Saturday, 24 January 2009
It's Oscar season somewhere far away - and our papers are in a tizzy because for the first time an 'Indian film' is in the running for best pic etc. The flick is an adaptation of a book called Q&A - about a young kid from the slums of Mumbai who makes it big by bashing through life with all its seamy ugliness and violence and finally reaching out to his lady love through the TV game show Kaun Banega Crorepati (the desi version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire).
The inevitable discussion is up and running again. Should we be proud of this? Are we once again displaying our poverty? What is the role of cinema - to instruct or entertain or both or neither?
I remember a dear friend of mine who with a pained expression told our fellow students at graduate school - "You see, India is not a poor country. I know. I grew up there. We did have people who were working for us who were less well off, but they were well taken care of and happy."
In the countless interviews that the film's director Danny Boyle is giving as part of the marketing of the flick, Boyle says that he was gripped by the vitality, the energy and the fun that characterises the people living in the slums. He is clear that he did not want to show passive, victim folks - but rather people of intelligence, living with purpose.
So far so good.
We all want to feel happy, and having a flick with a happy ending where the guy gets the girl, and lots of money, and the bad guys are eliminated is at the end of the day what we are wired to desire.
Why? Because deep in us we know that this shoddy mess of a life has to have more meaning, more resolution than it does right now. Because we know that history is moving towards a denoument - a consumation of all our dreams.
Its called the Kingdom - and it is what we all yearn for.
The challenge is how to be realistically hopeful.
Slumdog uses the term to refer to the cunning dogs who hang around, eyes half open in their snooze, carefully weighing out the threats and moving in when something to eat may appear.
That's a nice metaphor if you are a Brit film maker doing a recce on a film location - to take in some of the local flavour - find out that it isn't only despair - but then to repair back to your hotel room for the night (and 2 weeks later to jet back of to Blighty).
Its different if you see the slumdogs every day. Howling at night. Getting crushed by vehicles. Vigourously copulating during their heat. Raising litters of emaciated pups who inevitably see attrition from cars, disease and malnutrition.
Here's a picture of one. Cute right? It was crushed by a motor-vehicle 2 minutes after this pic was taken.
Is there any hope in the slums? Sure. That's why we are here.
But the hope isn't in the escapism of Bollywood / Hollywood / Tollywood etc. We see cycle after cycle of young girls who go into their mid-teens and exit their teens having followed the 'Filmi' dream and eloping with a young man from the neighbourhood. Almost inevitably his drunkeness and violence means they are either back home with their mother or locked into the next cycle of misery with their husband.
True hope lies in far quieter ways.
It lies in the untold sacrifices mothers make to get their kids into the local "English medium" school - and the inevitable after-school coaching classes. It lies in simple folks gathering for prayer in small rooms. The ragged songs that focus so much on how Jesus will heal and help, but offer real steps in a relationship with their maker. In people praying for each other in their homes. In the life of a man who is finally able to give up the bottle. Or the lady who is able to forgive her husband and his relatives.
Jesus talked about the kingdom being hidden. It still is to a large extent. We yearn for things to be better. We want the big cataclysmic changes to take place. But our Lord is seeing the many hidden things that are taking place, the many people who are 'coming as a child'.
Amidst the muck of the present - and that includes the often hollow lives of our moneyed classes - the almost daily deposit of empty whisky bottles next door to us is evidence enough of this - amidst the often crushing gloom - we have a 'Kingdom-shaped' vaccum in our hearts. We know that our crazy, topsy-turvey world is calling out for a setting right. And that the setting right is taking place - though as usual it is unlikely to be in a way, time-span or fashion that we desire.
Films offer us a brief linear chance to see messes get cleaned up. Lets not knock them for that - the basic flow is the right one - in its own refracted way the 'happy-ending' that we so enjoy in a flick mirrors/shadows the Christ-centered view of history that says we are moving from chaos to consummation.
We deeply desire the resolution of narrative tension - and so our stories weave in and out of the great master-story - which is the Master's story.