Monday, February 23, 2009

I'm back...and I'm blogger than ever

Gulp.....Ahem.....Hello? Anyone there?

Yes, it's been a while....I know, I know...I've just been busy, you know? It's not like I forgot about you...Sorry....It's been nice to know I've been missed though - casual reminders from friends, Heather's comments and even a text message from randy vandal- I totally feel like a plastic (Mean girls reference)!! Anyway, I'm back! So ....are we cool now? .... Ok?.... Ok! So let the blogging begin!

There's sooo much to catch up on and blog about! In the time I've been away I had a(nother) birthday, went to New York, unpacked tons of boxes of accomplished books, worked on a document that will be ripped apart this coming Friday (joy), joined the pink chaddhi campaign, looked at apartments with prospective roomies, watched and really liked Slumdog Millionaire, realized sadly that I might be becoming an NRI and of course watched the Oscars last night!

(Speaking of which- woo hoo for Slumdog Millionaire! And A R Rahman who deserves all these accolades and more (not that Slumdog millionaire is really close to his best work but that's fine).

(Gosh I feel rusty)

So I finally saw SM and suprise..I liked it. I had not expected to. As someone on Sepia Mutiny put it "Anything having to do with the third world that masses of white people go into paroxysms over is guilty until proven innocent…" It's an uncomfortable sentiment but I understand it. I didn't want to see some exotic, cliche ridden version of India (with bright colors and poor kids who are filled with inner joy etc. which, come to think of it, SM had). I also had read the book the movie is based on and I found it far fetched and not very compelling after the first few chapters. I was also put off by the reviews of some bloggers and critics that I respect and tend to agree with. I didn't have a problem with seeing the ugly side of India per se but I did have a problem with exoticizing and spiritualizing it.

SM, I'm pleased to say, did nothing of the kind. It's just a roller coaster of a movie, shot beautifully, with excellent pacing and plot. The kids are believable and the acting decent and Anil Kapoor's supreme over the top, ham acting actually works in the film. Anil Kapoor works in a film- that alone should get it the Oscar. Anyway, it combines an utterly fantastical, uplifting story with glimpses of utter bleakness and grit. It's simultaneously authentic and escapist - and it works as a bollywood film that is so not a bollywood film. Just exhilarating.

And trite as this may sound, it made me think about all the kids on the streets of Delhi that you see every day- trailing you at PVR or reaching through a car window. Most of the time my reaction to them was one of discomfort mingled with annoyance but I had never really thought about their inner lives, what a tough existence theirs is and the brutality and violence they must see every day...

That said, I do understand why Slumdog Mliionaire riles up emotions in India. I can understand how to people that feel marginalized by the riches of neo-liberalization and globalization all around them, something as ultimately rosy as SM and the entire hoopla surrounding it can rankle. The success of SM, made by foreigners and celebrating what is a very grim existence understandably creates anger and a further haves versus have nots division. It's just a step away from the Mangalore pub incident- which I find scary, objectionable and profoundly undemocratic- but can understand intellectually all the same. I think it's very telling to see a slew of works that address this divide coming out in recent years in India, from people that have some degree of distance from extreme wealth in India and thus a more critical eye than say, the Karan Johars of the world. So White Tiger (which aroused a similar debate in India, although on a smaller scale) or Oye Lucky Lucky Oye are documenting the seamy, underbelly of contemporary Indian society. History 2 as Dipesh Chakravorty would call it. (And with that sentence I cross firmly into pretentious territory so I'll stop).

One last thing: What I find idiotic on the other hand is people like Amitabh Bachchan winging about SM out of barely concealed jealousy. Another tone I pick up on in much of the criticism of SM from Indian intellegensia is a sort of reverse snobbery- sort of like 'only we know and understand India/poverty fully, you wouldn't get it, white people.' You see such condescension in academia all the time and I have no patience for it.

Finally, on the flip-side, to those that say SM is the only realistic bollywood movie made: the comparison is utterly invalid. Bollywood is a completely different animal from 'Western' cinema- it reflects its own traditions, history, ethos and style. Comparing mainstream Indian movies to SM is a strawman argument. You're better of comparing SM to non-mainstream Indian cinema and even then, two words: Satyajit Ray.

So that's my take on Slumdog- gosh, it was hard to write that since I've been so out of touch but I'm back and I'm blogging and it's FUN!

And in no particular order my top 5 Oscar moments:

1. A.R. Rahman winning and performing at the Oscars. With people in lehengas!! I loved this humility and his simple speech and a little part of me (the part I fear is becoming predictably NRI - which is fodder for a post coming soon) said in my head 'India! Indian! Indian! India!'

2. Hugh Jackman's opening routine- he was charming and funny, talented and relaxed and I loved how cool the opening bit was. I on the whole loved the new set and the small, intimate feel of the show.

3. The whole Jen Aniston and Brangelina showdown. Team Aniston all the way (for obvious reasons)! I couldn't believe the Oscars did a whole filmfare Rekha-Amitabh thing and cut to Angelina when Jennifer was presenting- very sneaky! Anyway, I was so happy Sean Penn won because JM was sitting right behind him!

4. The previous acting awards winners handing out the new awards- there was something genuinely emotional about the way the actors seemed to react to previous greats praising their performances.

5. Ben Stiller's spot on take on Joaquin Phoenix. Just the right balance between hilarious and slightly cruel...


Heather said...

light light is it really true that India changed it's mind about SM overnight the way this article suggests? I don't know if the Canadian media can be considered a trusted source on this...

Lightlight said...

Sort of- Heather. The Indian media and masses tend to seek great validation from awards abroad- post colonial insecurities? Typical in some ways but better late than never.

Violet said...

I totally agree with your appreciation of Ben Stiller - hilarious. Maybe kinda cruel, but Joaquin Phoenix deserves it :) And I also loved Sean Penn's acceptance speech. I still haven't seen Slumdog, but I just love seeing Danny Boyle's face light up every time they win some award. Refreshing to see a non-jaded (yet) director.