For me personally, the Oscar ceremony on February 22 at the Kodak Theatre was more than just about a film set in Bombay. It was about recognising the true worth of soft power and its role in building a brand: in this case, Brand India and I believe for that and that alone, we need to be grateful to Danny Boyle. The film could easily have been set in Africa. We may have missed A R Rahman’s music in that case but am sure the treatment would have not been so dramatically different.
In today’s challenging times, soft power is increasingly becoming a critical virtue of both retaining interest in a nation as also in seeing it move forward. The Oscar wins for Slumdog Millionaire were not about rewarding a film: they were about the Resul Poolkuttys and the A R Rahmans and the Gulzars. They were about the latent talent that has existed in India but has not gotten its due share on a global stage. The Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles provided the canvas to Indian soft power to take a bow on this global stage: and this is why the ceremony will go a long way in redefining Brand India especially in the United States: a country which is not known for awareness of global geographies.
In many ways, Slumdog Millionaire is a film, which hits the right notes and most critically at the right time. America is going through its worst crisis: both an economic one as also one in values. This film is not just about meeting aspirations: it is also not just a rags-to-riches story but instead a story that is fundamentally mired in hope. In a strange way, just about a month separated the Kodak Theatre from Washington, when Barack Obama was sworn in on January 20: Obama was the brand beacon of hope. Slumdog Millionaire like Obama,too operates (and creates lasting value and benefits) at many layers. In times such as these, hope is a very powerful trait to possess especially when most people have lost theirs. Hope is something that has positivism attached to it and is a quick healer to myriad woes. Much like the film. The film is not about a slum dog alone. It is about a community that can perceive achievement no matter how short-lived; can celebrate the success of one of its own as if it belonged to the entire community and in a strange way this is what is happening across India. Every Indian is celebrating this Oscar success but in a very tangential way, we are also celebrating our Indianness and have the maturity to come to terms with the fact that our slums will co-exist with our spanking chrome and glass buildings. For many, the Kodak Theatre was a way of establishing our own little circles of influence and pride and this is what I believe the film has enabled us to do.
Will one film change the way a nation thinks? Perhaps not. But will it, at least for some time, give us a reason to celebrate and smile? Yes, it will. Will it help re-engineer Brand India in the minds of many? I guess it will and for that and that alone we must laud Danny Boyle’s choice of location.
In the ultimate analysis it is not about a film. It is about lasting impact. It is about seeing Rubina and Azharrudin in their gowns and suits: pitch forked from Dharavi to Los Angeles. That transition, that symbolism is inspirational. It is about Jai Ho being sung on a global stage replacing rap and rhythm and blues: it is the language of India. The idiom of our culture and the heartbeat of our sounds that was elevated before the world on the night of February 22.
That is how a brand’s soft power is built and this is what I guess Slumdog has done for us. So cut out the moral debate; stop quibbling about the ownership and nationality of the film and instead hail and celebrate what it has already achieved and what it will do for Brand India. And beyond cinema as it were.