I usually don’t write in first person narrative, but after what transpired at the Oscars on Sunday, I think I can make an exception with this article.
On Sunday, I had the rare privilege to attend an after-party for a movie that won an Oscar for Best Picture. Excitement is always in the air on the eve of the Academy Awards, considered by many as Hollywood’s biggest night. Naturally, there is always a buzz surrounding the after-parties for the films nominated for Best Picture.
Of course, I have yet to experience such a buzz, since, despite all my years living near Hollywood, I never attended an Oscar after-party. So it is hard for me to compare the buzz I experienced last night to anything else.
I can truly say there are only a few moments in my entire life that topped the emotions I felt last night. Sure, certain moments will always rank higher, like graduating from UCLA, finishing law school, and playing a huge role in my sister’s wedding. Only one event can top what I felt on Sunday in terms of pride and joy. That event was Election Day 2008, when Barack Obama broke the cultural barriers that clouded the American presidency.
I am not going so far as to say my feelings as an Indian-American for Slumdog Millionaire’s coup at the Oscars equates to the feelings African-Americans had for Obama’s amazing victory back in November. Yet, just like Obama’s election, Slumdog Millionaire was less about a race of people and more about what it meant to humanity. President Obama was elected by millions of people on the simplest of messages –- hope — a hope that we can all succeed despite who we are or where we are from. His election brought me to tears. His election was a defining moment, setting the tone for a new generation: if you have hope and the will to succeed, no one can stop you.
When I was standing on that red carpet at 9:00 pm, and I heard the audience inside One Sunset yell at the top of their collective lungs, I knew, at that moment, Slumdog Millionaire capped off its astonishing run of awards with a Best Picture nod, just as Obama concluded his unbelievable political campaign with a resounding election night victory.
Just as the African-Americans were proud of Obama, Slumdog Millionaire made me proud of my Indian heritage on Sunday. Just like every other person who was not black-skinned was proud of the big step forward this nation took when Obama claimed the presidency, I was thankful for my American upbringing as I witnessed H
ollywood open its arms as it never had for a foreign film. Just as the rest of the world was in a celebratory mood when the final poll number came in on Election Night, I was happy to be a human being when my fellow brown-skinned actors did the unthinkable and claimed eight of ten Academy Awards.
The timing of Slumdog Millionaire’s coup could not be any better. Sure, it was a great moment for India, as many people declared on the red carpet shortly after the film produced several golden statuettes. Not since Ben Kingsley was recognized for his role in Gandhi have Americans shown this much appreciation for Indian culture. In light of the increased access to media exposure since the biopic earned several key awards in 1983 and 1984, one could argue Slumdog Millionaire actually introduced Indian culture and entertainment to a much larger audience than Gandhi ever could have.
America and the world were introduced to Anil Kapoor, who commands the same star power in India as Denzel Washington or Tom Hanks.
America and the world were re-acquainted with Irfan Khan, a respectable Bollywood actor who represents the joining of the world’s two largest democracies and entertainment industries by starring in films such as A Mighty Heart and The Namesake.
America and the world were introduced to the stunning Freida Pinto and affable Dev Patel…who bear-hugged me the moment he saw me on the red carpet because he was so happy.
America and the world were introduced to A.R. Rahman, an Indian composer who has a tremendous following in the subcontinent but had little fanfare in the United States, despite being on the same level as Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer. “It’s great to see that whatever I have done culturally, which is Indian, to be recognized,” Rahman humbly told me as he was holding two heavy Oscar trophies in his hands. “These songs were so alien to them before, but now they are liking it. With this, we can do much more things.”
Those words hit the spot. Sure, his grammar was a bit off, but Rahman basically summed up the true meaning of Slumdog Millionaire. This was his way of pulling off an Obama. Instead of the populace yelling “Yes, we can!” everyone would now yell “Much more things!”
What drew moviegoers to Slumdog Millionaire is what drew voters to Obama -– a message of hope. Entertainers, regardless of background, now have the opportunity to shine on the world’s biggest stage.
It was a great day for India, but it was an even better day for humanity. One only needed to look at the children of Slumdog Millionaire. As each child walked down the red carpet with a gleeful smile, it suddenly struck me –- this is why it mattered. These kids were part of a worldwide phenomenon. They will never forget this moment. For them, this was a time of hope and dreams.
Sure, there is concern about the message this movie sends to the world about the state of Mumbai’s residents. Certainly not all of Mumbai is populated by slums. Indeed, it is among the world’s emerging powerhouse metropolises, yet those deficiencies are outweighed by its message of hope and prosperity. One person told me, on the red carpet, the symbolism of Slumdog Millionaire could only be about hope. That is why Slumdog Millionaire has became a phenomenon. That is why it had to win Best Picture. That is why I cannot wipe this smile off of my face.
Photos by Avani Parmar