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February 22, 2009

Bollywood and Poverty

Look, I'd be the first person to say that poverty isn't a high priority subject matter in Bollywood but to say that Slumdog Millionaire is the first modern film to deal with it is stretching matters. That's why I have to take issue with this article by Sandip Roy entitled The New Bollywood:

The new Bollywood rarely looks at villages or slums, even though more than 800 million Indians live on less than 50 cents a day. Those stories don't sell in mega-mall India.

"After 15 years of hearing about 'India Shining,' 'Slumdog' brings it down to earth," says Vamsee Juluri, professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco. ("India Shining" was a political slogan reflecting India's new prosperity.) "Does that mean we'll see Bollywood films set in slums? I doubt it."

Three pukka Bollywood films from the past 20 years set in the slums that I can think off the top of my head:

Dayavan (1988): "After having witnessed his dad being killed by the local South Indian police, and being orphaned and homeless, Shakti Velhu develops a hate, and distrust of the police in India. He is befriended by another homeless boy named Shanker, who asks him to accompany him to Bombay's slumlands, where they live with a kind-hearted Muslim named Karim Baba, and his daughter, Shama. This is where Shakti and Shankar spend their childhood. When they mature, they take to petty crime. Here too, Shakti witnesses police brutality and atrocities, especially at the hands of sadistic, alcoholic, and womanizing Police Inspector Ratan Singh."

Parinda (1989): "Kishen (Jackie Shroff) and Karan (Anil Kapoor) are two brothers who grow up in the slums of Mumbai. At an early age Kishen decides to provide a better life for himself and Karan. He thus joins the Indian underworld. He also sends Karan abroad so that he can lead a better life.

Years pass by and Kishen (Jackie Shroff) is now the a henchman of for the criminal Anna (Nana Patekar). Karan (Anil Kapoor) returns and meets his chilhood friend Prakash (Anupam Kher) who is now a honest police officer. As they meet, however, Prakash is killed by Anna's gang in front of Karan. At that time, Karan comes to know of the involvement of his brother in the murder."

Satya (1998): "Mumbai is in the midst of a turf war between many gangs, collectively referred to as the Mumbai underworld. In these circumstances, Satya (J.D Chakravarthy), a man without a past, comes to the city in search of a job. He finds accommodation in a cow-shed and employment as a waiter at the local dance bar. While working, he gets involved in a scuffle with a local goon Jagga (Jeeva), bag man for dreaded don Guru Narayan. Jagga takes his revenge by getting Satya arrested on false charges of pimping."

There's more here. To quote:

Black Friday (2004). This film, by young director Anurag Kashyap depicts the March 1993 bomb blasts that tore apart Bombay (as Mumbai used to be called). It was based on a book by journalist S. Hussain Zaidi and filmed in an edgy, realistic style. A famous sequence from the film, a 12-minute police chase through the crowded Dharavi slum, is mimicked by Danny Boyle in the opening scene of Slumdog Millionaire, where truant slum-kids take the place of Black Friday’s militants.

Satya (1998) a.k.a The Truth. This film was also cited by Boyle as an inspiration, as was The Company (2002). Both offer slick, often mesmerizing portrayals of the Mumbai underworld. Both films were directed by Ram Gopal Varma, a director with a fine taste for brutality and urban violence. The screenplay for Satya was co-written by Saurabh Shukla (who plays a policeman named Srinivas in Slumdog Millionaire) and Anurag Kashyap, who directed Black Friday; with its intense rhythm and captivating performances, Satya instantly became a contemporary classic in India.

Deewaar (1975) a.ka. The Wall. Boyle describes this melodramatic film as being “absolutely key to Indian cinema.” He could be talking about scores of Bollywood films. Based in Bombay, the hit crime film pits a policeman against his brother, a gang leader based on real-life smuggler Haji Mastan. The actor who played the gangster, was Amitabh Bachchan (who, incidentally, was the original host of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? As a kid, Jamal, the protagonist in Slumdog Millionaire,wades through fecal waste just to get Bachchan’s autograph.

Parinda (1989) a.k.a. The Bird. Another hugely popular thriller about two very different brothers, this time a Bombay gangster and an educated idealist. Film critics gush over the “low-angle tracking shots and swiftly changing volumes in the image” in this film by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. The actor playing the straight-and-narrow brother, Anil Kapoor, now nearly two decades later, plays the creepy, condescending game-show host in Slumdog Millionaire.

Yes, by and large, Bollywood continues to avoid poverty as a subject matter but in addition to the films mentioned above, there have been films in the past decade or so that don't shy away from the topic. While they are not necessarily situated in slums per se, they do deal with related issues. Consider Chandni Bar (2002) , a film about Bombay bar girls or 3 Deewarain (2003) set in a vicious Mumbai prison or Aamir (2008) , a tremendous little man-on-the-run thriller, set in the Muslim dominated streets, the bylanes and poor living conditions of people living in residential pockets of old Bombay.

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- February 22, 2009 8:38 PM // Bollywood

February 15, 2009


One of the pros of living in the Bay Area is the sheer level of talent - you never know who you might bump into. And when you do, chances are he/she are very good at their chosen profession. I ran into Mindy Pines yesterday at a birthday party and she invited me to check out her photoblog. I did and was blown away. Her mission statement reads in part:

Mention Marin and most think money. Touted the most affluent county in the nation with median home prices surpassing a million, no wonder.

But many of us who call Marin home are renters. Others are homeless. Some drive old cars. Some take the bus. Some work blue collar jobs. Some are unemployed. Whether we're doctors or nurses' aides, restaurant owners or servers, wealthy or not-so-wealthy, we who live here are fortunate to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

I have to say she does a bang up job. Take for example, "Daddy's Girl," her picture from the aforementioned party:

Note the way she captures the love and playfulness.

As another example, take the Golden Gate bridge. It's been photographed so many times, it's tough to find a different perspective. I found two here though. The first is entitled "Below Golden Gate":

and the second is "Aliens, GGB":

And as for Marin itself, here are some additional goodies. "Local Color/San Rafael:"

and "Boxtops, Greenbrae:"

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, the blog is jam packed with great shots like this. Very addictive indeed.

If you want to know more about Mindy, here's an article link.

OK - one more! "Determination/ Marin Headlands":

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- February 15, 2009 12:41 PM // Bay Area