'Slumdog Millionaire' Fits The Bollywood Model

Commentator Sandip Roy adds his two cents to the media fray surrounding the Academy Award nominated film, Slumdog Millionaire. Some people have complained that the film paints a negative portrait of India, but Roy has a different view.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And now to the story of a boy imprisoned because authorities think he's cheating on a popular game show. The movie "Slumdog Millionaire" has received 10 Oscar nominations. It's just the latest in a line of movies about India by outsiders who were seduced by Indian culture. As commentator Sandip Roy explains, this one seems very different from its predecessors.

SANDIP ROY: Long before Slumdog, there was another Hollywood movie set in the slums of India. I remember dragging all of my American friends to see "City of Joy." It starred Patrick Swayze as Dr. Max Lowe. More importantly, it starred my hometown of Calcutta.

(Soundbite of movie, "City of Joy")

Ms. PAULINE COLLINS (Actress, as Joan Bethel): Welcome to India.

ROY: I knew it was about lepers and slums and rickshaw pullers, but I was willing to look past all that just to see the lanes of my childhood reflected in Hollywood's golden eye. Alas, India was just a means to an end. I realized that as soon as Max Lowe talked to the social worker in Calcutta.

(Soundbite of movie, "City of Joy")

Ms. COLLINS (as Joan Bethel): What brings you to India?

Mr. PATRICK SWAYZE (Actor, as Dr. Max Lowe): I came to find enlightenment.

Ms. COLLINS (as Joan Bethel): Oh. well, have you found it?

Mr. SWAYZE (as Dr. Max Lowe): I've been opening the windows and doors of my soul and I haven't seen a damn thing yet.

ROY: That movie was about how an American doctor finally got his groove back. Thank you, India. From the white man's burden, we'd become the West's exotic 12-step program of self-discovery. We grew up on a steady diet of Hollywood in India, but we never saw ourselves on the screen. Sure, there was Mowgli, but not too many of us spent our days among wolves and tigers. Of course, India did have another big Hollywood moment. Finally, like Mowgli, that Indian wore very few clothes.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gandhi")

Mr. JAMES COSSINS (Actor, as Brigadier): You don't think we're just going to walk out of India?

Mr. BEN KINGSLEY (Actor, as Mohandas Gandhi): Yes, in the end you will walk out because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians if those Indians refuse to cooperate.

ROY: Yes, Gandhi. To most of us, Gandhi lived on postage stamps and currency notes. No Indian I knew wanted to grow up to be Gandhi. And I never knew what to say when an American told me, you know, I really admire Gandhi.

(Soundbite of music)

ROY: But it was better to be regarded as saintly like Gandhi, than evil like Mola Ran.

(Soundbite of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom")

ROY: The blood curdling priest from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom looked like what Mowgli might have grown up to become if he hadn't found clothes and civilization. He sounded nothing like our old family priest who mumbled his way through the prayers. An Indian who grew up in the U.S. told me that after that film, he wouldn't take any Indian food to school. His classmates were convinced he had monkey brains in his lunch box.

(Soundbite of music)

ROY: "Slumdog Millionaire" may be unbelievable, melodramatic, violent, and naïve, but it's no "Temple of Doom." It might be a British's director passage to an India full of slums, not skyscrapers, but it's still a story about Indians, finally Indians get to be the jewel in their own crown.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: Commentator Sandip Roy is an editor with New America Media and host of New America Now on KALW in San Francisco.

(Soundbite of music)

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