The ten Oscar nominations for the British-Indian movie Slumdog Millionaire mark a decisive shift forward in the fortunes of our fast-globalising film industry. India’s track record so far at the Mecca of film awards has been miserable. Apart from one for costume design and an honorary award for Satyajit Ray, no Indian has held aloft the handsome statuette. By that criterion, what indeed is Indian about Slumdog Millionaire to warrant such nationalist hype and hoopla? After all, a Briton has directed this moving rags-to-riches film with a largely Indian crew in an Indian setting. But does it become more Indian when Shekhar Kapur makes a film like Elizabeth with a foreign cast in a foreign setting? In an age of globalisation, national boundaries are getting blurred. A better way of appreciating Slumdog Millionaire is that it is a gripping movie made with the best resources available globally. It is truly our Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moment to celebrate a crossover hit.
Slumdog’s success is also a happy augury for the future. Just as the Hindi film industry has found a growing appeal for its films globally, it has attracted megabucks from Hollywood. Anil Ambani has struck a deal to bankroll Steven Spielberg’s Dream Works SKG and, accordingly, has the best chances to make films that appeal to a wider audience than the NRI diaspora. From the other side, Hollywood, too, has compelling reasons to engage with India’s booming market for entertainment. Over half of India’s population is below 20 years of age. There is also a higher concentration of people between 15 to 35 years who constitute the biggest market for the movie business. Walt Disney has taken a controlling stake in UTV Software Communications Ltd. Warner Brothers has recently released its Chandni Chowk to China. So, film-making here is fast becoming a process with greater synergies between Bollywood and Hollywood.
The combination of Indian resources with international creativity is bound to usher in a new genre of crossover cinema. And who knows? We might just have to build additional shelves for the coveted statuette.