OPINION

Mira Nair, You Are Clever!

March 10, 2009
Freya

I never got the opportunity to write about Slumdog Millionaire since I wasn't fortunate enough to see the movie, though I saw a few scenes. There was so much controversy when high profile people like Amitabh Bachchan and Arindham Choudary and the slum people were all against Slumdog because it portrayed India in bad light. I would just say there's nothing called bad and good when it comes to portraying something or somebody. Nobody can deny that Danny Boyle portrayed India truthfully. Naturally, all the controversy disappeared when the movie was picking up awards everywhere and our own Rahman and Resul won the coveted Oscars. Nobody had anything to say against it even though we all know that Rahman won because Danny Boyle took it. Jai Ho! was definitely not Rahman's best work.

Anyway, the point here is not that. But related to it. Since Slumdog released, so many people who were against or for it started comparing it with Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay! Asking why that didn't win any Oscars and why wasn't there a hype like this etc etc even though we know the reason- Mira is Indian. But after the Oscars, Salaam Bombay! got a whole different attention regarding the slum people who acted in it. Hearing what Boyle did for child actors Rubina and Azharuddin, the new question arose, what did Mira Nair do for her actors? Nothing great, it seems after that certain rickshaw-driver who acted in Salaam Bombay! 21 years ago expressed his grief. Now, Mira Nair with her films about to release certainly does not want bad publicity. So, what do we see here, fellas? Salaam Bombay! is getting re-released! Yes, according to Nair, it will release across the country tentatively in May.

"For the film's release" she says, "we will be bringing together everybody who was a part of the film all those years ago, including the kids. We want Salaam Bombay! to be seen by today's youngsters who might have never see the film."

True, I never saw it. It was released before I was born. But is that the real reason, Mira? I don't think so.

Nair talks about how she planned to share the profits of the film with the street kids, something which apparently didn't happen 21 years ago and she's decided to do it now. With Shobaa De writing about slum kids, Slumdog and Salaam wherever she could, Nair is unfortunately left only with this option. Mira Nair, you are damn smart.

I'm a person with so many interests ands likes that it scares me.
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#1
SanjayTheAtheist
March 10, 2009
07:37 AM

Good one

#2
commonsense
March 10, 2009
09:34 AM

mira nair is a very talented film maker. period.

#3
dark lord
March 10, 2009
10:14 AM

Mira Nair is a talented film maker. But this is definitely a move to exploit the success of Slumdog Millionaire. It is not a bad thing to exploit SM success for commercial/economic purposes.

Also remember coming across an article in ToI about a movie on children prostitutes wherein the lead character has turned to prostitution. The directors/producers had arranged for education in US for most of the cast but she did not go.

#4
Kerty
March 10, 2009
11:39 AM

SB remains Mira's best effort. She went downhill from there. But one can't find too many faults with her outing in SB. If you watch SB and SM side by side, one can appreciate the craft of Mira. In a way, both movies should be seen side by side as both movies deal with same subject matter from two different vantage points while still catering to same western audiences. We know what western audiences picked from the two. These movies are as much a commentary on western audiences and the movie makers as the subject of these movies.

#5
commonsense
March 10, 2009
11:59 AM

Freya:

"Hearing what Boyle did for child actors Rubina and Azharuddin, the new question arose, what did Mira Nair do for her actors? Nothing great, it seems after that certain rickshaw-driver who acted in Salaam Bombay! 21 years ago expressed his grief."

These issues are never as simple as they appear. There are zillions of logistical, emotional etc. etc. factors. Let's say, it's enough that Mira Nair made an outstanding movie and forced at least some people to think about it. From what I know she tried her best at channeling some benefits to the actors. Maybe she did not try hard enough. Maybe my info is wrong.

#6
commonsense
March 10, 2009
01:14 PM

Freya:

"Hearing what Boyle did for child actors Rubina and Azharuddin, the new question arose, what did Mira Nair do for her actors? Nothing great, it seems after that certain rickshaw-driver who acted in Salaam Bombay! 21 years ago expressed his grief."

