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India Rising: From Slumdog to Millionaire

India Rising: From Slumdog to Millionaire

TestFunda ,  24-Feb-09

Recognition at last!

When the Oscars finally looked upon Indians with favour, they did so in style. Twenty-seven years after Bhanu Athaiya became the first Indian to win the coveted statuette for costume design in the film “Gandhi”, three other Indians, sound technician Resul Pookutty, lyricist Gulzar and music wizard A.R. Rahman, made a simultaneous entry into the elite club.

There is no doubt that these artistes deserve the kudos coming their way. But are we, as a country, going overboard? It certainly looks like that. Inherently, we feel the need to hype our achievements, be it our stupendous success at the Oscars or winning an individual gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Slumdog Millionaire” is the story of an under-privileged boy from the slums of Mumbai striking it rich after winning a reality quiz show. The extreme improbability of the event arouses the suspicion of the game show host and the protagonist is forced to prove that he deserves his prize. Interestingly, the story is in many ways similar to the rise of India –the story of a country catapulted from mediocrity to the big league.

Do we hype our achievements to play down our insecurity?

·         Like so many new entrants into the elite group, India seems to carry a baggage of self-doubt. The country feels the need to constantly prove to the world, and to itself, that it belongs.

·         Therefore, any victory at the world stage is an event to tom-tom about. To us, it signifies that the world has been forced to sit up and accept that India has arrived. Acceptance and assurance are of vital importance to us.

·         If Rahman and his compatriots were to lose, we would not have looked upon it as a case of losing to superior ability but as a refusal of the Western World to acknowledge India. That is the extent of our insecurity.

·         That is also why we will go ballistic over our first individual Olympic gold medal in nearly a century. Can our Sports System ensure more medals in the future? Not really! And we are aware of that fact. So, we will milk our solitary success to the maximum. To the rest of the world, it must be amusing to see a country like India heralding its sporadic achievements.

·         In that sense, hyping our meagre achievements is also a way to hide the inherent flaws in our system. It is almost like telling the world “Look! We can succeed in spite of being the badly organized, bureaucratic dump that you take us for.”

How does the world see us?

·         The parallel with the movie does not end here. At times, the Western World seems to view India as an upstart. They are like the game show host in the movie who will act all gung-ho about India’s rise, but, privately, nurture suspicions on its progress. 

·         For example, when the Satyam Scandal broke out many US-based companies expressed concerns about the business practices followed in India and initiated steps to review business ties with Indian companies. They conveniently forgot about a certain Enron in their closet and a subprime mortgage crisis they created by some of the most abominable business practices ever.

·         It is also important to consider why a story like “Slumdog Millionaire” sells so well. Is it because the West thinks of India as a deplorable land of slums in spite of the fact that so many Indians have made it big in the corporate world? Would a movie about Indian business tycoons buying up foreign companies sell as well?

The importance of dreaming big

The aftermath of the success of “Slumdog Millionaire” reflects our insecurities and portrays how the world might see us. However, there are some positive lessons to be learnt from it as well.

·         “Success is when skill meets opportunity!” There are few people who would doubt the genius of A.R. Rahman. But there are many who agree that Rahman was not at his best in “Slumdog Millionaire”. Why, then, did he win two Oscars? Was it because his skill met with the opportunity of a lifetime in the form of a director like Danny Boyle?

·         The fact that we are discussing India’s insecurities in the big league is because the country got there in the first place. And it got there because it dreamt big, like the protagonist in the movie.

·         To earn respect, we must learn to respect ourselves and our abilities. When we have confidence in our abilities, we will no longer feel the need to hype our achievements or be accepted by others.

·         At times like these the country speaks as one. A.R. Rahman is not thought of as a music director from the South, but as a national treasure. Usually, there are very few occasions when we consciously think of ourselves as one nation.

·         All said and done, winning four Oscars is no mean achievement. It does call for celebration.

More Links

·         Why Slumdog fails to move me

·         In India, Cheers and Jeers for Slumdog's Oscars

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