Feb 25, 2009

Irony and Oscars

Slumdog Millionaire has swept the board at the Oscar ceremony, harvesting eight of the gold statuettes including that for 'best picture'. It has been hailed just about everywhere – except the sub-continent in which it was set and from whence originate most of its cast. Indian reaction to the film was decidedly lukewarm, with commentators and critics unhappy with the portrayal of life in the slums and the risibility of the storyline. Risible storylines are no stranger to the Bollywood sound-stage so one might wonder just what it is that is being carped about – and the answer may lie in the irony of its production as well as no small measure of sour grapes.For years Bollywood has been trying to make the breakthrough into the territory dominated by Hollywood, with an almost complete lack of success. Catching the attention of a crossover audience is never easy, and film is an art-form that has highly specific national characteristics. Look at the difficulty French films have always had getting an English audience for instance. Likewise Russian, German and even Australian films have difficulty finding a screen in other countries. That Slumdog Millionaire has made the jump into the lucrative crossover market is to be applauded at one level – a good film is a good film; but the irony is that it had a western – British – director, was made with American money and its target market was English speaking and primarily western. The sour grapes come in when one considers that Indian film-makers must be kicking themselves that they did not make the film themselves, and are having trouble applauding a project which some might feel was snatched from under their noses. However, we are left wondering what might have been the fate of this rags-to-riches fable had it been a production made with Indian money, with Indian producers and directors and crafted with an audience that was both Indian and international in mind? Would it be holding a basket of little gold men today if it had? Perhaps not. Bollywood has not made a breakthrough with Slumdog Millionaire, and our own film industry is in such a parlous state that the chances of any of our own films sashaying down the red carpet are slim indeed. It will be interesting to see what business the film does in Indian cinemas – or, for that matter, here.

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