Friday, January 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire... and what should a movie be ?

A question that will never be quite settled is related to the extent of realism in cinema: should cinema expose harsh truth or should it portray a carefully sanitized picture of society. This question has again come to the fore front with release of Slum dog Millionaire , which on one hand has been nominated for the Oscars and on the other is dogged by controversy with actors like Amitabh Bachchan having panned it – ( though reportedly, he has retracted those comments).

Partly this is because of the different expectations that people have from cinema and the role that cinema has in society – and this question too will never be satisfactorily answered. Actors like Amitabh, who have been principally entertainers, see the medium as principally a vehicle of entertainment – some thing affordable and accessible to the common manta the end of a day’s work.
Other film makers have thought and acted differently, Satyajit Ray being the one most well known of them. He used films to portray the stark realities of Indian society – the poverty, the corruption and the decadence of a country in transition. of Ray was a lot more than a chronicler of penury and hardship ; his films made money, won praise and gave Indian films their first ever visibility on the world stage.

The films that Amitabh made and makes are of course quite different – escapist, mainstream masala fare is what we call them, where the money and fame is and parallel cinema is the homely cousin which wins awards and acclaim but don’t necessarily entertain the common man who sees on screen the reality that he has been part of all day long.

Parallel cinema of course decidedly doesn’t entertain; what it does is make a statement on aspects of society which ought to be noticed and attended to but sadly no one does or did till the movie came along. While Satyajit Ray did make pure entertainers, especially his children’s’ films in particular, his contemporary, Ritwik Ghatak, the noted Bengali film maker made movies inspired by the partition of Bengal in 1947 and its aftermath among people uprooted from places where they had lived for centuries.

Of course Amitabh is not incorrect when he says that “If Slumdog Millionaire’ projects India as 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,” It is just that there is and always be a difference of opinion about just which aspect of reality should the creative artiste; be it a movie maker or a journalist or a novelist focus on ….. The subjects of celebration and veneration or the objects of ridicule and revulsion.

Using depictions of poverty solely as a means of publicity or getting recognition is definitely pandering. But we cannot get away from the fact that a very large fraction of the billion-strong population of India does not have access to the basic amenities of life, and this is the most obvious thing that will strike an observer from a Western country where these amenities are taken for granted and where these films are getting mileage and Oscar nominations. Meanwhile both kinds of movies deserve a place in the sun. it is the typical Bollywood movie, of the kind in which Amitabh acts that have made Hindi films the force that they are today…. when they are watched more by people outside India than within. And it is the kind of film that Satyajit Ray and others like him make that initially gave Indian films a foothold in places like Cannes. Slumdog Millionaire is incidentally a bridge. It is not the kind of film that Shyam Benegal or Adoor Gopalakrishnan would make; it also obviously is not the kind of film that Amitabh Bachchan would have acted in. a perfect balance, one must say.

1 comment:


Of late Amir Khan has been making some good movies that entertain as well as bring out some good moral lesson based on social issues. His Lagaan, Tare Zameen Par, Rang De Basanti have fairly good lessons. I believe it is possible to make money, entertain audience and educate the mass in a movie... It would be wonderful if Bollywood directors and producers would be more creative.