Our arguably biggest film icon, Amitabh Bachchan, is an angry man. The actor, who is venerated by millions of Indians, feels that Slumdog Millionaire has been successful because it is a ‘Westerner’s’ take on the gritty underbelly of the Indian urban scape. According to his blog entry which roused a debate, and which he is now eager to disown Bachchan feels that Slumdog would not have been the toast of the international community had it been directed by a desi director. Bachchan goes on to assert that poverty is not just an Indian commodity, and that it is a reality even in developed countries.
The actor, who is seen as the grand patriarch of Bollywood, also takes a rather unbecoming pot shot at the eminently accomplished and much celebrated film-maker, Satyajit Ray. Bachchan implies that Ray’s movies were feted internationally only because they showcased the darker facets of the Indian story. He cannot seem to fathom why Bollywood’s blockbusters are not considered ‘realistic’ enough, when they are, according to him, as real as real can be.
Bachchan has fallen into a jingoistic trap. We cry foul every time any artistic work by foreigners whether it is a book or a movie portrays unpalatable truths about our society. If that work goes on to win accolades in Europe or America, then we are quick to cook up conspiracy theories. The favourite one: the ‘West’ loves a good Indian sob story and those who dish out such stuff are only serving that voyeuristic audience.
Let’s get this straight. The ‘West’ is not a homogeneous category. West versus East is truly an outdated debate. Our mindset and attitudes must reflect the self-confidence and maturity of a country whose star is on the rise, not the churlish petulance of a child. In judging Slumdog Millionaire, the jury was judging a movie. Not us as a people, or India as a country.