Slumdog Millionaire, The Final Inch, Smile Pinki… in a first, three India themed films up for the Oscars, and all three dealing with poverty and disease!
India’s poverty is under the global spotlight as never before with the blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire, tracing the rags to riches story of a slum boy, and the two documentaries, The Final Inch focusing on the country’s battle with polio and Smile Pinki about a young child who can’t get a cleft lip surgery because she is too poor.
The Oscars will be announced on the 22nd of February (23rd morning in India).
According to a government survey, about 65 million Indians live in slums and out of them about 42 million live in city slums.
British filmmaker Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire highlights the pain and misery of this section. He set his story in Mumbai’s teeming slums in Nehru Nagar and nearby Dharavi, which is home to more than a million people and is the largest slum in Asia.
Based on Indian diplomat Vikas swarup’s novel Q & A, Slumdog Millionaire is about an impoverished teaboy who wins a multimillion rupee quiz show. The director has, however, woven hope and romance in his otherwise grim narrative.
The film was lauded in the West and grossed more than $100 million. It bagged seven British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards and four Golden Globes.
But Boyle’s film has been criticised by some in India for showing only the ugly side of the country and concentrating on its grinding poverty.
Another film with an Indian theme in the Oscar nomination list is American filmmaker Megan Mylan’s short documentary Smile Pinki.
The documentary is the heartwarming tale of a poor village girl called Pinki whose cleft lip made her a social outcast, till her life changed after a meeting with a social worker.
Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, Mylan’s work didn’t bag headlines but there is a similarity between the two films – they are both about hope and end on a happy note.
Mylan says the happy ending inspired her to show Pinki’s story.
“As a filmmaker who focuses on social issue documentaries, it is rare that I get into a film knowing we’re likely to have a happy ending. So, I was excited to tell the story of this beautiful hospital and a team of doctors and social workers treating their patients with such compassion and quality care and making a positive impact,” says Mylan.
This is the fourth documentary Mylan has produced – her first with an Indian theme, and her maiden Academy Award nomination has followed.
Another Oscar nominee, The Final Inch by American documentary makers Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant, is based in India too. It is about health workers travelling throughout Uttar Pradesh, urging parents to vaccinate their children against polio.
“The documentary revolves around the fact that in spite of a good polio campaign, which has really worked, we still haven’t been able to eradicate polio. The areas targeted in the film are Meerut and the whole of Uttar Pradesh,” said Mohammad Gulzar Saifihe, a polio-affected man who features in the documentary.
This is not the first time that India’s impoverished section is being highlighted at the Oscars.
Veteran Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, was criticised by Nargis for “selling Indian poverty abroad to win awards”.
Ray’s masterpieces include the Apu trilogy, Ashani Sanket, Jana Aranya, Mahanagar and Pratidwandi.