Only cynics and professional spoilsports will try and deny us from celebrating the Oscar success of the British film, Slumdog Millionaire. Apart from being a story that crosses the proverbial West-East cultural border posts, it has also provided the heady platform for many of our talents to be showcased in the super-mainstream of Hollywood cinema. Sure, we knew the genius of Allah Rakha Rahman much before he picked up two Academy Awards — for Best Music Score and Best Song (‘Jai Ho’). But who can deny the pleasure of this knowledge now being shared and acknowledged by millions whose notion of Hindi film music was, at best, apocryphal, and at worst, non-existent? Along with Rahman, the kudos provided to sound engineer Resul Pookutty — and no, not too many of us were familiar with this name until he was nominated in the Best Sound Mixing category — in the form of the golden gong is also a confirmation of the talent harboured in today’s Indian cinema industry.
To get into a lengthy debate about the legitimacy of our claim in celebrating a British film, in the case of Slumdog Millionaire, is as relevant as arguing about whether the film is an English ‘Bollywood’ movie or a Bollywood movie in English. Credit for the film’s runaway success with critics and audiences — especially in the domestic British market — goes to the team headed by director Danny Boyle, co-director Loveleen Tandan, producer Christian Colson and screenplay writer Simon Beaufoy, who brought Vikas Swarup’s novel and the city of Mumbai to cinematic life. To bring out performances of such entertaining calibre from actors — especially from completely untested ones — is a triumph of cinematic myth-making. Not only has Boyle pulled off the extraordinary business of making Indian non-actors perform with such terrific aplomb, but lest it be forgotten, he’s made resident of Greater London Dev Patel — known only in Britain till a few months ago for his role in the teen drama series Skins — a palpable, very believable Jamal Malik, resident of the swirlopolis that is Mumbai.
Slumdog Millionaire is a great, exhilarating film that has brought willy-nilly the ‘Bollywood’ language into mainstream world cinema. What better way for us to be flattered than when a foreign film hits Oscar gold by going down our ‘filmi’ path? Oh, and, of course, when something as obvious to us as Rahman’s greatness as a composer gets a new set of believers.