These issues are never as simple as they appear. There are zillions of logistical, emotional etc. etc. factors. Let's say, it's enough that Mira Nair made an outstanding movie and forced at least some people to think about it. From what I know she tried her best at channeling some benefits to the actors. Maybe she did not try hard enough. Maybe my info is wrong.

#7
Freya
URL
March 11, 2009
04:58 AM

Thank you , Sanjay.

I have no doubt that Mira Nair is a good filmmaker. I like her too. But there's no proper reason she should re-release this film.

#8
Freya
URL
March 11, 2009
05:01 AM

Thank you , Sanjay.

I have no doubt that Mira Nair is a good filmmaker. I like her too. But there's no proper reason she should re-release this film.

#9
commonsense
March 11, 2009
08:21 AM

Freya:

"But there's no proper reason she should re-release this film."

The "proper", perhaps the only reason for any artistic production is to have an audience. the more the better. hence the re-release...nothing mysterious...does she want to ride the wave of interest in slums? good for her!

#10
Aditi N
URL
March 11, 2009
10:26 AM

Freya: "But there's no proper reason she should re-release this film"

There are actually several very good reasons which you'd know if you are a filmmaker or distributor. Slumdog Millionaire has unleashed widespread interest in the issue of street children. To release Salaam Bombay now would be a perfect time to bask under that hype and get a bigger response than what it received years ago. It will make the distributors happy....albeit a little later than what they expected.

After Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake Mira Nair's popularity in India rose. Now she is in charge of the Shantaram project which will be released maybe next year. So she is creating a niche audience. I am pretty sure the distributors eying Shantaram must've suggested this.

Now yet another reason is that the Salaam Balak foundation is holding several fundraisers in the city because of the high volume of people interested in aiding street-kids (post-Slumdog hype): international and national bodies. This would perhpas be the best time for Nair to hold a re-release.


#11
temporal
URL
March 11, 2009
11:17 AM

mira has a body of work that includes the spectrum (good, bad and umentionable) like any other talented person

btw

has she ever acknowledged the influence of pixote?

#12
commonsense
March 11, 2009
04:25 PM

Temporal:

"mira has a body of work that includes the spectrum (good, bad and umentionable) like any other talented person"

yup, a talented person for sure

#13
temporal
URL
March 11, 2009
05:33 PM

CS:

(and now for the second part?)

;)

#14
Sudhi
March 11, 2009
05:42 PM

Shame on Mira Nair for abandoning the Kids. Now she wants to share the profit!!

#15
kerty
March 11, 2009
06:49 PM

Mira should make SB part II where those SB kids are shown as grown ups, and how their youth life is shaping up in slums.

#16
Carol
March 11, 2009
09:19 PM

For the 999999999th time, Amitabh has never criticized Slumdog. Why can't you folks get that through your head? It's hard to take an article seriously when the first paragraph has a glaring error.

Also let's see where the kids from SDM are years from now before we compare Nair to Boyle. If I recall correctly, Nair too setup a trust for the kids in SB and started an organization to help slum kids. She claims that the organization is functioning and doing good work. Maybe you should look into it.

#17
kaffir
March 11, 2009
10:16 PM

Carol, it's fruitless to discuss. That's the wonderful Indian media (including bloggers) at work - where rumors, jumping-to-conclusions and innuendo stand in for research and balance when writing articles/posts. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame and has an axe to grind, facts be damned. And even if facts are presented by others, writers get all defensive instead of accepting their mistake.

What you're seeing is the classic repeat-lies-till-it-becomes-accepted-truth/meme in action, regarding Amitabh Bachchan's comments on 'Slumdog Millionaire'.

#18
Aditi N
March 11, 2009
10:51 PM

Freya: "Nobody had anything to say against it even though we all know that Rahman won because Danny Boyle took it. Jai Ho! was definitely not Rahman's best work"

While Jai Ho was not Rahman's best work it was definitely the first one of his works to have made it to Oscar scrutiny. And it was competing against only TWO other entries: one was a song from WALL-E and the other...was also from Rahman. This suggests that that particular category did not have many submissions/ nominations.

If Rahman had submitted other compositions in previous years which had been neglected and only this particular song won, then I could understand the argument you make.

