Monday, January 26, 2009

White tigers, slumdogs and softening of the brain

I am scared of watching Slumdog Millionaire. Will it be another weary disappointment in the White Tiger style? The chances are high. And do we really want to win an Oscar when all that means is the likes of NDTV can embarrass themselves by asking AR Rahman whether it's a sign that "Indian music is now accepted internationally"? Do we not do enough of this nonsense already without the slightest bloody provocation? It is depressing in the extreme.

Our over-spiced mixture of pretension, apathy and a remarkable capacity for toadeating has now officially reached toxic levels. We don't lose any opportunity to pat ourselves on the back or "put India on the world stage". Our very real art movements are distorted and diluted by the hype that seems terribly necessary. Our very real history seems to be going this way too. And there's no point talking about sports at all unless you want to end up throwing yourself on the floor and drumming your heels.

In the corporate world, all that is wrong and ridiculous about the Global Way has been adopted enthusiastically without the leavening bits: the brusqueness without the respect for time, the sacrificing of manners without the resulting efficiency, the self-imposed urgencies, the delusions of grandeur. None of this is new to India – but they used to be the preserve of medium-sized government officials and middle management in public sector companies, nobody aspired to it or lauded it.

The news channels are equally execrable. I have the luxury of finding Fox News funny but I can't laugh about our own versions of it. Most of it is an orgy of cluelessness. Idiot girls arguing about feminism without ever understanding the word "independence". Equally IQ-challenged boys talking about the aforementioned girls. People of all kinds mouthing off about "issues" without stopped to think about them, all this presented as hard news.

Self-appointed moral police march into a nightclub in Mangalore and assault the patrons, but instead of calling it the criminal and unconstitutional act that it is, there's a lot of drivel on TV about the anatomy of violence and the driving forces of our times and the "youth".

We are aggressive about random things but will do nothing to stop injustice or crime. Mumbai's educated thousands will march in protest against an attack on the Taj but they won't rally around when the Shiv Sena terrorises an elderly shopkeeper on the wrong side of the railway tracks.

Among the newspapers, our choices range from the prissy Hindu to the scurrilous Times, and not one of them employs a writer who actually learnt English. And what the fuck is a terror attack? Is it something like a panic attack? It sounds a lot like how I'm feeling now.

India has always been complicated. Life is crowded. There are always too many people and too many things in your face. People are rude. Places are dirty. Rules are fluid. The simple act of numbering streets can become a metaphysical nightmare. But all this is still true and unadorned. This is India as it has always been, take or leave in as-is-where-is condition. As the travel books say, all it needs is time and once you get used to it, you enjoy it.

But the nouveau India is another matter entirely. It makes you want to throw up. And I'm very much afraid that Slumdog Millionaire is a child of this, a beautifully designed Penguin India cover and blurb, with nothing in between. The Oscar nomination has only deepened this suspicion.

Have to add: Two days before the Oscars, I finally watched the movie (mostly because of not wanting to be left out of the fervour if it won anything). And I liked it. As my friend said in his comment, take away the hype and it's a sweet rags to riches story.

11 comments:

Mahesh Shantaram said...

Your suspicion is correct and well articulated as usual. Slumdog Millionaire is Oscar material only because it's produced by Hollywood. In it's own class, we've seen better films like Chandni Bar and Omkara. The world deserves to watch these, but the few great Bollywood films that we make can at best enter the Oscars as Best Foreign Film. And good point about NDTV. It reminds me why I chose over 10 years ago never to own a television.

Radz said...

I watched Slumdog Millionaire last night and I must admit that I have watched many many many better movies made by our own 'Bollywood' gurus. The movie is typical film-festival material and is good on its own accord, but I fail to understand all the hype and NDTV's 'Global Indian' award to Mr Boyle & team. However, like you mentioned, our media and PR groups never seem to get enough of trying their best to place India on a global platform which is nothing less than an illusion..

Anonymous said...

" India has always been complicated. Life is crowded. There are always too many people and too many things in your face. People are rude. Places are dirty. Rules are fluid. The simple act of numbering streets can become a metaphysical nightmare. But all this is still true and unadorned. This is India as it has always been, take or leave in as-is-where-is condition."



Strange, but the White Tiger says that if you allow that same trajectory of thought to continue, you (yes you), and all the young Indians you know, will be dragged into the forefront of that impending (Maoist) revolution. No approval is sought by the White Tiger nor will any mercy be shown. I would recommend that you heed his words well.....

Gargoyle said...

"We let our prophets go to waste"?

...I guess if I'm starting to quote Robbie Williams, I must finally be ready for Slumdog Millionaire.

sunami said...

"Our over-spiced mixture of pretension, apathy and a remarkable capacity for toadeating has now officially reached toxic levels. We don't lose any opportunity to pat ourselves on the back or "put India on the world stage"

Well said! I'm eagerly looking forward to 'We are proud of our poo' movement.

bigblue said...

maybe I'm not all that intellectual, but I thought it was a good movie, what with all the punjabi singing dancing movies with crazzy B or suchlike belting out rap lyrics nd everybody dancing with designerwear and being happy in the climax... and Darn Moran or is it Karn Johar ? talking about how his (s?)kank is 'socially revolutionary' !! come on.. it was a nice movie, rags to riches.... heck our country IS a shithole in some places. Get over it people, that doesn't take away your achievements elsewhere. But then, like I said earlier, maybe it has to do with my IQ points being in the center of the bell curve unlike you learned sahib-bibijees or Dhani-ammavarus (depending on which side of the vindhyas youre on) who are probably on the extreme right....

Overall, I like it, its a tale of victory, of making it on nothing but luck in the face of impossible odds.

Gargoyle said...

About award-winning movies, surely they shouldn’t be about the subject matter or the "message", but the quality of the film itself as a work of art? You say it was a nice movie – perhaps it is. Perhaps it's the best movie ever made. I don’t know, because as I said, I have not seen it yet. That was kind of the point of the post.

And talking about what I see as my country’s problems is not about belittling its achievements, it is about caring what becomes of it.

About the sahib-bibi/extreme right shit, don’t stereotype Raj! Not worthy of you.

bigblue said...

Errm... I wasn't doing any of the above.. completely harmless and no offense intended at all...I was completely _agreeing_ with your post (that I thoroughly enjoyed reading btw) saying that : I think you should go and watch it, its just another pretty enjoyable movie. Not some statement about our place as a nation in the scheme of things etc that the media says the Oscar nominations seem to imply.

Gargoyle said...

Oh! Sorry :) I think I'm getting over-defensive in my old age...
And I *will* watch it now, especially since you've just put it into perspective - thanks!

Anonymous said...

The White Tiger was a real disappointment, if you ask me it does not any prize, leave alone the booker, the bookers are bonkers. to give it to a book like this. Give it to to Script of Slum Dog...... that deservers it better

achan

Anonymous said...

I watched slumdog milllionire 2 days back with out interruption and without even fast forwarding once ! Its great. It did deserve all the Oscars except for Rehman's music, there was nothing great about it. You should listen to R D Burman, and the other gread music directors of the 60's, the songs of mukesh, rafi,latha mangeshkar, and kishore kumar. They deserved these oscars.
achan

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