Awards to control Bollywood


Derek Beres is a New York-based international music journalist, DJ, music producer, and yoga instructor.



I always reply with the same two lines when asked the question I’ve received numerous times over the last few months: What did I think of Slumdog Millionaire? I loved it. Until the last fifteen minutes.

I am in no way a Bollywood expert. I’ve seen a handful of films, somewhat cognizant of their nature: kitschy, overly dramatic, musical, must include a scene on a train. More than anything, I know the music, inundated with albums by Asha Bhosle and her sister Lata Mangeshkar as a world music journalist. Lovely albums, although I’ll always lean towards Mohammed Rafi, maybe a little Kishore Kumar. Lata’s “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” was dope way before Thievery Corp paid it homage.

The music, like the cinema, is usually larger-than-life, boisterous, passionate to the point of corny. Usually. Sometimes the artists nail it spot on, like Slumdog for the first hour-plus. What I was most impressed with was the director’s fusing of Bollywood with Hollywood, predominantly in terms of cinematography. Some of the opening cities rivaled City of God for social and political relevance, and the background love story — well, I’m as much for a good romance as anyone. I like to be taken away, sometimes.

Which is, from what I was told many years ago by a woman whose family was from India, the exact reason for Bollywood’s popularity: escapism. The ability to dream yourself into a world, even if just for a few hours, that doesn’t exist but could (and as some would argue, should). People breaking out into dance on the streets, heartbreaks resolved by song, kisses like sensual calligraphy painted across the screen. I get it: America has long had musicals and, somewhat newer, Hollywood. Of course, economically and socially, India’s film industry has a stronghold that even Los Angeles could only imagine: Bollywood, true, but also Telegu, Assamese, Malayalam…their regional industries trump our national one, making India the overall leader in global ticket sales.

Making Slumdog a marketer’s nocturnal admission. The producers got it right: it’s in English, making the crossover easy, and displays a lot of things: big Hollywood flourishes like fires and gunshots and gangsters arising from the slums; an independent filmmaker’s integrity complete with philosophical twists and turns; a big hit with MIA on the soundtrack; and Bollywood, couldn’t forget about that: plenty of trains, and the sing-and-dance during the credits. It was a fitting time for that to arise, right after they duped us.

Or, apparently, didn’t, seeing it received the Oscar. Won over a lot of people, unsurprisingly. Could have won me over, too, if it had stayed consistent with the theme. Rags to riches — but what are the riches? There were so many brilliantly interwoven subjects and plots, but like a lot of movies that feel they must be under two hours, it rushed to resolve them. Salim’s character shot and killed in a bathtub of money: what a wasted way to off an intensely interesting character. Moreover, expectable.

There were always expectable moments: of course Prem Kumar offered Jamal the wrong answer in the bathroom. That’s where the movie started to become expectable in the first place. He’d never consciously hand over his riches to this lucky chaiwallah. That was fine: plot development. It carried Jamal into custody, which was exactly where the movie began.

But the end, the end. It was what won the movie the Oscar, sure, but what kind of social message is really inside there? Again, flight from reality. I was hoping, sitting in my seat literally praying, that Latika found her way back to him. Love over the obstacles; it’s something we all crave. Then why the money? Why does the formula always have to include the hero getting “everything?”

Here’s an ending: Jamal hijacks the Musketeer question by purposefully answering wrong (or just plain blowing it, since he didn’t pay attention in primary school). Latika returns; he turns to the audience and says: why are you all paying attention to my life and whether or not I win this million? Is that really all you have time for? Is this what drives nations: the constant fascination with other people and whether or not they fail or succeed at acquiring money? Isn’t that partly (or predominantly) what got Americans into the economic malaise we’re in the midst of right now?

What sort of “hope,” exactly, does a movie like Slumdog really offer?

We can’t be surprised that this movie drove Americans to theaters in droves. It’s exactly what we’re going through: watching the television and seeing where the next million is. It offered us distance between our crumbling economy and the reality we have to face. The problem is, this sort of distance was created by our constant striving towards the stars instead of building a community together. And so we remain stuck in the same cycle as before, waiting for someone to come and offer us a chance at a bit of reality…television.

I had to laugh that the millionaire was a chaiwallah. I’m pretty much addicted to chai, have been for a while. It’s my daily drink. Yet there’s a huge difference between the recipe for authentic India chai — black tea and spices steeped and simmered in milk for some time — and the sweet, sugary mix that too many cafes and Starbucks offers as a “chai” latte. One offers a warm healing blend of herbs. The other, a cheap and industrious trend that is more sugar than tea or spice. That one we drink in gallons without ever recognizing the damage it does to our insides, until it’s too late.

I always reply with the same two lines when asked the question I’ve received numerous times over the last few months: What did I think of Slumdog Millionaire? I loved it. Until the last fifteen minute…


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