~By Anu. There was a man in the cafe today loudly complaining that 'Slumdog Millionaire' shows the bad side of India. "Why don't they show all the nice places, yaar?" Part of me sympathizes. India, like so many developing countries, is too often portrayed in the west as a curious, uncivilized, barbaric place.
But equally, Indians have an uncanny ability to ignore and disown their own worst tendencies.
Here's a case in point: a minister in the Indian government has called on leaders to declare the capital, New Delhi, a 'no open defecation zone'. So just like you have 'quiet zones' on trains where mobile phones and mp3 players are not allowed... so in future you might see signs all over Delhi showing a person squatting bare-assed on a street with a red line across it. 'No shitting, please.'
This isn't because the honorable minister is concerned about public health. No, this is to avoid 'national embarassment' during next year's Commonwealth Games. Never mind that there aren't enough sewers, toilets or basic accommodation for Delhi's estimated 16 million residents, most of them increasingly poor rural migrants. That's a silly, little problem... really, what's actually wrong with using the street? It all ends up in the same place anyway.
But, annoyingly, a bunch of uptight foreigners are turning up next year with lots of television cameras and they obviously won't understand that sanitation is some silly western concept, like toilet paper and can openers.
Similarly, India's biggest movie star, Amitabh Bachchan can't understand the fuss about 'Slumdog Millionaire'. An Indian director making such a movie, he contended recently on his blog**, would never have received such attention... And besides, every western country has its own 'underbelly.' Yes, come to think of it, I do recall hearing about the child-maiming mafia in Paris and Chicago.
Namita Bhandare, writing in the Hindustan Times this week, nailed Mr. Bachchan's pathetic duplicity by stating:
"Excuse me? Has [Slumdog director Danny] Boyle said that developed nations don't have a 'murky underbelly'? And surely, Bollywood's badshahs are free to tell the murky tales of any of these underbellies?"
Hmmm. Good point. Mr. Bachchan may once have made his name playing the 'angry young man', forced to fight for his rights and for the justice due to ordinary, poor, hard-working people... But when was the last time he acted in such a film? Indeed, has he ever depicted the plight of poor, exploited Indians working in the Gulf, or New York City? Or tackled the politically sensitive role of playing an unpopular Indian leader? (A la 'W'?) From what little I can bear to watch of him these days, his favorite role is the wealthy, sexy playboy in New York, London, or Dubai chasing skirt... including that of his own daughter-in-law.
When was the last time, IIFA (the International Indian Film Awards), which Mr. Bachchan so enthusiastically endorses (motto: "IIFA believes cinema is a key to open minds") give out an award for 'Best Foreign Film'?
Go back to your Mumbai mansion, Mr. Bachchan, and don't worry your pretty little toupee about reality, which you claim is incompatible with Bollywood, or good filmmaking for that matter. You stopped believing in either concept a long time ago.
**Mr. Bachchan subsequently claimed that the comments on his blog were not actually his own. Remember, this is a man who, for all his past acting glory, once admitted that his best performances were down to the director literally coaching his every expression, cadence, and movement. So besides being a rather useless actor, he also apparently cannot be asked to write his own blog.
PS- Believe it or not, I was once an ardent fan... but it's hard to believe in such a buffoon, especially when he doesn't exhibit good taste, sense or integrity, even at the ripe old age of 67.