When Amitabh Bachchan had to apologize to Danny Boyle after blogging about Slumdog Millionaire’s controversial portrayal of India
When Slumdog Millionaire came out in 2008, it was received with almost unanimous praise from the West. The local reception, however, was more subdued. Many viewers were offended by the film’s depiction of India as a land of misery and poverty. And none other than Amitabh Bachchan found himself at the center of a widely discussed controversy at the time, when it was reported that he criticized the film for the way it showed India. The actor strongly denied the accusations, and things snowballed so much that he even had to apologize to director Danny Boyle over the phone.
Based on a book by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire was the runaway hit of 2008. It was released to positive reviews and quickly became an Oscar favorite, eventually winning the coveted Best Picture Academy Award. It also made Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, AR Rahman and Anil Kapoor hot commodities in Hollywood, and ended up grossing $378 million worldwide. For context, that’s over Rs 3,000 crore, or more than five times Brahmastra’s gross.
In a now-deleted blog post following the film’s success at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, Amitabh Bachchan wrote, “If SM projects India as a developing nation dirty under the belly and causing pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, be aware that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed countries. It’s just that the SM idea written by an Indian and cinematically conceived and directed by a Westerner, gets creative recognition from the Globe. The other might not be.
Not only has his blog post been covered in the Indian press, but he has also made headlines overseas, especially in the UK. Bachchan’s global popularity remains significant, and Boyle himself had acknowledged that Slumdog Millionaire owed a creative debt to some of Bachchan’s most memorable films, in particular Deewar, which Boyle described as “absolutely key to Indian cinema”. . “Writer Simon Beaufoy has studied the Salim-Javed genre of cinema painstakingly,” Slumdog co-director Loveleen Tandan told IANS in 2009.
There were also the most obvious connections between the Slumdog Millionaire story and Amitabh Bachchan. The film tells the rags-to-riches story of a Mumbai “slum dog” who takes part in the local version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and ends up winning the jackpot. The show is hosted by Bachchan in real life, but in the film, Anil Kapoor played the conniving host of the game show. The Slumdog protagonist is also a die-hard fan of Bachchan, who makes an appearance in the film (in spirit) in an early scene.
In a follow-up blog post, Bachchan called the controversy a “colossal joke”. He wrote, “Without reading my blog text or the purpose behind mentioning ‘SlumDog’, a whole machinery of abuse was directed at me. The thing is, someone mentioned the movie on my blog. Some were in favor, others against. And yes, they contained strong assumptions. I simply put them both in place and invited the debate. And now, after castigating me for something not attributable to me, [the media] made my true opinion of the movie after seeing it, impossible. If I don’t like it, there will be more abuse. If I like it, there will be abuse.
He also singled out two articles in particular, both published by the Guardian, and wrote: “I would like to draw your attention to a most extraordinary level of misrepresentation in these articles, of such an incredibly brazen nature, I rather think that it’s the fault of a flashy sense of humor rather than simple malice.
When the matter refused to die, Bachchan wrote in another blog post that he had spoken to Anil Kapoor and had “the opportunity to clarify the twisted comments from the media, which were attributed to me at wrong, via the blog”. He said Kapoor arranged a phone call between Bachchan and Boyle, and that the filmmaker “was kind and complimentary to me and my work”.
He added: “I explain the whole misinterpretation to him and he has a good laugh about it. I apologize to him if this wrongful offense has caused him and his film any anguish and grief.
Boyle, he wrote, “understands and acknowledges my calling.” Bachchan recently turned 80 and a celebration of his films, including Deewarwas successfully carried out in several cities of the country.