Thursday, February 19, 2009

An Acquired Indifference

When 'Slumdog Millionaire' swept up a fleet of Oscar nominations,a lot of Indians sat back and wondered whether all the attention was well deserved. There was restrained and unrestrained wrath from various quarters that included Amitabh Bachchan who wrote something in his blog about India not being a slum and Indians not being dogs.The success of 'Slumdog Millionaire' is attributed to its dismal depiction of life in India,the kind that fits the stereotypical notion of the 'Indian way of life' the western media likes to convey.(The same has also been said about 'The White Tiger', this year's Booker Prize winner).

I am not here to list the merits or the pitfalls of this seemingly one sided portrayal.I was struck by the workings of my own psyche as I watched the film.I walked out from it untouched,unchanged and without a whine or a word.I admit that it doesn't epitomize the pinnacle of cinematic brilliance but there were moments in the film that were as real as life on the streets of India. One can easily recognize the blinded child who begs for his living,the shrewd,smooth talking urchin who wants to pocket a quick buck, the lethargic,pot bellied police constable who beats up a convict to get answers,the little girl whose future is in the brothels and many of the others.I realized that I wasn't watching the film as an outsider with the objectivity of a curious novice,I watched the film with all the studied nonchalance of a veteran who has seen and heard too much to flinch. I suppose this sentiment is shared by many others who felt that the film was 'watchable with nothing new to show'.

The Indian press never fails to use the words 'lest we forget' after every national disaster or tragedy.It is a wonder that Indians forget nearly everything but they always remember to smile;something that has confounded multitudes of expatriates.Perhaps it is due to the indifference acquired from years of observation; like an heirloom making its way from one generation to the next,hardening with the passage of time. 'Slumdog Millionaire' is definitely not the most moving ode to the Indian slum. On the other hand; if Bollywood can churn out films that make us feel fulfilled, and the Indian art scene can wrench our tear glands dry, then maybe transnational productions that make us confront our indifference aren't as scheming as we think.

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