Secondly, of the entire album, only Jai Ho won best song. The other award was for background score which I thought was fabulous. People should go listen to Mausam & Escape on YouTube. The sitar composition of that piece itself deserved an Oscar. He combined sitar and drums to symbolize rain and trains, the two outstanding flavors of Mumbai. Liquid Dance was great too.

The Slumdog script required a certain Bollywood-like flavor and hence Rahman cleverly inserted tunes that sounded vaguely familiar and yet were original. Ringa Ringa (reminiscent of Choli ke peeche) started immediately alongside the shot panning a brothel. Aaj ki raat sounded like so many Bollywood dance numbers and yet was specifically for the night of Jamaal's victory (the begining chord was very similar to "Pyaar bina chain kahan rey" from Anil Kapoor's "Saheb" where he daydreams)

It is sad that people would credit his achievement to Danny Boyle when in fact this is the first time Rahman's work was even submitted for Oscar consideration.

I guess we Indians never tire of discrediting the achievements of our fellow-citizens.

To date our film submissions to Oscars have never included the work of a new, rising director and only the big banners make it across. When films like Paheli and Jeans get selected we never once question our corrupt selection committee but I guess we have the gumption to immediately accuse the Academy of foul play when Rahman wins. If he'd lost we'd be sour too.

Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

BTW temporal made a pretty good point about Pixote and I firmly believe that unorginality should not be rewarded at all, no matter how miniscule a level at which the influence is.

#19
Freya
URL
March 12, 2009
12:18 PM

commonsense, Aditi: Okay, proper is a wrong adjective. But she's definitely not releasing so that the youth can see it, because hse's getting bad publicity.

Sudhi: we do not really know what has happenned. I'm writing this based on what I read. Maybe it's a rumor that Nair didn't take care of the kids. I also read, as Carol says, a Salaam Bala trust or something. Moreover, we cannot gurantee that Boyle will provide for the kids to forever.

Carol: is it so? I really do not know because I dont read his blog. I wrote this based on the endless articles I read in the paper.

kaffir: totally agree.

Aditi: That is what I am saying. Rehman's Jai Ho! was probably the best of them because there were less entries. But you tell me. Can Rehman won an Oscar if an Indian film maker took it? Or will they consider him? I'm not accusing Rehman. Rehman is a musical genius, no doubt. I'm just saying that we all rejoicing over nothing. Because I doubt whether Oscar judges actually considered Rahman and his song.

Lastly, I would say that just because Nair and Boyle took films about slums and slum life, they are not supposed to provide for them forever. They should give their fee and a little more to help them. And I don't approve of media accusing them of forgetting their actors which leads them to do things like re-release films to somehow make up for it. I didn't mention *this* in the post. I should have.

#20
Aditi N
March 12, 2009
12:33 PM

Freya: Give me an example of an Indian music director whose genius piece of work was submitted to the Oscar committee and denied accolades because the film was made by an Indian director/ filmmaker. Just one example.


You asked me this:

"Can Rehman won an Oscar if an Indian film maker took it? Or will they consider him?"

Excellent question. I don't know. But neither do you. Because we haven't had such a situation arise.

Its like asking: If Will Smith were competing against Shah Rukh Khan, who would the Filmfar committee award.

Well, we don't know because we've never seen it happen. So can one predict the outcome and then to top it off coat it with an extra-thick layer of suspicion against the Oscars?

The Academy honored Satyajit Ray on his deathbed inspite of the fact that our Indian subcommittee never sent in any of his films for consideration: NOT ONCE! even though he was a brilliant filmmaker.

And you know what the popular Indian explanation is: Its because Satyajit ray showcased poverty.

False. He showcased the middle-class. He made a film like Mahanagar in 1963!! Have you seen this film?

How come we never questioned the committee that religiously ignored a filmmaker such as him, dismissing his diverse body of work as "poverty portrayal" and the Academy still found a way to honor him?

We just accuse our earthy filmmakers of "exporting poverty" without even watching their films. For my sake and yours, watch Mahanagar. Find a way to watch it. And tell me if it strikes you as "poverty portrayal". And then explain to me why our own film industry ignored his work and never submitted it for Oscar consideration but a film like Paheli and Jeans made it.




