Monday, November 17, 2008

More on Slumdog Millionaire and The Namesake and Monsoon Wedding and Maximum City and A.R. Rehman and M.I.A. and 1991 and Diaspora and Stuff

Since posting on Slumdog Millionaire a week ago, and not seeing it as planned, my anticipation has grown 9-fold. Noah from YouWildin had the chance to peep it and he's had great things to say. Roger Epert has been speculating about an Oscar nod for Best Film. I can't wait!


After Monsoon Wedding I thought The Namesake could fill the void I had for a non-Bollywood film that I could appreciate. Something both Western and Indian - something that hits all my identity points. I anxiously waited for it to drop and when it did, it really didn't hit the spot. I mentioned before that one of the main reasons I started fucking with fiction was the need to tell stories of the lower-middle class Indians in Queens in the 1980s and 1990s as I couldn't relate with Lahiri's characters. Sure, parts of me definitely identified with The Namesake's Gogol, but it was the boring parts of me. Though one would assume Jhumpa Lahiri's American Indians would strike a chord with me, those were not the Indians I grew up with - my Indians were similar to Nair's Indians of New Delhi than Lahiri's of Boston. Really, the Indians I grew up with were neither as when our parents left India in the 70s and 80s and brought that fossilized India into the homes we grew up in, India became more Western than Queens as we knew it.
Monsoon Wedding was great because it was an early depiction of post-1991 India. Monsoon's Delhi was modern as it depicted India after it's economy had been liberalized allowing the middle class to expand rapidly and India to come to the world's attention as not just the orientalist national embodiment of spirituality, but something new. This was a globalized India. And while there's no doubt India has changed, it's been a selective change. The poor are still poor. Though Nair didn't overlook this with characters like PK Dubey (who I mention below) that represent the unchanged India, she couldn't take it far enough. It's understandable - the story there was New India, and it hadn't been told thus far. And she made Salaam Bombay! 20 years ago. 20 years before Slumdog Millionaire came out. A sort of in-between of the elite diasporic Indians of Lahiri and Nair's Indian Indians surpisingly came in the form of a Bollywood movie called Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. While I appreciated DDLJ for its plot and songs and such when I was 10, I appreciated it for entirely different reasons when I was 20. Released in 1995, DDLJ completed 600 weeks of continuous play in Mumbai theatres making it the longest running film in the history of Bollywood. I won't get into the plot but what's key is while Monsoon was an art film on new India with one diasporic character in the form of a superficial Australian cousin or something, DDLJ was the first Indian film to humanize the diasporic South Asian. Previously, South Asians from London or New York were reduced to caricatures of chain-smoking, cocaine-snorting, gamblaholics with no respect of Indian women and thus India. In DDLJ, the main character shows that Indian as an identity isn't restricted to those in India thus Raj is more in touch with his culture than Kuljeet who was born and raised in Punjab. Tons of other films with diasporic main characters followed suit. Though not directly addressing the New India of post-1991, DDLJ wouldn't be possible without it. For a Bollywood movie it was on some groundbreaking shit really.
Poorer India has come to attention recently in the form of this year's Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger and Suketu Mehta's Maximum City. Published in 2004, Maximum City is a narrative nonfiction book - part memoir, part travel writing, part sociology - about Bombay. Mehta' grew up in Bombay, settled with his family in Jackon Heights in the late 1970's, and then returned to Mumbai. What set this book apart from all the other critic-lauded writing publishing companies churn out by trendy South Asian writers is the attention it pays to the slums - to real life in a developing nation. Comparisons to the London of Dickens, the Paris of Zola, and the New York of Woody Allen are appropriate. With some further digging I found out it was Maximum City that iced the cake of Simon Beaufroy's scipt and inspired Boyle to create the film. He even carried it with him the entire time he was there. Another reason I'm psyched to see the film is its soundtrack. Previously I mentioned my appreciation for Gang Gang Dance and their appreciation for Bollywood music and how their appreciation caused me to re-appreciate Bollywood music and re-approach some kind of music project sampling it. Both DeGraw and Bougatsos cite AR Rahman as a huge inspiration for Saint Dymphna. I was giddy when I heard Boyle got Rahman to drop the project he was working on to join Slumdog. I was giddier when I found out Rahman collaborated with MIA on a song for the film. Here's what he had to say:

"We met before but never worked before. M.I.A., she’s a real powerhouse. Somebody played me her CD and I thought, Who’s this girl? She came here and knew all my work, had followed my work for ages. I said "Cut the crap," this "my idol" crap. You have to teach me. We started working in India, then we e-mailed the track back and forth. She did the vocals in England. I did the rest in India."

Boyle called her a "gift" to the soundtrack. He used her Paper Planes, and the collabo with Rahman entitled O Saya. It's used early on in the film. I can't tell if I'm more excited about the film or the song. To close, I'll leave you with a few Rahman songs I grew up listening to:

Also from Dil Se:



Also from Bombay, and maybe in Tamil (can't hear it):

1 comment:

Brent said...

Gang Gang Dance has opened me up to Bollywood music as well, though it's hard to know where to really start. I've dipped my foot in with AR Rehman, but that dude has such a massive catalog it's dizzying. I also really liked some Illayaraja, particularly that Kattukuyilu song MIA sampled so thoroughly on Kala. Would you be willing to make a mix of your favorite Bollywood stuff and post it up?

I also like the idea of this super spaced out, auto-tuned, buried bollywood sampled stuff. hope you get around to doing that!

Brent

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