Thursday, February 5, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Brouhaha over Loveleen Tandan's Credits

Of late I have been receiving mails and online petitions demanding inclusion of Loveleen Tandan's name along with Danny Boyle's for Best Director's award in the Oscars 2009. Subsequently I searched the web for more info and came across an interview of Loveleen asking people not to raise this controversy as Danny is the actual director of the film. She is also reported to have mentioned something to the effect that she considers herself lucky to have got the credit as Co-Director (India).
The reason for her appeal (to put this issue to rest & not rake it up further) could be any & many but from all that one has read on the net (her own interviews, Boyle's interviews etc.), it seems that her primary contribution has been in :
1.Casting of slum kids + few other Indian Actors
2.Suggesting that 1/3rd of the dialogues be retained in Hindi
3.Writing/re-writing/translating some of the dialogues in Hindi.
4.Suggesting to Danny not to let communal mobs wear outfits displaying their communal leanings
5.Helping Danny Boyle get around the problem of communication in Hindi (specially with the slum kids who couldn't communicate in English). I guess she & the Assistant Director (?) Raj Acharya played a major role by acting as a via media between the foreign crew and the Indian cast & others.
Danny Boyle felt that the above services made her an indispensable (& rightly so) part of his team and conferred upon her the title of Co-Director (even though he may want to change his mind now given all the current brouhaha).
I would align myself with Loveleen's views in this matter that she has got credits way beyond what she expected herself and that Danny Boyle has been generous on this front. The reasons are not difficult to seek. While American & European film crews work in a highly compartmentalized manner with each person limiting their contribution to what they've been hired for, in India things are a bit flexible and allow for overlap. So we have people transcending the boundaries defined by their roles...actors give directorial inputs to directors & suggest dialogue modifications and music composers ask songwriters to tweak lines & vice-versa. People here do tend to help in as many possible ways to make things happen. I wonder if Loveleen's contribution (listed above )would have even beenacknowledged had Slumdog been a Bollywood production! Most probably it would have been taken for granted!!
Here it would also help to consider that the original idea for the film and its approach was Danny's (has to be) and Loveleen came in the picture once the basic story, treatment, script & dialogues were frozen (else how could it get backing of financers?). Loveleen was roped in once the film was on the execution table. Hence, her contribution (as mentioned above) certainly went beyond what she was supposed to do as a Casting Director but didn't really alter or re-shape the core of the film and its screenplay. Her vision may have been partly incorporated, but only Partly. A film by its very nature is like an orchestra which basically comprises singers, instrumentalists, acoustics etc. Even though what the audience appreciates is the overall feel, it's the singers who usually hog the limelight...not the guitarists, percussionists or the sound designers! And this is not to say that their role should be diminished, but unfortunately that is the way things are. How many of us bother to even find out the name of the lyricist when we like a song. We all praise the singer(s) and make him/her larger than life!
Also, Oscars or for that matter any other `western' awards are unlikely to recognise any talent that isn't `white'!! At least till films continue to be produced in Hollywood and other White dominated & English speaking capitals of the world. What else explains nomination of A.R. Rahman for the Best Music this year for Slumdog Millionaire? The fact is that Rahman has composed some outstanding tracks for Indian movies...far superior to the one for Slumdog. But had Slumdog not been made, no one was going to nominate him for any other film as that film itself would not have got nominated for mainstream Oscar awards.
I am confident that Loveleen is going to make a mind blowing movie of her own very soon (I know it because I've worked closely with her on some of my television productions). But sadly, her nationality and skin color would ensure that Oscars always remain a dream for her & others like her.
My only message to all is – Why make Oscars larger than life? Why give it so much importance?? I've seen many films which can beat Oscar winners hollow, but who cares??? So, YOU...stop caring for Oscars or for that matter any other award. If your film is liked by the audiences....go have a drink or two...CELEBRATE.

Slumdog Millionaire: Is it Really all that Great A film?

