India toasts success of 'Slumdog' after awards

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
In this image released by Fox Searchlight pictures, Dev Patel, left, and Freida Pinto are shown in a scene from "Slumdog Millionaire." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Ishika Mohan) ** NO SALES **

MUMBAI, India — India's movie-mad millions have not yet seen "Slumdog Millionaire," but this Mumbai-based fairy tale, which opens here next week, is already the toast of Bollywood.

All it took was the Golden Globes.

On Sunday, "Slumdog" — with its cast of actors unknown outside India and its story set on the gritty streets of Mumbai — went home with four Golden Globe awards, and became the movie to beat at the Academy Awards.

"Indian tale catches global fancy," the Hindustan Times shouted in a proud headline. "The $lumdog Has Its Day," said the Times of India.

The loudest cheers were saved for renowned Indian composer A.R. Rahman, who won the award for original score.

Subir Malik, a well-known Indian musician, said it was inspiring to see Rahman win a Golden Globe and watch Indian actors like Anil Kapoor, who plays the quiz master in "Slumdog," share an award stage with some of the brightest lights in Hollywood.

"It was brilliant, it may sound cliched, but it felt very good seeing Rahman winning an award and our own guys like Anil Kapoor on the same stage as Brad Pitt," he said.

Rahman started out as a rock band keyboard player before his haunting melodies and earthy rhythms captivated Bollywood in the early 1990s. He has composed movie scores for more than 130 Indian films and gone on to write music for numerous overseas ventures, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Bombay Dreams," a musical about India's movie industry that was a hit in London's West End but struggled on Broadway.

"Rahman has seen huge success in India, but the U.S. is a totally different market," Malik said. "For Rahman to win a music award in a language that the critic's don't even understand is fantastic. Now when the movie releases here it's going to be a sellout."

Mumbai, which is also known as Bombay, is the center of India's vast Hindi-language film industry, known as Bollywood. More than 200 films are produced every year in Mumbai.

Vijay Singh, chief executive officer of Fox STAR Studios India, which is distributing the movie, is certainly hoping for a blockbuster. It will be released in India on Jan. 23.

"It's an exceptional film, it has Indian emotion much like a Bollywood film," Singh said Tuesday, adding that a Hindi version is also being released for smaller towns and villages.

"The film has been built on the buzz, it built its credibility in the U.S. and then rolled out in the rest of the world."

But scenes of Mumbai's filthy vast slums have drawn criticism from some viewers. Indian poverty is a delicate issue here, particularly when it is raised by outsiders. While India has gone through spectacular economic growth over the past decade, about 400 million people — more than the entire population of the United States — are believed to live on less than $1 a day.

And while Mumbai has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, more than half the city's 18 million people live in ramshackle huts packed near train stations or adjoining towering skyscrapers.

But the movie's fans believe "Slumdog" speaks about hope even as it shows the hard realities of life in the slums, where the poverty can be shattering and the shortage of toilets mean many people are forced to defecate in the open.

"Why run away from things? We have our slums and the world knows about our slums," said Malik.

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