverty porn. Same way most Bolliwood movies are rich porn. A world placed beyond the realities and very much rich in vision with total escapism.

For the majority of western audiences who are writhing under the excruciating weight of a global meltdown, a fairy tale about the ugly side of India should certainly come as an orgiastic catharsis! “Slumdog Millionaire” seems considered as one of the most superfluous fantasies to be created about India in the 21st century. So it should only be expected that American audiences would love to see films about India which conform to their image of the third world familiarize. The real ‘American’ films would make no sense to Indian viewers while the typical Bollywood melodrama would make no sense to the west. So while “SM” granted big hit in the U.S. today and the venerable Oscar committee is worshiping this movie. Then what is it? Effect of recession, Obama effect!! Change in attitude/perspective.

Again as a cinema SM failed at first term, as the Hindi-speaking kids fall off a train in front of the Taj and, they start speaking English! They are speaking good English. A wrong grammar used in this film. This question would not even come up if the film was a pure caricature but unfortunately the film also seems to have fallen prey to the dictates of psychoanalytical “western realism”. Western realism with more sophistication, so while watching it someone is gets easily fooled by its vision. Big fat pathetic irony is here that western audience also trapped in sophisticated vision, subjective outlook. They fall in subjective treatment of life and melodramas as Indian audience already swim on it.

The Beach by Danny Boyle, Controversy arose during the making of the film due to 20th Century Fox's bulldozing and landscaping of the natural beach setting of Ko Phi Phi Lee to make it more "paradise-like". The production altered some sand dunes and cleared some coconut trees and grass to widen the beach. Fox set aside a fund to reconstruct and return the beach to its natural state, however lawsuits were filed by environmentalists who believed the damage to the ecosystem was permanent and restoration attempts had failed.

28 Days Later, Set in Great Britain, just after the turn of the 21st century, the story depicts the breakdown of society following the accidental release of a highly contagious virus and focuses upon the struggle of four survivors to cope with the ruination of the life they once knew.

In Sunshine, the script was based on a scientific back-story that took the characters on a psychological journey. The director cast a group of international actors for the film, and had the actors live together and learn about topics related to their roles, as a form of method acting.

So Danny Boyle has his approach while making a film. And all of them flourished with under influence British romantic colonialism. Of course those are good movie, sophisticated, and made with professional approach, made in hand of fantastic professional crew. But SM still loses its authentication in terms of real motif. Resonance of real motif reflected here as, In the film City of Joy, on the other end of Calcutta, disillusioned Texas doctor Max Lowe (Patrick Swayze) has arrived in search of some spiritual enlightenment after the loss of a patient, Max begins to fit in with his fellow slum-dwellers. And he begins to see that his life isn't half bad. There are many around him whose lives are much worse, but they look on each day with a hope that gives new strength to the depressed physician. While Bolliwood movies continue living with lot different kind of cliché, these India oriented Holliwood movies are also deployed some kind of cliché. Which are so called "enlightenment", "learning life from poor", "spiritualism" etc. etc.

Even one of the great film makers of Iran, Mahsin Makhmalbaf failed to make his command over his India oriented movie “scream of ant”. He falls to same kind of cliché; his movie may be not much in to sophistication or professionalism but to the exclusionary reality and hallucinationary vision.
Years ago another SM kind of movie, Salam bombay, The film chronicles the day-to-day life of children living on the streets of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Salaam Bombay is the story of Krishna, Manju and other children living hand-to-mouth on the streets of Bombay. Sometimes they can get temporary jobs, but mostly they have to beg for money and keep out of the way of the police. Slums as a lucrative target as always, fit for depicting exclusionary reality and slums is only one side of vivid, layered Indian society. Comparatively easy to tackle it in any medium then faces a multilayered complex Indian society. So approach/perspective toward slums definitely is a big trade or big fry for international market. Cliché about India, more about slums as slums still rule as an easy goal and any art house camp make something out of it. May be a film, may be a painting, may be photography etc.

Again if we recall Ray, it’s all about perspective, "our perspective" and "their perspective". But both dwell with same mind-set, upper layered fantasy, market, profit etc.

2 Earthling’s comments:

Renegade Eye said...

The last sentence sums up the post very well. Bollywood is about money laundering.

I have a SD post on my blog today.

I think people are wanting too much from SD. It wasn't created to change the world. It was a good movie, that could have been great.

noni said...

not convinced as a good film..

but somehow danny boyle did a susan boyle kind of thing..what a coincidence...

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