India Celebrates a Hollywood Victory
NEW DELHI — Its depictions of filth and brutality fueled angry blogging and stray street protests. It drew unusually intense scrutiny, for everything from how much its child actors were paid to what the composer A. R. Rahman would wear to the Oscars. But on Monday, as India woke up to news of the spectacular wins by “Slumdog Millionaire” at the Academy Awards, this movie-mad country went “Jai Ho.”
The movie’s victory was embraced as India’s own.
“What a day it has been for India!” gushed a television news anchor midmorning. The story dominated television news throughout the day. News of a hepatitis B outbreak in western Gujarat State and a southern politician’s threatened hunger strike seemed minor by comparison.
“We rocked the world,” an Indian percussionist named Sivamani declared.
Never mind that “Slumdog” tells a story of stunted, shafted slum children, precisely the kind of story promoters of the New India have sought to obscure with tales of prosperity. India seized on its Oscar wins as a sign of its arrival on the world stage.
Indian television showed Indian dancers in spangly skirts onstage at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles and Mr. Rahman, eyes closed, singing his winning song, “Jai Ho” — its title an exuberant Hindi phrase that literally translates as “Let there be victory.” Mr. Rahman thanked God and his mother. Resul Pookutty, who shared the prize for sound mixing, dedicated it to his country. In his small town in south India, neighbors and kin were shown passing a big plate of sweets and crying tears of joy.
“India has made a clean sweep here,” Anil Kapoor, the Indian actor who played the game-show host in “Slumdog,” declared in an interview with NDTV, a private television station.
On Monday even the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, congratulated the “Slumdog” team, along with the makers of another winning film, “Smile Pinki,” a short documentary about a village girl with a cleft palate. “The winners have done India proud,” Mr. Singh’s office said in a statement.
The last time an Indian won an Oscar was for the costume design of the 1982 biographical film “Gandhi,” directed by Richard Attenborough. Many Indians were peeved at the time that a known Indian actor had not been cast to play the father of their nation. Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi, is of partly Indian descent. (In 1992 the Indian director Satyajit Ray was awarded the Oscar for lifetime achievement.)
“Slumdog,” of course, is not an Indian film. It was backed by two American studios. The director, Danny Boyle, is British, as are its screenwriter, who adapted the script from a book by an Indian diplomat, and its producer.
But “Slumdog” has an almost entirely Indian cast, along with a British actor of Indian descent, Dev Patel, who plays the teenage lead, Jamal. It was shot on the streets of Mumbai, unlike most Indian films. And about a third of the dialogue is in Hindi.
It has several key Indian crew members, including the co-director, Loveleen Tandan, and of course Mr. Rahman, whose compositions weave sounds from all over the world with a deeply Indian sensibility.
Most important, “Slumdog” picks up on key motifs of the classic Bollywood fairy tale: the plucky underdog hero, sibling rivalry, ghetto gangsters and a beautiful damsel needing a rescue.
Small bursts of outrage greeted the film when it opened in India recently, including a protest several weeks ago in front of Mr. Kapoor’s house, where children held up placards that read “Don’t call me dog.” In the current issue of India Today, a weekly magazine, a filmmaker named Priyadarshan called it “absolute and intentional exploitation of India.”
But the newspaper columnist Vir Sanghvi, writing in his blog on Monday, said he was “thrilled” by the film’s victory and the sight of so many Indians onstage at the Academy Awards. “Even when ‘Gandhi’ won the Oscar for best picture all those years ago, we never felt that it was India’s victory,” he wrote. “I don’t know if this is a breakthrough for India, or whether we will be able to follow it up. But some things seem clear. Anil Kapoor is now the world’s most famous Bollywood actor — and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Nobody will be able to talk about world music without including Rahman as its leading star.”
A more sobering response came on Monday from Dilbur Parakh, who heads a charity-run school where two of the film’s youngest stars, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, and Rubina Ali Qureshi, 9, are enrolled. The children still live in a sprawling shantytown whose name, Garib Nagar, literally means the enclave of the poor. The filmmakers pay their school fees.
To Ms. Parakh, the story of “Slumdog” echoed the stories of hundreds of Indian children she had met. “This is the way it really is,” she said. “We can’t ignore it. We have to face it. I mean Indians as a whole.”
That a Briton made the film did not much matter to her. “It really is an Indian story,” said Ms. Parakh, who is also the chairwoman of Aseema, the nonprofit organization in Mumbai that runs the school.
Munni Qureishi, 28, Rubina’s mother, said the people of Garib Nagar had stayed up much of the night in anticipation, then greeted the victory on Monday morning with firecrackers and boisterous handmade drums. Mrs. Qureishi, who has worked as a housemaid since childhood, said she looked forward to welcoming her daughter home with flowers and her favorite food: Chinese-style noodles.
“She has crossed the ocean,” Mrs. Qureishi said. “With God’s blessing she will return.”Hari Kumar contributed reporting from Noida, India.