It has been over a week since Slumdog Millionaire was released in India amidst lot of hype & hoopla...some genuine and some manufactured. With a string of awards and nominations in its kitty, none of the so -called Indian film critics have had the courage to see beneath the surface of the story as well as the film. They've played safe by giving it the highest ratings...fearing that a critical rating of such a highly decorated film may raise questions on their own competence perhaps.
From all that I've read about the film and Vikas Swarup's novel (on which it is based) and watched on TV (infinite no. of interviews of Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan, Anil Kapoor & the lot), the film is essentially about a poor slum boy hitting the jackpot in a TV game show just by chance and making it good. So it is his sheer fortune / luck that plays a role in extricating him from the dehumanized existence in the slums.
What's so great and different about the story? For centuries, Indian masses have been fed on stories (filmy & otherwise) teaching them that it's all in their fatelines. Fate...that has been the big factor in determining who you are, what you are and why you are what you are. So if you happen to be poor, deprived, disempowered and dehumanized, don't complain...simply accept it because that's your destiny. It couldn't have been any other way! Wait patiently till lady luck turns her gaze at you. This is what the Brahmins patronized by the then ruling classes told people and this is what today's Brahmins (writers, filmmakers, journalists etc.) patronized by today's ruling classes tell people.
Making people fatalistic helps in curbing any sort of dissent or disenchantment with the existing status quo, thereby facilitating the loot and plunder by a minuscule group of people- kings & feudal lords then and the ruling elite now. It kills belief in one's own abilities and the power within each one of us. And people with low self-esteem and lacking in self-confidence are vulnerable and thus easier to manipulate.
Slumdog Millionaire (like almost all other bollywood, mollywood and tollywood productions) in fact seems to be reinforcing this age old myth. Blame it on the novel, some would say as that's where the script has originated. I disagree! For a film to be good and for a director to be celebrated, it's not just enough to have good production values and cinematic techniques. It has to help the society move forward by helping question the status quo. Merely `realistic' representation of poverty and squalor is not enough. By not daring to go beyond what all the Indian films have already been doing, Danny Boyle has wasted an opportunity.
Those of you who have watched the film must think and recall if anything in the film ever prompted you to ask yourself and others – why do people have to live in slums...who's responsible for their sub-human existence...who gains from it & how...why don't the slumdwellers themselves revolt against the system that puts them there in the first place...is something being done to give every citizen a minimum quality of life in this country?
I suspect most of you would reply in the negative. And that's where Slumdog fails to rise to the occasion, stand up & be counted. But a Film Director is a creative guy, not a politician or social reformer...why should he be expected to rise to the occasion, you may ask? Well, think coolly...don't you think Slumdog is a political film? Every film is. The film is being celebrated not by the masses whose life it shows on-screen but certain classes who benefit from the `fate induced empowerment' shown in the film. And exactly who belongs to these classes ? Think again. Are these the ones who benefit from the slum citizenry?
Why blame only Danny Boyle when our own cinema keeps betraying us on this front all the time. All our films invariably revolve around a `hero' – an individual who embodies all the right virtues, rises to every occasion and fights against injustice & exploitation singlehandedly. All the while he is bashing & thrashing the villains, hundreds of people stand around watching silently even though the `hero' is fighting for their cause. It could be corruption, sexual harassment, crime, injustice etc. which they all encounter every single moment of their lives. But no, they are shown as impotent...incapable of joining the fight and turning it into a collective one which is what it should have been from the very beginning (Rang De Basanti tried to deviate from this path a wee bit though).
I'm not denying the role of `individual' courage in sparking something positive but there are numerous instances where it's the `collective' that has helped bring about change. In fact, they are umbilically related and not mutually exclusive as our films project. The recent court judgments in Jessica Lal, Nitish Katara or Priyadarshini Mattoo cases illustrate this relationship clearly. While it were the individual family members who showed the guts to take on the high & mighty in the courts, the role of the `collective' at large in shaping public opinion, communicating the same to the powers that be and boosting the morale of these `individuals' time & again deserves acknowledgement. Mahatma Gandhi couldn't have succeeded in gaining independence had there been no public participation..were he to fight like our filmy hero.
Then why is it that our films choose to ignore the `collective'? I'm sure it's not a mere coincidence!
Helping maintain status quo – that's what these films do by rubbing-in retrogressive messages all the time. And when one keeps on getting bombarded by these hidden messages, one does start believing in them and joins the `sterile' crowd as a passive & helpless bystander.
And that is where Slumdog Millionaire fails us and morphs into a piece of artistic self indulgence. What is there to celebrate then?
With recession and economic depression ruling our lives today, how many of us would wait till we get on to a game show like Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who'll be a Millionaire) and hit the jackpot? And how many of us would like to get together and exert ourselves individually & collectively (through various means of democratic expression & action at our disposal) to deal with the crisis and turn it on its head?? Our answer to these two questions shall determine our destiny as a people.