I was happy that a film like Slumdog Millionaire swept the Academy Awards last Sunday night with 8 Oscars, including Best Picture which is probably the highest award any filmmaker could achieve in his/her career (except for James Cameron because I absolutely hated Titanic). Even more endearing was to see the entire cast from India walking down the famous red carpet, enjoying the glitz and glamor that any hard working actor should experience.
We also saw the backlash against the film, where Indians and Indian Americans claimed offense to the depiction of their culture and country in such a gritty story, and even more so when reporters discovered that the child actors cast in the leading roles were still living in squalor with their families.
Fortunately, today it was announced that Danny Boyle had promised the two youngest actors, Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail would be moving out of the slums and into new apartments with their families. Better yet, the producers have promised to pay a rickshaw driver to chauffeur the two children to school every day for the next 8 years to make sure they don’t drop out. (I’m sorry, but something about that is so hilariously wrong.)
So this is where you enjoy that warm and fuzzy feeling in your belly because the two cutest Indian child actors will be given a new life.
Except for some reason, I can’t feel happy about this. There’s this gut feeling where I keep asking myself, what about the rest of them? You know, the thousands of children living in slums across Bombay–or even India itself? How much money can you throw at two families and what’s going to happen when the fickle Hollywood spotlight gets tired of them?
I won’t say that Slumdog Millionaire is a bad film. I enjoyed it and I’m glad that a popular director like Danny Boyle has highlighted the harsh living conditions of such a city, as well as extending his own personal wealth to help his young cast–but I can’t NOT raise my eyebrows at this news. Just as Jeff questioned the “authenticity” of the film because it was written and directed by non-Indians (doesn’t this ring a bell when Memoirs of a Geisha came out?), I have to question how much good this film has done for the Asian community.
I got the same feeling while watching the Slumdog filmmakers gather each of their 8 Oscars; the film celebrated India’s Bollywood culture, but almost every person (except for A.R. Rahman, who picked up the Best Song award for Jai Ho) who went on stage was white. Yay for an Indian movie, but who is really benefitting from these wins and box office numbers? Clearly, the slumdogs of India aren’t.
There’s just something so ironic about the whole story: a British director films a movie in a former colony, takes it to Hollywood where it becomes an award-winning box office hit, makes millions, finds backlash when people discover that the actors are still technically slumdogs and now, tries to help out those who he left behind (including a trip to Disneyland).
But I’m going to stay positive. As the LA Times wrote, it’s always a time to celebrate when a country like India is being nationally recognized in Hollywood.