#21
kaffir
March 12, 2009
12:36 PM

"I guess we Indians never tire of discrediting the achievements of our fellow-citizens."

Like Pixote/Salaam! Bombay? ;)

#22
kaffir
March 12, 2009
12:48 PM

"And you know what the popular Indian explanation is: Its because Satyajit ray showcased poverty."

=

And you know who made that view popular? One Bollywood star and Member of Parliament of Congress Party in the 1980s, likely to score some political points or to "chastise" Satyajit Ray. Her son is now thinking of contesting elections while out on interim bail. If you want a reason as to why Ray's movies were not officially nominated to the Oscars, Congress Party, which has ruled for majority of years, surely can't be absolved of their role. The process of selecting a movie as the official entry is very political, as you probably already know.

#23
kaffir
March 12, 2009
12:58 PM

By the way, that ex-Bollywood star and MP (Rajya Sabha) was Nargis Dutt, and the quote about Ray "exporting poverty" is attributed to her statements during her stint as the MP.

#24
Kerty
March 12, 2009
02:48 PM

Kaffir

That is ironic coming from Nargis. Poverty and Class was a major theme in some of her more successful movies.

#25
Aditi N
March 12, 2009
03:23 PM

I was just about to type out what kerty just said in his comment above about Nargis's movies. Mother India took a nomination at Oscars!

Kaffir: when someone plagiarizes a plot, they either admit it and acknowledge the influence or the audience does. That is not even similar to suggesting that Rahman won because of Danny Boyle. I am not discrediting her achievements. I am pointing out that an important influence of her film went unnamed and unacknowledged.

#26
commonsense
March 12, 2009
03:42 PM

AN:

"While Jai Ho was not Rahman's best work it was definitely the first one of his works to have made it to Oscar scrutiny. And it was competing against only TWO other entries: one was a song from WALL-E and the other...was also from Rahman. This suggests that that particular category did not have many submissions/ nominations."


hits the nail on the head with this one. the point is NOT whether this was rahman's best or worst. it has to be understood within the context of what it was up against in THIS year's competition. Does it take rocket science to figure this out??! Apparently it does, except for smart folks like me and AN!

#27
commonsense
March 12, 2009
03:47 PM

AN:

"Freya: Give me an example of an Indian music director whose genius piece of work was submitted to the Oscar committee and denied accolades because the film was made by an Indian director/ filmmaker. Just one example."

My question exactly! Freya, try getting rid of some of those chips on your shoulders. Not that prejudice once in a while does not play a role, but don't read too much into this or even the Oscars in general. It's part excellence, part hype, part business, part masaala, part fun, part envy etc. etc. As if some committee sits there and plans "let's show these indian folks what we REALLY think of them"!

#28
commonsense
March 12, 2009
04:02 PM

Freya:

"But you tell me. Can Rehman won an Oscar if an Indian film maker took it? Or will they consider him? I'm not accusing Rehman."

interesting, but unanswerable questions. too many complex factors at play...

#29
commonsense
March 12, 2009
04:04 PM

and why, might i ask, are we taking the oscars so seriously?? ok, i will refrain from asking.

#30
Freya
URL
March 13, 2009
06:10 AM

i dunno about movies much, but as i stated before this is what I feel.

I haven't watched any of S. Ray's movies but I'm aware that he's brilliant. One thing is undeniable. The western folks like to see that our country is poor. I won't say every foriegner feels so. Most American stars comes here, just to see Dharavi. They are so thrilled. Even if S. Ray filmed about middle class, many might like to not signs of poverty.

commonsense: that is what I am saying, why are we rejoicing too much because of the Oscars?

#31
commonsense
March 13, 2009
08:45 AM

Freya:

"The western folks like to see that our country is poor."

maybe. but unless we refuse to be prisoners of how others might or might not see us, there's little hope for growing up a bit. we think that everybody else has nothing better to do than watch us or others...this is a delusion at best.

#32
Aditi N
March 13, 2009
10:19 AM

Freya: Undeniable? This is plain prejudice you are displaying. Prejudice usually has no logic and only generalities.

