~By Anu. Suddenly, western newspaper editors are trying to get their heads around what the success of a film set in Mumbai's slums, made by a white Hollywood movie director represents.
Here's what Slumdog does NOT represent: it's not a ground-breaking expose of the real India. City of Joy, Salaam Bombay, Bandit Queen and even Monsoon Wedding did that years ago. I don't think the fact that Danny Boyle is white says anything terribly significant, except that he's a brilliant director with an exceptionally sharp and honest eye for story-telling.
But here's why Slumdog Millionaire IS unique: it's the first major Hollywood production set in India which doesn't feel the need to use foreigners or the English language as a crutch to make it to the box office. Simon Beaufoy, who wrote the script and Boyle himself obviously had the courage to go with an Indian as their main character (even though, ironically, the book Q&A, by Indian author Vikas Swarup includes white protagonists). They obviously had enough faith that their audience, eastern or western, could relate to the story of a boy who turns adversity into triumph, no matter what color his skin or what his native language.
What's particularly refreshing is that Slumdog manages to finally sweep away the stilted, archaic caricatures of modern Indians perpetuated by westerners and Indians alike (think Bride and Prejudice (Yikes what crock of shlock!), Bend it Like Beckham... that false character in Heroes who's portrayed wearing linen suits and speaking in dulcet Shakesperian tones as a student in Chennai; Aamir Khan's cloying brown and white caricatures in both Lagaan and Mangal Pandey).
Slumdog displays Indian humour, Indian fatalism, and Indian tenacity on its own terms, without seeking shelter in mysticism, nostalgia, colonial history or notions of cultural exoticism -- much like Monsoon Wedding. Except Slumdog is brave enough to free us even from that final crutch editors and directors lean on when they're looking for reassurance a story is worth telling: middle-classdom.
It puts an illiterate, filthy, poor orphan on par with a parasol-carrying, twittering English belle and by doing so frees us from the patronizing notion that we are only capable of relating to her, never to him.
For that reason alone, Slumdog is a triumph. It flies in the face of every literary agent, news editor or film director (and I've come across enough personally) who argue that only stories with British/American/western angles/characters are worth doing.
I'm thrilled to see the likes of 'City of God', 'The Kite Runner' and 'White Tiger'. I'd love to see the back of Naipaul, Rushdie, Merchant Ivory, Attenborough and Tully once and for all. As worthy as they may have been... they are yesterday's men. Now, if only the next Slumdog to emerge from Hollywood breaks the sex barrier too. How even more amazing if a woman from the developing world endowed with as much intelligence, humanity, guile and tenacity as Jamal could hog the limelight on her own terms!