Are indians so blind as to praise a movie that insults hinduism and india? sutanu guru examines
Dear ‘Secular’ Indian,
Imagination, pride and a sense of legacy and heritage are the bed rocks of a civilisation. Replace that with voyeurism, self-loathing and destructive denial and you land up with a wounded civilisation. And what else is India but a wounded civilisation? And what else is Hinduism but the oldest religion of the world that secular Indians born often as Hindus are bent upon trampling, denigrating and destroying?
I know why you are going ga ga over "Slumdog Millionaire". Since most of you are familiar with Hindi, I am sure it should have been titled ‘Jhopadpatti ka Crorepati Kutta’. Why should that offend you? After all, the movie supposedly very movingly portrays reality, isn’t it? But I am sure you are gloating not just because Danny Boyle has successfully peddled poverty, grime, squalor and hopelessness that surround much of India. You are gloating because the movie is a brilliant assault on the very idea of India; the India that you so passionately hate and denounce at every available forum. You have so freely, indiscriminately and hysterically bandied about powerful words like Genocide, Mass Murder, State Terror, Fascism, Talibanization, Discrimination, Barbarism and Feudalism while talking about India and Hinduism that sometimes even agnostic Hindus like me start wondering if you may be right after all.
But having read "Q&A", the book by diplomat Vikas Swarup and seen the movie, I must protest at the desecration of India and the denigration of Hinduism. What bothers me more is that the movie is targeted primarily at a western audience, most of which has a fairly vague idea of what is happening in India. Through powerful cinematic images, sound and a forcible imposition of context when none exist, Danny Boyle will almost certainly convince the western audience that the worst perceptions they had about India are indeed true. And how brilliantly insidious and clever Danny Boyle and his team have been at the job!
Let's start with the more gratuitous assaults on the idea of India. The host of the Kutta show Anil Kapoor asks the hero a question whose answer is Satyamev Jayate. If you have seen the film, you will know that the hero Jamal Malik has a phenomenal memory and is very inventive and innovative, a street survivor, if you like. Jamal has also studied in a slum school as a child, where the standard of education is so high that the teacher asks students to memorise the names of the three leading characters of the famous book "The Three Musketeers". And yet, in that very school, Jamal is apparently not taught that Satyamev Jayate is the national motto of India. When the cop (Irrfan Khan), who is interrogating and torturing Jamal, expresses surprise at his ignorance, Jamal counters by asking the cop if he knows the latest rate of Bhel Puri on Juhu beach. Can you imagine an American kid who has gone to school and says he has no clue about what ‘In God We trust’ means? And what has Satyamev Jayate got to do with the price of Bhel Puri on Juhu beach? Clearly, Mr ( And Ms) Secular Indian, you are delighted with the question and the answer because, it so cleverly shows that the national motto of India is a hollow slogan. That’s what you firmly believe anyway.
I suppose you can call that cinematic or ‘artistic’ freedom. But, what comes after the insidious assault on Satyamev Jayate is truly shocking and outrageous. And I am astonished how serious objections have not been raised. Anil Kapoor - shame on his desperation to do a Hollywood movie that even perverts his own faith-asks Jamal a question about what Lord Ram holds in his right hand. The movie then cleverly shifts from the studio to scenes where mobs of Hindus descend from a train, chanting “Kill the Muslims,” and indulge in an orgy of murder even as Jamal and his elder brother run away along with a waif who is subsequently unveiled as Laitka. Twice during this dance of hatred, death and destruction, viewers get a close view of Lord Ram - rather a boy dressed as Lord Ram who stares malevolently at Jamal, his stance conveying violence and his eyes spewing hatred. Now, I have since numerous portraits, ‘photos’, illustrations and sketches of Lord Ram since childhood. Never, ever have I come across a pictorial version that shows the deity as a vengeful God with fearsome eyes. In fact, this Lord Ram looks more like Lord Shiva on the verge of performing the Tandava. From where did Danny Boyle and his team pick up this portrait of Ram? Would he have shown images of a vengeful and hate filled Jesus Christ when racist whites are slaughtering American Indians or black slaves? And what is his clever juxtaposition of images saying??
That Lord Ram is vengeful. That in Boyle’s India, Hindus habitually kill Muslims. That such is the nature of Hinduism. I request Anil Kapoor to look again at this image of Lord Ram and ask himself honestly if this is ‘realistic’. Does his conscience allow him to watch the image again and not feel ashamed that he is part of this denigration of Lord Ram? I have no such expectations from fellow ‘Secular’ Indians since they think Ram is associated only with the loony Hindutva types. Now, comes the even more sinister part. After Hindus have butchered Muslims ( including Jamal’s mother), a group of alleged do gooders pick up Jamal, Salim and Latika. The good guys turn out be monsters who maim, blind, cripple and otherwise exploit poor children so that they can earn a ‘higher rate of return’ while begging on the streets of Bombay. Nobody in India will have any problems with that since that is the reality. But what disturbs non-secular and agnostic Hindus like me is the manner in which the song “Darshan do Bhagwan…” is repeatedly drilled into the ears and minds of viewers even as the gang leaders prepare to blind yet another child. The song is associated intimately with devotion towards Lord Krishna. And what the images and sounds keep conveying after artificially putting a false and misleading portrait of Ram when Hindus are killing Muslims - is how Hindus maim and blind children by invoking Lord Krishna - yet another sacred deity of Hinduism. I have heard some fellow seculars say that since the question involved Surdas who was blind, it was ‘artistic’ freedom used by Danny Boyle to portray the grim reality of Indian slums. But all Indians must ask themselves another honest question: how many street beggars – blind or not – sing Darshan do Bhagwan? Aren’t Bollywood songs more the stereotype? Then why deliberately inject yet another symbol of devout Hinduism while portraying barbarism and savagery?
