Monday, February 23, 2009

Jai Ho !!

Yesterday was India's day at the Oscars and what a night it was. Even though the movie, Slumdog Millionaire, is a British movie it is an Indian movie by heart. Danny Boyle gets lot of credit for bringing India to the Oscars but it was the slum kids from Mumbai that stole everyone's heart. It was great to see Azharuddin and Rubina, both of whom come from the dirtiest of slums in Mumbai dressed up all in Tuxedos and Formal attire.

The best part of the Oscars was that it showcased the diversity of India like never before. Allah Rakha Rahman - a converted muslim, Gulzar Saab - a sikh (his real name is Sampooran Singh Kalra), Resal Pookutty - a muslim from one of the communist state Kerela, all won the awards as Indians. Apart from the winners, the cast of Slumdog Millionaire represented a Bollywood star, Anil Kapoor, an aspiring model Frieda Pinto, a second generation NRI Dev Patel, a brilliant actor Irfan Khan and then those kids from all strata of the Indian society.

This movie or the Oscars will not change lives of slum kids all across the country but it was heart-warming to watch them celebrating the awards like they won it themselves. As far as controversy surrounding the movie, like calling the slum-dwellers dogs, one only need to go into one of these slums to see that these people live worse than dogs. In an interview of one of the child-artist, Azharuddin, he said, "Yeh kutte ke zindagi nahin jeene hain maine". But the movie doesn't compare these kids to dogs even though it calls them slumdogs. In one of the scene from the movie, after rioting when the brothers lose their mother and have taken refuge in a discarded pipe, Jamal Malik the film's protaganist asks an orphan girl Latika to come under the shade. It showed the human side of slum kids in a dog eats dog world.

Its no coincidence that the movie resonated with people around the world during the biggest recession of our times. The movie is about a triumph of an underdog and all of us are in some ways underdogs during these hard times. We all want to come out triumphant and aspire to become millionaires if not become one.

Slumdog Millionaire was not the only movie that made us proud. A small documentary about a girl from small Indian village with cleft lip, Pinki, called Smile Pinki also bought smiles to billions of people from around the world. It showcased how people like Pankaj, a social worker who travels from one village to another to find kids like Pinki with cleft lips and bring them to Varanasi to provide free surgery, only to bring a smile on their faces.

Jai Ho to all the Pinkis, Azharuddins and Rubinas of the world !!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yeh Dilli hain mere yaar...

Dilwalon ke Dilli is not just a phrase made out of convenience. Delhi or Dilli (as it is called by localities), lies in the heart of India. It is the strategic location of the city that has made it the cultural and political capital of the country. If a balance between heart and mind rules a body then Delhi has always been used by the political minds to rule India. There is a good reason why Delhi has the highest number of archaeological monuments compared to any other city in the country, everyone who ruled the city wanted to leave their legacy.

Recently Delhi has found prominence among filmmakers as a favored destination to shoot movies. Indian film industry at one time was possessed with Mumbai for obvious reasons as the movie industry was based there and the mafia provided an exciting black, white and gray character shades to the stories. One of the earliest movies that I can remember based in Delhi was Chashme Badoor (its still one of the best comedies to watch) but Delhi of the 80s was all together a different city.

A scene from Chashme Badoor

The wide roads with hardly any traffic baring a few Ambassadors, Bajaj Chetaks and Rajdoots has been replaced by millions of cars, buses and bikes, rushing through the insane traffic of the city. But there is still something fascinating about the city that is attracting filmmakers, yet again, to explore the possibilities of the city.

Delhi is a melting pot of cultures from all over India. There is no other city in India that has embraced people from all walks of life. Mumbai maybe the cosmopolitan hub of India and Kolkatta the artistic hub but Delhi is a city that welcomed refugees from Pakistan after partition to recently attracting illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Although, people that most affected the city were the Punjabis that came from Pakistan after partition. Recently when I was listening to a podcast interview of celebrity-cook Madhur Jaffrey, she talked how the cuisine of the city changed after the Punjabis migrated to the city. Shahi Paneer and Butter Chicken which have become synonyms with the city were no where to be found during the 50s and it was the Punjabis that introduced paneer to the city. I clearly remember the first day we moved there from Dehradoon, Mom and myself decided to go and get the gas connection. The lady sitting on the counter was a South Indian and I may have asked "Gas connection ke liye apply karna tha" to which she replied "Uthee form peeya hain, uh bharke mainu de do". My jaws dropped after hearing her speak so fluently in Punjabi.

A scene from Delhi 6

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who captured the youth of Delhi so well in his last movie, Rang De Basanti, will be releasing his next venture Delhi 6 pretty soon. The promos of the movie shows a fascinating yet neglected part of Delhi, the Old Delhi - the Chandni chowk, the Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, the Sis Ganj Gurudwara, the Parathe waali gaali, the famous jalebis. This post is inspired by the images from the promos of Delhi 6, which took me back to my city, Dilwalon ke Dilli.