If I were to ask you to explain why Westerners would be happy to see us poor, you would have no logical answer.

I can tell you one thing. I have seen films about wretched poverty in the US, Europe, other parts of the world but what moves me about these films is not the poverty itself but the triumph that emerges from within that dearth. It does not make me happy to see poverty. It just makes me empathetic. When you see someone rise up from their destitution, you feel more fortunate and thus more inspired. Such films evoke emotion. It is simple. You don't have to be a Westerner. I am an Indian and I still love these movies because they make you feel something deeper than the fickle emotions you do when you are watching a regular chick-flick.

Maybe that is what the Western audiences like...success stories, victory of the underdog, emotional provocation.

Do you think Americans come to see Dharavi because they get thrilled when they see slums? Do you really believe that a whole nation is so sadistic? Come on. Be a little open minded. They come to see a place where people live with minimal resources and still manage to be happy. They come to discover a world so unlike their own in which captalism and commercialism rules the roost. They come to see and take away a piece of what life can be without materialistic/ hedonistic pleasures and learn that happiness can thrive without those superficialities. I have had people tells me this. So to assume that they see Dharavi so they can feel better about our poverty, is just an insecurity.

I will tell you why I am rejoicing over the Oscars: It is because a film that starred street children won and we got to see them come here, attend the ceremony, be on a stage, the Governor's ball and be part of all the excitement. Now that they have gotten a taste of success and one can only hope that this taste gives them the strength they need to become someone of consequence when they grow up. Shouldn't Rahman's victory, Resul Kooty's victory makes us happy? Read about Rahman's life. He started as a 9 year old without a father, whose family was struggling to make ends meet. Shouldn't we be happy for these guys? Why not? Aren't these worthy of rejoicing?

Don't we cheer routinely for all the star-children who win Filmfare awards but we wknow they cannot act.

#33
commonsense
March 13, 2009
10:42 AM

Freya,

If the "fact" that most "westerners" simply rejoice at "our poverty" is simply "undeniable", there is little point in me or anyone else in denying it.

A few weeks ago, I was in old Delhi, taking pictures, simply trying to document the changes and lack thereof, as people went about their everyday lives. More than one group of people, came up close to me and let it rip, in Hindi, something to the effect of "another deluded NRI pretending to be American, putting our poverty on the global stage". And something along the predictable lines of "angrez to chaley gaye, inko chor gaye" etc. etc.

The great american writer W.E.B. Dubois in his _The Souls of Black Folks_ coined the term "double consciousness" - refers to how some of us always see the world refracted thru the lenses of "others"; it is a trap that we impose on ourselves.

Regardless Freya, I will tell all the "westerners" to stop rejoicing at our poverty. Problem solved.

#34
kerty
March 13, 2009
12:01 PM

"why Westerners would be happy to see us poor, you would have no logical answer"

Why would west want Russia to fail? Why would capitalism want communism to fail? Why would Rush Limbaugh want Obama's socialism to fail? Why would Islam want non-Islamic civilizations to fail? There are perfectly logical answers for them.

"what moves me about these films is not the poverty itself but the triumph that emerges from within that dearth."

So what is the liberation theology of those triumphs? Can we question that liberation theology or is it infallible too? Can it deliver liberation or is it too anti-climactic to even ask?

What is celebrated here? Is it cynicism or is it hope? That people, in spite of being put down, trapped and crushed by poverty, people in India still dare to hope? That they still make lemonade out of lemons, and accept come what may as destiny? While these endangered values are lost around the world, they still thrive in India, among the most unlikely places - slums? There is no hope, but Indians still dare to hope. They know slums can not grow out of poverty by game shows, nor from millions made by selling movies. At the most, they can save only handful of slum kids. Real triumphs is when one shows a way for all the slum kids, not just a handful of slum kids. Nobody expects that to come out of movie scripts nor from snake-oil con ideologies west likes to peddle. If anything, filmy world specializes in painting fairy tales and make believe. Reality can be far from the make believe no matter how realistically they may be crafted. Tragedy is when people fall for them as real hope and real triumph. As CS says, whats the fuss?

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