Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Villain by Default: Big B and Slumdog Millionaire
I watched this movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan on the next day the Golden Globe awards were presented to it for four different categories. I got a pirated DVD from a friend of mine, who claimed to have got it from another friend who downloaded it from a website.
I watched the Slumdog Millionaire at home, the way I once watched some porn movies. As a responsible citizen in the country, I don’t feel like watching a pirated DVD, especially when it is an unreleased movie in India.
I wanted to write about the movie right then. But for the fear of persecution by the twisted arms of law, I resisted myself. I did not want myself and my friends to get into trouble.
But then within two days the national daily, Hindustan Times ran a story on the pirated DVDs of Slumdog Millionaire selling like hot cakes in the hug of pirated goods in Delhi, Palika Bazar. One shop owner told the paper that he sold one copy of the DVD for Rs.450/- . The paper asked the trade pundits about the negative effects of such pre-released piracy. They said, it would actually ensure crowded cinema halls. There is a twisted logic in it. May be first time piracy helping a small budget movie to become a big hit. Market has different routes to success.
Then a few days back, I walked into the local DVD rental shop and the smiling teenager at the counter instantly offered me a combo version of Slumdog Millionaire with other new releases in Hindi.
Aren’t you afraid of renting out unreleased movies? I asked him.
No, it is in English. It is already released in the west. You will get the Hindi version on 24th, he told me.
There is logic in it because the Hindi version is going to be released on 23rd January 2009.
I have digressed a bit. My intention was to talk about the villain in this highly acclaimed movie.
In my opinion, Amitabh Bacchan is the villain of this movie, may be by default.
The biggest hero of Indian screen, Amitabh Bacchan (otherwise known as Big B) had criticized the makers of the movie in his blog for selling Indian poverty in/for the western world. Ever since a mayhem has erupted in the public realm. The Big B bashers are out on prowl.
Big B critiqued the western investors (Interestingly Warner Independent Pictures is the distributor of the movie in the western world) for selling Indian poverty for making profit. He has his reason to say so. But my point is different. Big B is the villain in the movie, where he appears as a cameo (a hand of an extra seen from a down angle), as a poster and as a program presenter (Kaun Banega Crorepati, an Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, presented by Big B himself) by default acted by another veteran actor Anil Kapoor.
The film starts with the young hero being tortured in a Mumbai Police station. This young boy is a chai wallah. And he answers all the questions asked by Anil Kapoor. Now he is one question away from two crore rupees. But there is a break in the shooting. Meanwhile, he is handed over to the police because Anil Kapoor doubts that this boy is a fraud. Otherwise how can a chai wallah from the Mumbai slums answer all difficult questions?
While handing over the young boy to the police, Anil Kapoor screams, ‘Bloody, it is my show.’
The show must go on. If someone wins two crores, then how the suspense of the show be on for a long time?
Big B is the real time show presenter. We don’t know whether he had ever handed over any potential contestant to the police for winning the money.
But the sub-text of the movie is this: there is a foul play in this reality quiz program. If you show excellence, and especially when you are an underdog, then you must be a fraud. You should be given to the hands of law.
Anil Kapoor fades out and Big B comes into the minds of the viewers. Something is rotten in the city of Mumbai and we smell it.
There is the final question, ‘Who has the maximum number of classy centuries in cricket?’ (I am writing from memory). There are four answers. The boy opts for A. But then he asks for his last life line ‘fifty-fifty’. A and C are erased. So we have B. Ricky Ponting and D.Jack Davie (not sure of this name). Then comes the break.
In the loo, Anil Kapoor mumbles; how this underdog can win it away from me. The boy is in the same loo, inside a closet. Anil Kapoor inscribes ‘B.’ on the mirror covered with steam from the hot water pipe. Then he walks out.
‘B.’ The capital B. Here is a suggestion for the young boy. You choose B and you win. But B could be a wrong answer. Who knows? You have to rely on your instincts.
‘B.’ Big B. Do you see that suggestion? The big villain?
But the boy opts for D and he wins.
Was the surrogate of Big B was playing a foul game? The Big B could be deceptive, we are forced to believe.
Let me cut it back to one of the flashbacks.
Here we see the young boy in a rotting makeshift toilet in Dharavi. Amitabh Bacchan comes by a helicopter and lands near the slum. The boy is still in toilet. He wants to see his super hero; the angry young man of the times. He jumps into the shit pool and covered fully in shit, he runs towards his hero and gets an autograph from him.
This is the same angry young man who betrays him later in the contest. Can you read out some connection?
This is the failed project of the angry youth of India.
The boy grows up, seeing Amitabh Bacchan’s movies and posters. He remembers all these and he answers one of the questions pertaining to Big B, just from memory.
This boy is the representative of all the underdogs who do not forget the things happened in their lives. They learn from life, and when asked, they have an answer. The issue is they are never asked for an answer.
He does not remember whose head is there in the Thousand rupees note? He does not remember because he has not seen a thousand rupees not. Even if he had seen it and remembered it, he would not have said it BECAUSE HE WAS NEVER ASKED THAT QUESTION. The question was about the head in the hundred dollar bill.
(See the irony in Idea mobile phone advertisement, where Junior B, Big B’s son Abhishek Bacchan, solves a huge policy problem by asking people for their opinion. First time the Indian underdog is asked a question because he holds a mobile!)
Big B, who once symbolically fought for the rights of the underdogs, now becomes an oppressor by default in this movie. I don’t know how many people saw this subtext.
This movie is all about the winning possibility of an Indian underdog (or underdog of anywhere in the world). But at the same time this movie is about betrayal by icons. Here we have Big B as the big betrayer. He becomes the villain of Slumdog Millionaire.
But unfortunately, Big B reiterated his villainy by commenting against the movie. That could be a providential intervention.
Everyone knows the importance of being Big B, because he was the one first showed us how an underdog really felt when he is hurt.
I love Jamal Malik, the underdog and I still love Big B because end of the day both of them stand at the either end of underdog-hood.