By Geeta Padmanabhan
A billion Indian voices went “Jai HO!” as AR Rahman stepped on stage to accept his second Oscar statuette at the Kodak Amphitheater. Crackers were burst in front of his house, his sister was caught gushing about brother Rahman on TV cameras. A nation stood up and applauded.
People in the streets, teashops, hotel rooms, offices, buses, trains, beaches and hospital wards screamed, clapped and hugged as Slumdog Millionaire was called again and again for the various awards. India was awake at 4:30 am – the hour the live telecast on TV began for this big event. And held its breath.
The movie had generated incredible buzz – both good and bad – since its huge success at the Golden Globe awards. Reporters had not wasted even the remotest angles for their stories. Every entertainment slot had something on SM. Who is Dev Patel? How was the cesspool scene done? (Chocolate and peanut butter). They were helped with more than the usual grist by Amitabh Bachchan who made some oblique remark in his blog about the movie. AB was quoted and misquoted. He had “accused” the movie makers of selling India’s poverty abroad.
Then came the questions. “Why didn’t SRK play the games show host?” “Was the movie a success because a foreigner had directed and marketed it?”
As the movie began to make huge box office collections, the accusations turned socio-political. “SM owes its huge success abroad to the slum kids, slum scenes, slum story, slum what-have-you,” said a student on the NDTV show featuring Boyle, Dev, Tandon, Kapoor and Simon Beaufoy.“What are you going to do for them?”
“Goood question,” sidestepped Boyle.
“Why was the name in Q & A changed to Jamal?” asked another kid.
“A multi-religious name (in the book) is a beautiful idea. But movies work on emotions,” said Beaufoy.
The interviews with the cast and crew went on and on – you saw Anil Kapoor and Irfan on one channel, flip, there were Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto on another, flip, the kids on the third, flip, the entire main crew (include Lovleen Tandon) on the fourth, even while you heard Rahman’s voice on the FM waves.
Is this unprecedented national response because we are movie-mad? I don’t think so. A lot of people haven’t seen anything of the movie beyond the clippings rolling behind the studio interviews. There are millions of people in India who speak neither Hindi nor English. A movie about violence and slums, so what’s new?
India’s heart beats for AR Rahman. He is the binding force. People know him. They hum, sing and perform his songs. They have been doing it since his Roja days. His tunes, whether Chinna Chinna Aasai or Kwaja oh Kwaja bring a deeply felt resonance. No, it isn’t movie-madness. It is music-madness. Hs music fills the potholes of Indian life.
Congratulatory messages flew across the globe to him and Rasul and Prasanna, who made the music for Smile Pinki, the award winning documentary. Actor after actor was interviewed through the day. “I waited like I was waiting for my Board Exams,” said Surya. “Rahman richly deserves this award,” said Ilayaraja’s son. Kamal Hasan said something similar.
What did the awardees say in their acceptance speeches? Rasul talked of the silence before and after “Om” and dedicated the award to the nation. Rahman likened his emotions at the moment to his marriage jitters. He looked genuinely pleased as he pointed his mother in the audience. And then he endeared himself to the 10 crore Tamilians across the globe by invoking god in Tamil. He sang in Hindi, was awarded in English and he thanked God in Tamil. In that instant, he became a local, national and global boy. The boy who chose love over hate.
I spoke to him on the 7th January. He was a member of the jury that selected disabled candidates for the CavinKare Ability Awards. Talking of the disabled achievers, he said, “I should have been in London for the BAFTA celebrations. But I’m happy to be with these (disabled) stars rather than the movie stars.”