Watching Jamal struggling to identify Mahatma Gandhi's picture on an Indian currency bill, the Police Inspector-" Even my 7 year old niece can answer that’
Jamal-“ Who stole Mr. XYZ’s bike at Bandra on August 15th?’
Inspector (clearly caught off his guard)-“ you know who stole it?”
Jamal-“….everybody in Juhu knows who it is…even 7 year olds”
Sitting back at home in India watching TV comfortably on a couch after a year in a foreign country I was pretty much relaxed and glad to be home. Surely after 9 months of life changing experiences and writing about how much I missed my home country anyone would really expect me to be all happy and cheerful. That I most certainly was, there is no place like home. But wait something comes up on TV….a promo..for the world television premiere of INDIA’S crowning glory and milestone film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ ..bear in mind the emphasis on the word. One see’s quotes coming from actors and politicians ‘ Slumdog Millionaire has crossed boundaries, truly it has displayed that INDIA can compete at the highest level. WE AS A NATION are so proud..JAI HO!” ..cue the soft ‘sniff!’ and a couple of moist eyes. Then the television is switched off and the real discussion starts.
‘ How can anyone even like this movie!?’ ‘Danny Boyle is an ignorant man who knows nothing about our culture’ ‘Is Mumbai just a ghetto?’ ‘#$!@#!@ SLUMDOGS?...WE ARE SLUMDOGS?!!!! Who gives you the right to call us desi people SLUMDOGS…India is a progressing country, not a stagnant breeding ground for poverty and slavery’ ‘ There are so many better movies than SM..not Oscar material please!’----the tirade is endless. This is when I realize that the moist tear eyed man who proclaims ‘JAI HO!’ on the TV is the same man who uses glycerine to induce tears, bribes the very umm ‘slumdogs’ for votes, spits bright red-orange tobacco on the road and then puts up hoardings for his voting campaign with the quote ‘ JAI HO! LETS WIN INDIA BACK ..vote for me (subconsciously adding ‘..you illiterate slumdogs’ to the message). This very person is the one who will announce a prize of free government owned housing for the child artists of the movie for their efforts on promoting India and then give these prizes to their so-called loving parents who in turn capture possession of these apartments leaving the children – in this case Rubina and Azhar ( playing the kid Latika kid Salim respectively) with nothing except a return to their real life slum where they are from. So yes it is not just that politican who is that teary eyed man, but the parents as well. And it just doesn’t stop there, oh no. We have all of us, the Indian urban masses, who are ready crucify the film and its message with just a mention of the name. ‘The West is ignorant of us. We are cultured. We are the best’..b..l…aaa..haha. What these people, some of my very own friends, do fail to realize is that when we call ourselves the Indian urban masses we are wrong at one crucial point. This group that is refered to as ‘WE’ is not a majority..WE are not masses. India’s masses are in fact the ones who live below the poverty line, who cannot afford to sit in chic cafes and have Slumdog bashing debates over lattes. They are Jamal, Latika, Salim and every other kid who is born to a parent who cannot afford to support them and hence must make do with the utter nightmare that their lives become. These masses..have to live in the ghetto, have to swim in shit, have to beg, borrow and steal just because our so called cultured urban people have deliberately blinded themselves to them.
When Aishwarya Rai makes a cameo in Pink Panther 2 with Steve Martini, WE rave and rave and rave…television interviews, page 3 parties, and the same old glycerine teary eyed man declaring how proud he is of Rai’s contribution. This cameo might be for 2 seconds or for the entire movie, the movie might even get nominated for the All time worst movie of the century, but in our tricolor tainted eyes, it’s the best..oh my oh my! But when an American filmmaker decides to make a movie adaptation of a novel written by an INDIAN – Vikas Swarup in this case (Q & A), not even my grandfather’s buffalo in the village gives a shit (ironic since that’s her favorite hobby). Cue 2-3 months ahead, and the critics(the true ones, not the ones Im bashing here) have raved about the movie, suddenly WE come to life. The above mentioned quotes are mentioned, SM is the pride and joy of India, especially after winning the Oscars. Not that India had much to contribute for the movie, or specifically WE had no contributions, it was the cast and crew who are responsible. Hmmm, the Indian public cant take this reality can they…if WE are not given credit, lets just trash the film. Suddenly the ‘pride and joy’ turns to ‘poorly researched piece of crap by a Westerner who doesn’t know the real India’ But no one will say that in public will they?
What India fails to realize is that everyone has the right to express themselves in the way they see the world to be. And when this expression is reality, even thought it might be a bitter pill to swallow, its better to accept it and appreciate the film for its true excellence. Slumdog Millionaire deservedly has won all the prizes and accolades because of the talent of everyone involved in the film. Danny Boyle came with a vision and translated it on camera. How can our country claim to be progressive when we do the very same things that he film portrays and then deny them with all our might? This clearly just signifies that despite knowing the truth, we are living in a state of denial. I certainly do not deny that India has progressed. We are one of the world’s fastest growing economies, have the most diverse culture and lots and lots of other things that we should rightfully be proud of. But if we can make a Hindi Bollywood film which portrays an America to be an oversexed culture-less country, then it is very clearly justified that the rest of the world pick up on our negative traits and portray them. If we rage against Indian students being ill treated in Australia but fail to even suspend the many police officials and other bullies who drug and rape foreign girls, If a politician can mix religion and education and deny a Muslim or Hindu or Sikh a seat in a college and then complain about why the Indian youth studies in the US and not at home…if the constitution of India declares freedom of speech and yet the government chooses to ban this very piece of written work , then India is not progressive, it is regressive.
Sometimes just knowing who Gandhi is does not make one Indian….or even smart.