Slumdog Millionaire has won ! Yeahhh ! Every Indian can now leap out of human excreta and go Jai Ho under the neele aasmon ke taale. Because as Anil Kapoor tells us “It’s time for me, the whole team of slumdog and every India to cheer and celebrate. We are having an ecstatic moment here in LA. I can only say that India has made a clean sweep here.” Why just Anil Kapoor, who may be forgiven for being a bit carried away, even Raja Sen of Rediff informs us that “India conquers the Oscars”.
Surely a movie/documentary made by non-Indians with India as the subject winning equates to India conquering the Oscars. Just like if the “March of the Penguins” would have swept the Academy Awards, it would have been a glorious achievement of Antarctica and a proud day for all penguins.
[Update: Why Anil Kapoor or Raja Sen? According to the TOI, the Congress is now claiming credit for Slumdog (I hope they have seen the movie to be sure about what exactly they are claiming credit for). Baila Baila ! (link courtesy Rohit) ]
The fact that Slumdog did so well on Sunday should have surprised none. At least not me, I knew it the moment I stepped out of the DC theatre in December.
For one, Slumdog Millionaire very deliberately and very effectively strikes many of the chords that Academy judges have been known to have a soft spot for . In order to ace an exam, you do not necessarily have to be the best —even an average person can excel if he/she can understand the “system” and do exactly what is expected. Slumdog Millionaire does that admirably.
The other angle we need to take in order to understand Slumdog’s sweep is to look at the Academy Awards itself, the alarming decline in its popularity and the threat to its existence as a publicly broadcast spectacle. Last year, the Oscars had its lowest viewership ever and though there was a partial rebound this year (third poorest ever), the fact remains that the awards ceremony, as a sustaining money making enterprise, is in jeopardy. The movies that make it to the nomination list, being of the “art-house” variety, usually have limited releases in select theaters which means that most people have not seen or heard of them and have no emotional connect with its fate. The profile of the people attending are not the ones who appeal to the teen/brainless/celebrity-obsessed demographic in the way MTV Awards do. Finally the presentation style remains roughly the same year after year.
Critics of the Academy complain that the jury has an irrationally pig-headed aversion for commercially successful movies . No matter how good a movie is , if it commercially successful and popular, it is invariably rejected by the elitists on the committee. The only exceptions to this in recent years has been Titanic (which fit into the “grand historical tragedy on an epic scale” formula popular with the jury) and the Return of the King (which was just way too spectacular to be ignored) with the years in which these movies swept the night were those when the Oscar show showed record viewership. [Many old-timers still find it tough to get over the time the Oscars passed over crowd -favorite ET in favor what was perceived as an over-long, preachy hagiography “Gandhi” in 1982]
Faced with the tension between “popularizing” (“dumbing down”) the awards (let’s have “You got Served” and “Spiderman” as nominees) and making it into a “nobody cares” snoozefest like the Tony’s, the Academy finds movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” God-given get out of jail cards. Shamelessly feelgood with its underdog story, cloying romance and the “This is the third world. Look at how sub-humanly they stay in their own country” subtext “Slumdog” is intellectually untaxing, visually spectacular, full of “human interest” and unabashedly “exotic”.
In short a movie normal people can connect with.
At the same time, it is sufficiently “low-budget”, “non-franchised” and “non-summer-blockbuster” for the Academy to not think that they have compromised the awards by giving it all to Slumdog. [ Had Ledger not died and this not become so “sentimental”, I am sure the Oscar committee would have ignored the Dark Knight totally. It surely deserved a nomination for Best Director and Best Movie but then being a summer blockbuster, a definite “No No”]
No wonder then that it won. And big.
If there were any people I felt good for on Sunday night it was for Resul Pookutty and for the man they called Rackman. Coming from the Indian movie industry where technical people are sometimes treated as second class contributors in the film-making process, it was gratifying to see someone from the fraternity getting his time in the limelight.
And what to say about the Rackman or AR Rehman. One of India’s cultural icons of the modern era, he has consistently given music that is, to put it as modestly as possible, world-class. While it may be argued that Slumdog is by no means his best work, it sure was better than his competition (the other nominees) and I would go so far as to say that a significant part of Slumdog’s “feel good” effect would have been lost had it not been for the thumping “Jai Ho” at the end, a song that almost compels you to get out of your seat and clap. At the very least, Rehman deserved some kind of universal acclaim for albums like “Dil Se” and “Bombay” and “Roja” and seeing him on the podium (wish Gulzar could have been there with him) was definitely an emotional moment for me.
Finally the real “worm-has-turned” feel-good instant was when Anil Kapoor leapt onto stage and just went berserk. Who would have thought that the man flailing his arms as if in the throes of an epileptic fit while singing “Aaa jee O Jeee” in “Ram Lakhan”, the man bustling Juhi Chawla with a “maalgadi tu dhakka laga” and a “tirchi nazar main hain jadoo”, the man swinging punches with his wrist on fire in “Rakhawala”, the man crooning “Vatata Vada”, “Hungama Ho Jaye Hungama” and “Bo Eee Bo Eeee Bum Ba Ba Bum Bo Eee”, the hairy back moving up and down in “Parinda” —Mr. Bechara, Mr. Azad, Mr. India would one day be holding aloft an Oscar.
Who would have thought?
Egged on by two of the biggest names in the business, Sir David Frost and US talkshow giant Larry King, the 50-year old actor says he’s considering taking up full-time TV presenting.
“I’ve been encouraged by Larry King and David Frost,” he told the Independent. “Both said my television presenting skills were second-to-none. When such icons of the form give you a compliment like that you simply cannot ignore it. David said I could go on to be one of the great television hosts of our time so it is something I’m seriously looking into.” He adds. “Perhaps I could front my own show here. I’ll rule nothing out.” [Link]
Always charming, self-effacing and modest, I cannot think of one other person from Bollywood who deserved to be where they are today other than Anil Kapoor.
Khelta ja khelta ja baaziyon pe baaziyaan.