Thanks to new-age iconic British director Danny Boyle and his globe-scorching film “Slumdog Millionaire”, India was firmly under the spotlight at the 81st
Academy Awards. In the history of the Academy Awards, only another film with an India backdrop had created such a flutter – Richard Attenborough all-time classic “Gandhi” in 1982. India’s only competitive Oscar till today had been that of Bhanu Athaiya’s, which she had won for the film that captured the life of the Father of the Nation in a grand but most-realistic way. Suddenly, there are three more names in that list – A R Rahman, Resul Pookutty and Gulzar. Rahman is already considered a master composer in domestic cinema and his brilliance has got a few earlier international windows too –the Mandarin Chinese film “Warriors of Heaven and Earth”, Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth – the Golden Age” and stage musicals “Bollywood Dreams” and “The Lord of the Rings”.
The Oscar win, capping the BAFTA and the Golden Globe, ensures that Rahman has now arrived truly and surely in the international arena. But it is the wins by Pookutty and Gulzar which are probably more significant, simply because hardly any non-Hollywood, non-British technician or song writer even gets nominated in these English-language dominated awards. While Gulzar has continued to rule the hearts in India through his poetics amidst growing trend to use nonsensical lyrics, Pookutty’s win underlines the ability of the new breed of Indian technicians to do international quality work.
While the film’s backdrop has elicited some criticism, the most prominent among them being that of allegedly pedalling ‘poverty porn’, it is its positive spirit that has won the world over. But it will be completely wrong to assume that the success of this film will lead to a spate of India-centric films by
Hollywood. There have been Hollywood or foreign films that have had India as their backdrop, such as David Lean’s “A Passage to India”, Steven Spielberg’s “Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom”, the James Bond film “Octopussy” or the recent “Darjeeling Express”, which ironically was shot in Rajasthan and not in the famous hill station. Merchant-Ivory Productions built up its entire reputation through India-centric English films, though they were far removed in sensibility from the Hollywood variety. But Hollywood’s affair with India has always been sporadic, depending on the interest level of specific directors in specific themes. However, if “Slumdog” leads to a sudden growth in Western filmmakers’ interest in India, it would be positive in one aspect – technicians like Pookutty, apart from, of course, Indian actors, will get more opportunities to display their wares in the global film bazaar – because, for the first time, a foreign director showed confidence in using so much of Indian talent.