That’s not all. Once the kids land up in Agra, there is more India bashing. Jamal becomes an impromptu guide and tells a ‘white’ couple that the Taj Mahal was actually a five star hotel along with a swimming pool that was left unfinished because the builder died. When the white couple says that it is not written in the guide books, Jamal promptly says that the guide books have been written by “bloody Indian beggars”. During the Taj Mahal drama, Danny Boyle even has an American slip, a $ 100 bill to Jamal because he was beaten up by an Indian driver. Now, most whites who slip dollar bills to kids in Bombay are paedophiles of the worst type, exploiting the poverty and helplessness of poor slum children to satiate their perverted sexual appetites. Many have been caught; only to be let off because of our corrupt system. If Danny Boyle was so keen on showing reality, he could have shown a couple of ‘white’ paedophiles? As for secular Indians, who gives a damn about pedophiles when they have to chase more important and dollar fetching concepts like Genocide and State terrorism?
The most cruel and disgusting cut comes around this time in the movie. All along, the viewer has been exposed to brutality, death, torture and worse with images and sounds of Hinduism jumping glaringly out of the screen. Suddenly, in Agra, we are shown the rendition of an Opera with western classical music where Jamal looks ‘peacefully’ in love, an adult and vibrantly smiling Latika suddenly pops up on the screen and the viewer is given a few minutes of love, compassion and hope. The background music and visuals are of course the kind mostly whites in Europe and America indulge in. Sure, it is artistic freedom.
But therein lies the rub. Danny Boyle and his Indian team mates surely have every right to ‘interpret’ a book in their own way. But how have they done it? I urge readers to go through the book "Q&A" by Vikas Swarup and come to their own conclusions. In the book, the hero is an orphan called Ram Mohhamed Thomas. In the movie, he becomes a Muslim Jamal Malik who loses his mother to marauding Hindus. In the book, the hero is brought up by a Hindu priest who teaches him English. In the movie, the teacher only beats him. In the book, Salim is Ram’s best friend. In the movie, Salim, but naturally, is Jamal’s elder brother. In the book, a lawyer-cum-human rights activist rescues Ram Mohhamed Thomas from the police and does what the cop Irrfan Khan does in the movie - listen to the amazing life and tales of the orphan. In the book, the host of the show starts with the Amitabh Bachchan question. Ditto in the movie. Every other question in the movie is different from those in the books. In fact, the book has the host asking the orphan what was inscribed in the cross of Jesus! By Jesus, artistic freedom changes it into a bow and arrow held by a vengeful fearsome Lord Ram! Could the hero have been a victim of Bombay bomb blasts? Many Muslim children in India have lost their fathers to bomb blasts. Could the audition have carried a hymn or a gospel instead of a devout Hindu song? But that’s not what Danny Boyle wanted and so the ‘secular’ Indian is celebrating.
This is not new. Mahatma Gandhi had called "Mother India" by Katherine Mayo a gutter inspectors report. Movies like "Salaam Bombay" and "City of Joy", not to speak of hundreds of books and documentaries, have portrayed the worst of India and won international accolades. In fact, there are ‘secular’ authors who revel in denigrating all that is Indian and Hindu because it fetches them more dollars. I wish they-and the Indian cast members of Slumdog plus the other secular Indians who are applauding them - had the basic honesty to admit two things: First, they really don’t like the idea of India; and second, even if they felt secretly ashamed at selling their motherland as a whore, they couldn’t help resist the lure of the dollars. But then what can you do but feel helplessly outraged when you examine "Slumdog" in the right perspective and realise it is one of the more innovative assaults on the Idea of India? I will conclude by invoking just two champions of the secular brigade to highlight what I mean. One is Arundhati Roy, the Goddess of Secession who is convinced that the 26/11 carnage in Bombay was a result of FASCISM in India. The other is Prakash Karat, whose fellow comrades still insist that China was the real victim of the 1962 war.
As far as you are concerned, nothing that people like me will say or write will influence you. In fact, for you, I am already a Khaki Chaddi.
I only wish we had smarter protectors of India and Hinduism than just the Khaki Chaddis!
With Remorse and Outrage
Yours Cynically and Inimically
A Helpless Indian