Oh Calcutta

So what was the Indian presence this year at the Oscars? We didn’t get nominated for best foreign film, Ash didn’t show up to present an award, “Little Terrorist” lost out in the short film category————–a washout like every other year….

But no wait—–we did pick up a big award….and it needed the sheer power of Kolkata’s brand equity as the dirtiest, the most hellish city in the world to pull it off. “Born Into Brothels” —a story about children born into brothels in Kolkata won Best Documentary trumping “Supersize Me”, a delightful take on America’s obsession with fast food, (which shows that malnutrition always wins over obesity when it comes to Oscars) must be one of the biggest successes of the Kolkata name.

So there it is folks—-you want an Oscar you come to Kolkata. Besides the brothels (when did Kolkata become famous for them anyways?) we have colonies of lepers, beggars, eunuchs and many other forms of low-life waiting eagerly to be made into Oscar-winning documentaries or to be salvaged for a Nobel Peace Prize and a beatification.

Of course you can still be a Roland Joffe who gets the formula dead right in “City of Joy” but makes a poor film and misses an Oscar. Yes “City of Joy” had everything going for it—-trams full of lepers, lecherous Indians, dirt , squalor and all the other little things that makes Kolkata special.

And the showstopper of them all….what you MUST have in your movie to get an Oscar/critical acclaim, the fundamental axiom on which everything stands—-it’s only the white man who cares for the poor souls. In City of Joy, the saviors are this band of white social workers with whom Patrick Swayze, the dirty-dancing Father Teresa, makes common cause with.

One of the most telling lines in the City of Joy comes when one of the “Indian” protagonists tell our white knight——-“Who are you to interfere in our country? These are our people and we can do with them as we like——-how is it your business?”

An amazing parallel with the line above and the pronouncements of the makers of “Born Into Brothels.” can be found in the article linked above to the Anandabazar Patrika. (Bengali) In this we learn that the makers of “Born Into Brothels” refused to give interviews to the Indian press ( we are free to exploit you but not talk to you) because “the Indian press and the common people of India would harm the subjects of the movie”.

So here’s the deal. Not only are we wickedly poor, we are too uncivilized to even recognize that and alleviate our plight. And that we are our own worst enemy.

Who sold this myth about Calcutta ? Who made money out of this image ? Did the makers of “Born Into Brothels” ? Nope.

It is Mother Teresa—-the single biggest reason why Calcutta will always be the city of lepers. It’s the Missionaries of Charity who have portrayed Calcutta in this false negative light to further their agenda and to brighten their halos at the city’s expense. There is no denying the work that Mother Teresa did but her motivations were far from saintly. And the media muscle that she exerted due to her links with the Vatican made sure that the good work that Indian charities did was never highlighted. Which was instrumental in perpetuating the myth that she is the ONLY God-sent savior of the souls trapped in the hell that is Calcutta.

The upshot of all this is that we as Calcuttans/Kolkatans are doomed to be citizens of a city that is synonymous with death, disease and depredation all around the world. And we need kindly foreign men and women to be saved from ourselves.

What’s Washington like? Well its like Calcutta, surrounded by beggars. The only difference is the beggars in Washington wear 1500 dollar suits and they don’t say please or thank you.


I rest my case.

9 thoughts on “Oh Calcutta

  1. I agree. Very well said Arnab!!

  2. I actually saw the movie. And while I admire the efforts of the filmmakers, it was terribly disconcerting to how ghastly my hometown seemed when seen through the eyes of an outsider. I have walked down Brabourne Road a hundred times before, but it never seemed like hell on earth before.

  3. Very true Arnab,lets create a voice.

  4. Hear, hear!

    When Joffe was shooting here, I thought the junta made a stupid row about his depiction of my city. Voltaire and all that.
    Then I saw the film on TV in the US and I HATED it for the reasons you mention.

    And bang-on about Mother T. The single worst PR disaster for Calcutta.
    We should publish several rants – except that NObody in the media will have the guts to print or telecast anything against our Supposed Saint.


  5. I can understand why people who love some place could be be offended by documentaries/movies (You do not make the distinction, so I won’t either) that portray these places in a poor light. But its time we got over it. City of Joy is no more representative of Calcutta than Jerry Springer’s guests or the central characters in “King of New York” are of the American norm . I am from Bombay, love the place and certainly would not like people to develop their opinion of the place from watch Salaam Bombay and Satya (Both well made movies). On the other hand I must admit that Salamm Bombay was a fairly accurate movie in terms of depicting the life of a certain section of the Bombay populace. Similarly I am sure proud denizens of Rio were severely offended by “Cidade de Deus”, but the bonus footage included on the DVD convinced me that the depictions of violence in that movie had a strong basis in reality. I haven’t seen “Born into Brothels”, but I did find the idea of giving these children their own cameras to photograph life there an intriguing idea.

  6. Like what gamemaster sez…we get used to our surroundings and complacent until one day alien eyes show it to us from their perspective.
    Middle class Indians, what would we know about the hellishness about the place, unless you were born there?
    Lets get over the sensitiveness to the film makers-white et al, and realise that the world we live in may seem different to others, and may even be hell for some.
    Undoubtedly, white film-makers cant stop that bit about “gasp! dirt! poverty!”, but that over-reaction shouldn’t stop us from realising there is filth and slime in us

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  8. Well written yes. But isn’t this post basically a different point of view? There is some truth after all in the way Cal or even India is perceived, yes? We’re taking umbrage because we’re Indians, but the PR disaster bit doesn’t make it lies, does it?

  9. Whats with mother T?i am under impression that she did lots of humanitarian work for the underpriviledged

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