New America Media – "Milk was a better movie," said the Indian waiter as I was reading coverage on the internet of Slumdog Millionaire's sweep at the Academy awards over dinner.
That was unexpected. Then again, Indians are a savvy lot when it comes to movies. Bollywood is, arguably, the biggest film industry in the world and may command its largest audience with followers in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia, as well as in India.
And Indians are no strangers to Hollywood films, with many of them dubbed into local Indian dialects for areas of the country where English is little spoken.
Given that, it wasn't surprising that despite the numerous awards the movie has garnered this year, Slumdog has had its share of criticism here.
Is it an Indian film or is it British? Did it accurately reflect the lives and conditions of Mumbai's slums? I've been told that Juhu slum – where much of the film takes place – is actually one of Mumbai's better slums. Hasn't India produced much better films than Slumdog Millionaire, and if so, why haven't they been nominated?
It's been reported that the movie hasn't done as well at the Indian box office as expected, with Bollywood rivals such as the action film Gahjini and love story Rab Ne Bana De Jodi doing much better in that respect.
Immediately following Slumdog Millionaire's sweep at this year's Academy Awards, it seemed like business as usual on the streets of South Mumbai.
It was still Monday morning here when the show wrapped up, and understandably locals – businessmen and beggars alike – looked more focused on the work at hand than on an awards ceremony held half a day earlier in California. There were a few hundred people lined up in front of a nearby Hindu temple to make an offering to Shiva for a festival. On the other hand, TV news channels were focused on little else, proclaiming Slumdog's triumph as a victory for India and the Indian film industry. On the front page of every major paper in the country were giant photos of cast and crew holding up Oscars and headlines that read "Jai Ho" (the title of A.R Rahman's award-winning song) and "Slum God".
Filmmaker Prashant Pethe seemed thrilled with Slumdog's success despite confessing to having never seen the film. "I think it's great for the Indian film industry. Our [movie] technicians have never won an award like that."
Pethe has just completed The Damned Rain, a feature film based on the large-scale rate of suicides among Indian farmers in the state of Maharashtra. The first-time filmmaker seems inspired by Slumdog's success. "Maybe my film will be up there at the Academy Awards next year," said Pethe, adding, "If I win, I'm definitely going to cry."
In contrast, Mumbai student Nishita Mahendra wasn't as excited about Slumdog's success. "It was over-exaggerated, we've had better movies in this country," said Mahendra.
"Initially it did feel good to see the movie win so many awards, but in retrospect, I feel there was little that was Indian about the movie. I'm a little surprised by all the gaga over it."
Mahendra admits she and her friends clapped every time an award went to Slumdog and says she was happy for the child actors that took part in the film because, "They were amazing."
Aside from the deeper questions and criticisms surrounding Slumdog Millionaire's success and its relationship to India, which may go on for a while, there seemed to be a general giddiness at India's impact on this year's Oscars, with Bollywood stars in the audience (Irfan Khan and Anil Kapoor), Indian music and rhythms taking center stage, and the faces of those amazing child actors straight out of Mumbai's slums.