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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 13, March 14, 2009

On Danny Boyle and Goras in Love with India

Sunday 15 March 2009, by Humra Quraishi

Flip-flop. Or catch hold of some other alternative set of words. To describe our reactions to the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire. Before the awards came along its way, this very film was criticised along the typical format—how dare a Brit make a film on our poverty, how could he find his way inwards into our slums and expose realities of the day, how could he portray the very aspirations of slum-dwellers? Now, of course, there is a complete U-turn. And with eight Oscars tucked in, this very film is being portrayed as “our film” —along the rationale that it’s based on the novel by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, the music is by A.R. Rahman, songs by Gulzar, and the cast is again all Indian. But somewhere along the way we seem to have bypassed the very crucial factor—the man who is in the director’s seat. The man who directs, who makes, who puts it altogether. And here lies the catch.

Our poverty, our slums, our grief-stricken children, our ruthless system and more along the strain, is grasped rather too well by an “outsider”—director Danny Boyle. It’s his film. He has portrayed all this, with the best possible packaging. And he does so without dragging along superficiality or frills. Seeing and with that making us see those slum-dwellers from a closer angle. With that he has done what ‘insiders’ haven’t been able to do, at least in the last few years. This could be because we have become rather immune to the poverty and ruthlessness around. Politically twisted issues are rising …perhaps, more potent than human misery. Another factor could be that we view poverty from the hopelessly doomed angle—a poverty-stricken shall always remain so. He or she stands no chance. He or she cannot find a way upwards. Cannot even dream of better days...

Use subtle terms, the fact remains that upward mobility and rebellious streaks are off from our list. Rebels and those who try to break those set parameters are looked down upon. Simply killed. Ruthlessly murdered. There lies any rebelling spirit... But, in this film the director has decided not to follow the stale pattern. He portrays the very flight and fight of the human spirit.

And we should be doubly grateful to him. For portraying us and our realities and also for bringing about some cheer. Some distraction for all of us—distraction from whether we should celebrate Valentine’s Day, or throw chaddis towards hardliners or enter pubs and clubs.

Bringing in another weird distraction—whether any of the political enthusiasts could give a ticket to Danny Boyle to contest in the upcoming elections. Why not? Couldn’t come as totally surprising if the likes of Amar Singh offer him a ticket to fight against Behen Mayawati. Of course, that is, if it doesn’t upset the balancing powers of some of the older Bollywood characters, with the outsider issue also somehow about creeping in…

Just about close your eyes and imagine (only imagine!) Danny Boyle getting a ticket to fight in these elections. Would he be naïve enough to agree for the actual fight. Suppose he does … does come to the forefront? goes about campaigning, crossing the various hurdles, manages to hop from one slum locale to the next, till the slum-dwellers elect him to be their leader. Imagine the chaos that would follow. Political goons will be at their very best …chants would begin … angrez goras back on us and much more along the strain!

In fact, somehow I am tempted to mention this book on the goras—sahibs and memsahibs—who lived in our midst. Sahibs Who Loved India (Penguin) is complied by Khushwant Singh and though these essays were written years or decades back but put together only last year. In fact, this book hit the stands only last autumn. To the why, there’s this from Khushwant Singh:

“Sometime in February this year (2008), my son who lives in Mumbai redirected a bound manuscript of articles which I had commissioned over thirty years ago for the now defunct Illustrated Weekly of India. The man who had sent it was Phillip Knightley, once editor of The Sunday Times of London. He was not sure whether or not I was still around, so he sent it to my son to do whatever he wanted with it …when I was editor of the Illustrated Weekly, I had invited Englishmen and women who had lived in India after independence to write on ‘what India meant to me’. Amongst those who responded were Lord Mountbatten, members of the Indian Civil Service, journalists, boxwallahs, housewives and others. I went over the essays again and found them fascinating as well as relevant to our times. For far too long, we have looked upon the English as unwanted rulers who exploited India, kept their distance from Indians, and as soon as their tenures were over, went back to their homes in England and were happy to forget the time they spent in this country. This lopsided image of the English in India persists in the minds of most Indians…”

And Singh focuses on almost twentytwo such Brits who loved India and the Indianness it offers …they have traced out their experiences and much more.

It Puzzles Me!

Yes, it puzzles me that in a democracy like ours, it makes news if a ‘Muslim ‘ cop gets the top job. He gets it because of the seniority factor and yet it’s splashed as one of the big stories of the day—a Muslim cop getting the top slot and that too in the State of Gujarat!

A pity that in supposedly democratic set-ups, religious slots are played up to such an extent that even routine appointments carry that tinge …as formulas of the balancing kind are in vogue…

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