February 24, 2009

Embarrassed

In the midst of all the news about Oscars for Slum Dog Millionaire, there's this story about ... three days.

Quite something.

Incidentally, after hearing about the Oscars, we ran into a friend while out for an evening walk. She hadn't yet seen the film, but was planning to. She mentioned that several of her relatives in the US had told her that they had seen the film in that country. Told her not to see it. For watching it with a "primarily white" audience, they confessed, left them acutely "embarrassed".

Why?

Anyone out there who felt embarrassed watching the film in the US? If so, care to explain?

7 comments:

Anu said...

I watched the movie in the US with a white friend and other white moviegoers and wasn't embarrassed in the least. Perhaps the only scene I felt truly bad about was the mistreatment in the police station, but that's an area both the US and India can work on so no, I was not really that embarrassed.

bigsur said...

Dilip

I was not embarassed at all, but I am ambivalent about the movie. Somehow, I had read no reviews, heard nothing about the movie or who made it, before watching it. As it unfolded, I slowly realized that it was this ultimate tribute ever conceived to the stereotypical masala we are so used to. And I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

But there were some things in the movie that grated. That every Indian in the movie, except the protogonists and may be the inspector played by Irfan, had strong negative shades. The scene where the American woman takes a higher moral ground when the tires of her car are stolen and attributes her righteousness to the American way of life. The unbelievably cultured and perfectly accented "chaiwallah". I don't know.

I find it hard to explain, but I attribute the grating feeling to one of two things. One, a certain amount of hurt pride, or misplaced patriotism, perhaps. Second, for all the technical wizardry, perfect screenplay, awesome performances, stunning visuals, somewhere deep down I felt the movie, though seemingly heartfelt, was not being honest.

I was impressed by the movie, but in a very manufactured way, as if by design. And that is as much as I can explain it.

Sandhya said...

I did feel embarrassed. To see exposed almost every single evil in a city I have lived in and loved. But more so because I deserted that ship to come here and live in disconnected luxury.

Suresh said...

Your query is better addressed to a sociologist. But here are a couple of amateur guesses.

Perhaps it reminds us (the elite Indians) that *we* should be doing something about the problems (as Sandhya duly noted). Also, we (again, us elites) do not, as yet, have the self-confidence to accept the honest assessment of an outsider (read Westerner). We seem only to be able accept criticism provided it is topped off with dollops of generous praise. (Standard Format: "India is a great country: such diversity blah blah for about five pages. Slip in the criticism quietly, without fanfare somewhere after that and make sure that you qualify that criticism as much as possible.")

In 1842, I think, Charles Dickens visited America (the USA, that is) and wrote a book about it. The dedication reads as follows: "I dedicate this book to those friends of mine in America who, giving me a welcome I must ever gratefully and proudly remember, left my judgment free; and who, loving their country, can bear the truth when it is told good humouredly, and in a kind spirit."

It would be nice if we behaved that way rather than ranting about "poverty porn" and all that.

Ganpy said...

Dilip,

Those who feel embarrassed are those who either never lived in India but have Indian roots through their parents, etc. OR those who "escaped" India for "better comforts" in life. I grew up in India and have been living in the US for the past 10 years...but I don't think I escaped India. I don't understand the cause for embarrassment at all. Whether the movie deserved an Oscar or not is a separate debate but panning the movie for showing India in bad light is just a fantasy India that these people who are embarrassed want to live in. For them, only the good things & good people of the country, culture, food, etc. represent India while anything bad or anyone bad is an embarrassment.

I did talk to a few American Indians who shared the exact same sentiments as your friend's sister..So, I am not surprised but rather agitated.

Grow up people and see the real India..for that matter see the real side of wherever you are!

Ganpy.

Sandhya said...

Ganpy,

Just because some of us were embarrassed you can't judge us. I don't pan the movie. I have seen and worked and lived with the real and dark India more than you can imagine. And yes, embarrassed does not mean we want to escape reality. It means some of us are ashamed to say we have not done anything to change that, even within our small capacity.
After all, it's not enough if you just 'grow up and see the real India'.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Bigsur, if you're looking for negative shades, I wasn't particularly impressed by the depiction of the American woman either. Higher moral ground equals handing out wads of money? Give me a break.

I sort of liked the negative shades in everyone. As always, it reminded me of the Mahabharat, where nobody but nobody is without his/her negative shades. People are like that.

Sandhya, but the message of the film, such as it is, is surely that people can rise above all those evils. Call that stereotyped, call it simple-minded, but there is something to be said for it nevertheless.

But I think, just as you rightly point out that "it's not enough if you just 'grow up and see the real India', guilt is a futile emotion. The guys I've known who are making some difference to things around them, they have no particular guilt driving them. They are doing things they were trained to do, that they are passionate about, and that's why they make a difference.

Poverty is just as much a reality in this country as are smart office buildings for software companies; being so, I can't see that either is cause for either guilt or pride. It's the way of this country, that's all. I think it is that attitude that will result in change, if it's change we want.

Suresh, I think the point about self-confidence is spot on. I like that Dickens quote and I might use it in something -- isn't it from his "American Notes"?