Mumbai: Gone was the shy A.R. Rahman who thanked one billion Indians when he received a Golden Globe award last month. In acceptance speeches for the two Oscars he received on Sunday night, the Chennai-based musician cracked a joke, quoted one of Hindi cinema’s immortal lines and?remembered?God in Tamil.
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“Before coming, I was excited and terrified. The last time I felt like that was during my marriage. There’s a dialogue from a Hindi film called mere paas ma hai, which means ‘I have nothing, but I have a mother’, so mother’s here, her blessings are there with me,” Rahman said at the 81st Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, where he snagged Oscars for best original score and best original song, both for Slumdog Millionaire.
Director Danny Boyle’s paean to Mumbai through the story of an urchin’s quest for love on a game show swept the awards, winning eight Oscars including best director and best picture.
US-based film-maker Megan Mylan clinched the award in the category for Best Documentary Short Subject with Smile Pinki, her documentary on the story of an Indian village girl’s journey to fix her cleft lip.
Two-in-one: A.R. Rahman holds up his Oscars for best original song and best original score for Slumdog Millionaire. Mike Blake / Reuters
“Nothing can be better than this,” said Anil Kapoor, the Bollywood actor who stars in Slumdog as the quiz show host, after a sleepless night spent celebrating in Hollywood and going from interview to interview. “It felt great. It was overwhelming. There are no words to express it. It is something we all dreamed of. Actually, we didn’t even dream it. I think this is even bigger than dreams.”
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“It will give a certain level of impetus for tie-ups between Hollywood and India. A lot of Indian stories will be made.”
Fox Star Studios, which picked up Slumdog Millionaire and agreed to distribute the low-budget film after its previous backers Warner Independent Pictures shut down, last night said it is planning to expand the number of screens the film is showing at across India in an attempt to capitalize on a post-Oscar spike in interest. The studio on Monday confirmed that Slumdog had raked in $160 million (Rs798.4 crore) in box office earnings till 20 February, with the US market contributing $98 million. Sales in India accounted for just $6 million, with the remainder coming from other international regions, including the UK.
Vijay Singh, chief executive, voiced hopes that the cast and crew of the film would return to Mumbai for a celebration. “We want the team to come back out here for a party. We would love to have them back here, but we will take it step by step. I spoke with the cast and it is such a strange moment; you just have to live it. It isn’t something one can plan for. There is huge excitement.”
The wins helped to lift the film’s global profile, with mobile searches for Slumdog Millionaire-related content trebling across the world over the weekend, according to Hungama, which owns the digital rights to the film’s music, and doubling in India in the last 24 hours. The firm added that winning song Jai Ho is currently the target of 85% of all songs searched and downloaded on mobiles across India.
Oscar glory: (top) The cast and crew of Slumdog Millionaire join producer Christian Colson as he accepts the Oscar for best motion picture of the year during the 81st Academy Awards on Sunday in Hollywood, Los Angeles; (below) Best director winner Danny Boyle at the Governors Ball with the Mumbai children who featured in Slumdog Millionaire.Photos: Mark J Terrill / AP and Lucas Jackson / Reuters
The success of Slumdog comes on top of a winning streak that has seen the film, which also stars Irrfan Khan as well as relative unknowns Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, dominate at all the major awards ceremonies this season and inspire enthusiasm and controversy both domestically and abroad in equal measure.
Accepting the award for sound mixing, Resul Pookutty spoke of the importance of sounds and silence in India, pointing to the significance of ‘Om’, the “universal word”, which was preceded by silence and followed by more silence. Dedicating the award to India, he said: “This is not just a sound award, this is history being handed over to me.”
Pinto, the 24-year-old female lead of the film who has been grabbing headlines across the world, appeared on the red carpet in a royal blue, one-sleeved net gown by John Galliano. “But the jewellery is from India. The ring I am wearing is more than 100 years old,” said Pinto in an interview to PTI. The actress has been dressed for the multiple award ceremonies by some of the world’s leading designers and has since featured on the best-dressed list of fashion websites such as Style.com (Vogue magazine’s online offering) and those by bloggers who write on celebrity fashion, as well as in the March issue of Vanity Fair.
Oscar glory: (top) Resul Pookutty (right) with his award for sound mixing. (below) Pinki (centre) and director and producer Megan Mylan of Smile Pinki that won the Oscar in the short documentary feature category. Photos: Gary Hershorn / Reuters and Matt Sayles / AP .
As the cast and crew celebrated their success at parties across Hollywood last night, their families and friends, as well as fans, were hosting their own parties back home. The parents and neighbours of Rubina Ali Qureshi and Azhar Mohammed Ismail, both of whom live in Mumbai slums, crowded around TV sets to watch the ceremony and distributed sweets in celebration.
“Normally, no one talks to us and no one comes here, but now everyone is here,” Mohammed Ismail, Azhar’s father, told members of the press as he watched the ceremony from his home in the slums in Bandra.
The film’s portrayal of the living conditions in the slums has prompted outrage in some quarters, most notably from actor Amitabh Bachchan, who accused its maker of showing India as “a third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation”, which in turn helped to trigger isolated street protests.
However, even its detractors have been inspired by the film, with Kumar Sanu, the playback singer who has been quoted as describing Slumdog as making “a spectacle out of poverty”, opting to make a film on the street children of Mumbai.
“It’ll be some time before we have a proper idea about the making of the film,” said Sanu. “Audiences are demanding more movies like Slumdog Millionaire. Poverty in India is a very important issue that we want to highlight.”
For some in Dharavi, Mumbai’s best-known and largest slum, the success of Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars was the perfect opportunity to celebrate their own talents and success. The India chapter of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) prepared for a free-for-all charity event where some of Dharavi’s own talent—four DJs in their early 20s who compose and sing Tamil rap music—would perform. Vinod Shetty, director of ACORN, which works towards improving the lives of the rag pickers and waste collectors of Dharavi, said: “A.R. Rahman is a big inspiration for the boys who are born and brought up in Dharavi, who compose their own brand of Tamil rap. In keeping with the theme of the film, we are celebrating Dharavi’s own talent on the day that Rahman and Slumdog Millionaire stole the show.”
Meanwhile, in Chennai, A.R. Rehana, Rahman’s sister, threw a party for fans of the musician. Over cake and crackers, she said that a proper party would be organized when the musician returns to his homeland. “I am giving him a treat. He asked me for one,” she said with a laugh.
Sanjukta Sharma and Vidhya Sivaramakrishnan contributed to this story.