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An open letter to Amitabh Bachchan

An open letter to Amitabh Bachchan
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First Published: Fri, Jan 23 2009. 09 30 PM IST

 East is best: Saira Banu went blonde in Purab aur Paschim.
East is best: Saira Banu went blonde in Purab aur Paschim.
Updated: Fri, Jan 23 2009. 09 30 PM IST
Dear Mr Bachchan,
Like most of your fans across India, I read your blog on Slumdog Millionaire. By now, Bachchan saab, you should know that anything you say is newsworthy, especially when it’s about a British film shot in Mumbai, one that is in all likelihood set to beat (or at least equal) India’s overall Oscar record (i.e., two).
When you say that Slumdog’s Golden Globe recognition was probably because it was “conceived and cinematically put together by a Westerner” (even when it’s just in response to comments on your blog), you’re inviting debate.
I couldn’t agree with you more when you point out that every country, developed or developing, has a thriving underbelly. But Slumdog Millionaire is not a documentary that seeks to depict all aspects of living in modern-day India. It’s a well-made masala film with a racy plot, several improbable twists and turns and a happy ending.
You should know, you’ve been starring in the same kind of films for four decades now. A period in which, I might add, you’ve helped to perpetuate your share of Hindi movie stereotypes about the West.
Like the portrayal of Western women, for example.
White women are blonde. White women always bare their thighs and cleavage. White women smoke and drink. White women want to be sexually harassed by Indian men. White women find all men sexy, even Indian senior citizens.
East is best: Saira Banu went blonde in Purab aur Paschim.
In Purab aur Paschim, all Manoj Kumar had to do was stick a blonde wig on Saira Banu, hand her a ciggie, make her wear short dresses, and hey, her character was ready for the grand rape sequence that would be her life-altering moment; that classic West is bad, East is best epiphany.
But why Manoj Kumar? Take your 2006 portrayal of Sexy Sam and his string of Western girlfriends in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna.
If I used the argument you use for Slumdog Millionaire, I could argue that not all white women are nymphomaniacs/hookers or that nymphomaniacs/hookers exist in developing and underdeveloped nations too. And, that Sexy Sam worked only because the character was put together by a well-loved, famous Indian actor such as yourself.
As one of your fans on the Internet put it, “Who else could have played the role of a sexagenarian with a glad eye for hot blondes, without making it look trashy?”
Just the other day, I was watching a rerun of Heat and Dust on television. In the film, one white woman turns to another and whispers to her to be careful in India. All the men in his place, she cautions, want to sleep with a white woman in their lifetime.
So Bachchan saab, why don’t we just forget about the East and the West and enjoy the film for the mainstream entertainer it is? And, while we’re on the subject of Slumdog, here’s what I think Bollywood could learn from Danny Boyle:
Be inspired by your home: Forget Table Mountain and Interlaken, Dharavi’s just round the corner.
Focus on the nitty-gritty: Boyle and his co-director (India) Loveleen Tandan capture so many tiny details of life in Mumbai—crowds watching television outside showrooms; the way we press against each other in a queue; modern Indian architecture; matter-of-fact domestic violence; running through trains to get to the next platform; a field of scooters... I could go on.
Rewind to the 1970s: As a movie crazy pal of mine pointed out, “But wasn’t it just like Deewar and Zanjeer?” Of course, and they were hits too.
Music makes the movie: Give music its due, as Hindi cinema did in the decades before the 1970s. When was the last time a film-maker called his music director and said, “Here’s the script, do something different”?
But forget Slumdog. This year is exactly four decades since your first movie, Bachchan saab. Congratulations and keep acting.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jan 23 2009. 09 30 PM IST