Poverty in Bollywood cinema

For all the commotion that Slumdog is causing in India, including allegations of “poverty porn”, we should recognize that poverty, and its associated ills, have rarely been depicted by bollywood cinema, new or old. The great masters of the “old” Bollywood such as Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt were not really mainstream popular cinema. They were considered parallel cinema in their time. Films made by Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Raj Khosla, and Navketan films were considered more mainstream.

Parallel cinema has been imbued with far more realism, and pathos, in the depiction of Indian society and poverty. Bimal Roy’s movies evoked a real sense of rural India, and even as recently as the 80s, movies such as Paar and Manthan gave a clear picture of the poverty in the Indian hinterlands.

The bustees of India have generally gotten a romanticized treatment. Pure hearted people, warm and fuzzy lighting, joyous dwellers ready to break into song and dance, ever virtuous, ever helpful. It makes sense, since the largest audiences for hindi movies come from these very localities, and movies are about making one feel better. Why alienate one’s largest revenue pool? These folks are coming for entertainment, not for plot structure, innovative camera use, or intellectual mastification.

An old acquaintance, Hesh Sarmalkar, who hails from a premier Bollywood family, puts it very well in his blog jounal:
About Indian films

A couple of primers on parallel / art cinema in India. Or as the Americans like to call it in the land of the free – “independent cinema”.
A summary of art cinema in India
Wiki entry on Parallel cinema in India
Wiki entry on art cinema in India

Let’s end with Shah Rukh Khan’s golden words on the slumdogs of India

Isn’t that (poverty and slums) a reality? If you (critics) have a problem with the word slumdog, why don’t you look positively and see that there is a word millionaire or crorepati also


Slumdog Millionaire and Indian Cinema

I was struck by Chris Morris’ piece last Saturday on the Today news programme, discussing its international background. In the piece, Morris asks why could this not be made by an Indian team: namely the directory, screen writer nor the financing were from India.

And therein lies the real question. The Hindi industry used to make similar types of movies, dealing with people’s lives, or straight films as Danny Boyle calls it. But since the morphing into Bollywood it has become the host of pure escapism. The modern movies are more Manmohan Desai and less Bimal Roy.

Anurag Kashyup mentions that there is a

strange aversion to realism

Basically, the audience does not want to see that part of India. In a away, keep it hidden. People have complained that focusing on the poor in India re-enforces a stereotype, or the way the west sees the country. Amitabh Bachchan claims that if this was a movie of the well off it would not have received as much a claim. That’s hard to judge, but a well made movie is always appreciated. The escapism and derivative nature of the Mumbai industry speak more of the weakness of the mainstream, and the audience, rather than to the strength and innovativeness of the cinema.

Anil Kapoor defends the movie:

Let’s stop being defensive about the reality

Disabled Snap Preview

Blog administration: disabled the snap preview, Lorelle has a description of how to do it here.

I find the snap previews distracting and agree with her on the reasons why people don’t like it:

1. It pops up a thumbnail without warning as their mouse moves over the link, even accidentally, startling the reader and covering up content they are trying to read.

2. It doesn’t meet with accessibility standards and makes reading content hard for those with visual impairment.

3. The only way for the reader to turn it off is through an “opt-out” program, forcing the reader to visit the Snap Preview site to turn it off. The site turns it off for that IP address. Switch IP addresses by moving to another computer, Internet service, or otherwise, and it’s back.

Official numbers of this week

Here are some numbers out this week in the media.

$1.2 trillion – Deficit forecast for 2009
693,000 – Job losses in December 2008
$166 billion  – Loss in tax revenue in 2009

Percentages (smaller numbers)

2.2% – contraction of the economy in 2009
8.3% – Deficit as a percentage of GDP
9% – Unemployment by the end of 2009

Graphjam sums it up very simply:

Contents Of Toilet at Graphjam.com


So here I am, in Fhronss (as the Fhrensch call it), sitting at a computer, one hour away from Paris, in a home that defies description. Is it a country home, a manoir, an estate perhaps? A mansion?

Anyhow, it is the place to drink copious amounts of Vouvray, Bordeaux and Gronh Cru (as the Fhrensch call it) with every meal. So every morning breaks its dawn, and I search through the haze for a new turn of phrase to describe my state. And Iain Gately may have just helped me out.

Besotted — Etymologically, That Is: A sober reflection on the American lexicon of inebriation