India's quest for a film that recognizes and celebrates its "Indian-ness" on the world stage has come to the fore again with "Slumdog Millionaire." Danny Boyle's rags-to-riches film, set in the slums of Mumbai, has earned 10 Oscar nominations, after picking up four Golden Globes as well as the top film prize at the Producers Guild of America ceremony.
Predictably, the film has got its fair share of praise as well as criticism in India. Most film critics and reviewers have rated the film very highly. The brickbats came mostly from sources whose misgivings emanate from what they believe is a completely inappropriate and one-sided depiction of India's dark underbelly.
This criticism acquired a larger-than-life proportion after a comment on Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan's blog, which said that the "film projects India as third world's dirty underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots." Mr. Bachchan later distanced himself from this criticism. Self-appointed Indian management guru Arindam Chaudhuri's full-page national newspaper advertisement for his business school carried his take on the movie. It was boldly, even if not so innovatively, titled "Don't see Slumdog Millionaire. It sucks!"
However, between the awards hoopla and high ratings by the critics on the one hand, and the naysayers' very high-profile criticism of the way the film depicts India on the other, initial reports suggest that the film is well on its way to becoming a hit in India. In the show business at least, it seems that any publicity is indeed good publicity. And most Indians are rooting for their countrymen A. R. Rahman (nominated for three Oscars for his music in the film) and Resul Pookutty (nominated in the category Best Sound Mixing for the same film) to bring home some more good news.
Whether this film goes on to become India's version of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," as some people have ambitiously proclaimed, it is certain to add more "masala" (spice) to the continuing "India story." Whether the "masala" agrees with India's brand managers will be the question for some time now, at least till Oscars night.