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‘Slumdog’ Untouchable in India? Fox Says Box Office Doesn’t Lie

Some Indians say ”Millionaire“ is a Westernized depiction of poverty that won’t resonate.


Last updated at 5:14 on Monday, Jan. 26.  

The Los Angeles Times reports that even as “Slumdog Millionaire” continued to delight the Hollywood elite — nabbing the all-important prize for best overall cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the best picture award from the Producers Guild both this weekend — a number of Indians say the film is a Westernized depiction of poverty that won’t resonate with its own people.


But that doesn’t seem to jibe with the box office figures just registered by the film’s opening in India this weekend. “’Slumdog’ will be either the 3rd or 4th biggest  opening in Bollywood history," said Peter Rice, the president of Fox Searchlight. "It’s a massive hit, bigger than ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’" 


"Slumdog" made $2.1 million on 352 screens, according to Searchlight’s figures. That is behind such blockbusters as "Spiderman 3" and "Casino Royale," but even with big budget fare like "The Mummy," which took in the same sum on more screens. 


The Times wrote that despite the fact that the film is set in Mumbai and features mostly Indian actors, many Indians say the film offers up a stereotypical depiction. "It’s a white man’s imagined India," Shyamal Sengupta, a film professor at the Whistling Woods International institute in Mumbai, told the paper. "It’s not quite snake charmers, but it’s close. It’s a poverty tour."


Rice countered that "India is a huge, vibrant place where lots of people have lots of different points of view. Because the movie has such a high profile, many, many people want to comment about it." 


The film is significant as a cross-cultural breed, and the first release by Fox Star, a movie production and distribution that the studio launched in India. 


Regardless of the box office, "Slumdog" is still a smalltime release by Bollywood standards; local films commonly see release on 1,000 or more screens. 


And the film continues to win hearts in Hollywood. “Slumdog” has earned ten Oscar nominations and four Golden Globe awards, and is a top contender for Best Picture. It tells the story of an orphan who lives on the street and eventually competes on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The film came out in the U.S. only days after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai occurred, which may have “strengthened its connection with foreign viewers,” analysts told the paper. These ideas, that there are still moments of joy in the slum, appeal to Western critics," said Aseem Chhabra, an Asia Foundation associate fellow and culture critic. Click here for the full story.


Meanwhile, the other SAG awards were largely predictable, with Meryl Streep scoring yet another acting accolade for her role in the Roman Catholic drama “Doubt,” Sean Penn picking up the best actor award for playing Harvey Milk and Heath Ledger garnering another posthumous prize for his role as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” “30 Rock” continued its sweep from the Golden Globes, picking up a number of TV comedy honors for Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and ensemble cast.