Friday, January 16

Reality check

It is admirable how offensive people can be. This piece is a case in point. Starting with the title the post is offensively offensive. Not to mention that the author is also very generous in his observations of Mr Bachchan being a "no-talent" and "empty-headed."

I have watched and loved Slumdog Millionaire. It is a beautifully made film. But to suggest that a film like it depicting the "realities" of India could have "only been made by a westerner" and that the film industry should be ashamed that "it took a white man to show" how to to make a "honest" film is outright offensive and false.

India has its share of brilliant writers and directors who have portrayed the bleak "realities" of India, time and again. But poverty and slums are not the only realities of India, just as the growth of Bangalore or Pune are not. Indian filmmakers have handled social vices like corruption, caste system, dowry deaths, subjugation of women, disease, underworld and other "realities" of their times. We have films like Do Beega Jamen, Ankur, Shataranj Ke Khiladi, Water, Earth, Saaransh, Zakhm, Black Friday, Pinjar. Even commercial masala movies depict social issues one way or another, though they might not be the focus. Unemployment, hardships are all too frequent in Indian cinema. Amitabh Bachchan was the 'angry young man', and though the films might have been cheesy, the basic theme was a social problem.

Reading what Nirpal says one could be led to believe that Danny Boyle set out to make a film that opened the world's eyes to the "realities" of India. I bet he did not. He set out to make a film that sells, a film about hopes, dreams, and love. For all that it depicts, the fact remains that Slumdog is as escapist as any other film. What happens in the film is very unlikely to happen to a real-life slumdog. It is a fantasy, a Cinderella story. It is a masala film with song and dance, the good guys and bad, the gangsters, and love overcoming all obstacles. The rave reviews it has received so far are mostly about how it is a feel-good film, and a romantic fantasy.

Slumdog reiterates that the basic purpose of films is entertainment. It is a business and you produce what sells. An average film-goer seeks entertainment, not a bitter depiction of issues he has to deal with on a daily basis. He enters that cinema hall to escape from the bleak realities. To laugh, relax, forget his pains, failures and disappointments. He might not do so knowingly. But films provide him the opportunity to do just that. The films that Nirpal demeans as being escapists, allow the viewer to dream. Increasing prosperity, even if only for the middle class, is a reality of India. And there is nothing wrong in depicting it.

There is a reason why films handling social problems around the world are called parallel films. They generally bring awards but not money. I love parallel cinema. They attract some of the best talent. But I love my masala movies too. Just like I like to read a Harry Potter alongside State of Denial.

It would do Nirpal good to appreciate that neither life nor India is full of bleak "realities". It is also beautiful and full of good and hope. Indian cinema depicts all that and more. Western films do exactly the same. Slumdog Millionaire is a fantasy and The "white man" has made a good film. Nothing more.

1 comment:

Supremus said...

I agree. This was offensive!