I stood inside a glitzy mall in central Beijing on Thursday afternoon, waiting for the 16 people inside a 250-seat theatre who had bought tickets to watch Slumdog Millionaire. The staff was hopeful of a full house on the weekend. About 23 Beijingers had showed up for the morning screening.
This week, long after Slumdog Millionaire arrived in China on pirated DVDs for 10 yuan (about Rs 70), the movie had its official release on the mainland. The Chinese censors who control the pick of just 20 foreign films imported into the communist nation every year, said they cleared the movie because its ‘artistic value’ was proven at the Oscars. The Wednesday premiere was broadcast on a popular Chinese website, and director Danny Boyle was named the jury president of this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival.
For the young Chinese for whom India is a fuzzy concept of Bollywood song and dance rather than a major economy across the border, Mumbai’s gritty Slumdog is a talking point the way Raj Kapoor’s Awaara was for their parents. On an arch inside the costly Wanda Cinema, where a ticket sets you back by 70 yuan (Rs 500), Awaara is still part of the decor, in bold letters next to Gone With the Wind.
In colleges, cafes and offices in Beijing, the Chinese have been incredulously asking Indian expats to explain the movie that has left them with even more questions than answers about India. ‘Are child beggars really blinded in Mumbai,’ they ask. ‘And don’t you find the title Slumdog insulting?’
The pirated DVD has entered classrooms of English language students who regularly watch Hollywood movies in college — even the American series Friends and US President Barack Obama’s oath-taking speech. This correspondent heard that students in a city college recently watched the Slumdog Millionaire DVD and discussed whether Mumbai’s slums were more horrifying than the poorest parts of Africa.
Everyone this correspondent spoke to walked out impressed that the movie makers were allowed to depict ‘reality’. “I don’t think it’s safe to go to Indian cities,’’ a girl called Liu told HT, while her partner, Feng, tried to reassure her that the movie showed only the ‘dark side’ of Mumbai.
Some Chinese think that Slumdog Millionaire is a Bollywood movie. Gao Yan, a restaurateur, came to the cinema with a friend who had watched the DVD. “This is the first Indian movie I’ve watched since Awaara,’’ he said.