A horde of people associated with the film ambled on stage and milled around as the producer Christian Colson accepted the big prize. There were the slum kids, Azhar Mohammed and Rubina Ali, wearing a mini-tuxedo and a swish dress, gawking excitedly at the star crowd in the audience. Diplomat-author Vikas Swarup, whose book Q & A inspired the movie, chatted animatedly with a technical guru. Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, the films adult co-stars, were beside themselves with thrill.
They were Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Malayali, Punjabi, Goan, Tamil, Brit-Indians, Indophile Brits, rich, poor…there was tuxedo, bandhgala, sherwani, sari, salwar… It was multi-hued India’s day in the Oscar sun, even if the movie was made by a Brit under an international banner.
Throughout the evening there were copious references to India and Mumbai, whose pulsating energy and optimism was felt over and above its problems and misery.
There have been occasional spells and splashes of India at the Academy Awards (Gandhi’s eight Oscars in 1983, Shekhar Kapur and M Night Shyamalan in 1999/2000), but never in such a sustained manner as on Sunday night.
Critics will continue to rage that the film is not truly Indian and the westerners who made it simply exploited the dark underbelly of Indian poverty to provoke foreign sensitivities and win awards. But that’s like arguing that a match-winning innings was scratchy and marred by dropped catches. History will simply record the bottomline — a movie inspired by an Indian story and a largely Indian cast and crew took home eight Oscars.
If anything, producer Colson and director Danny Boyle were reduced to footnotes to India and the Indian crew, and they graciously deferred to it.
The hero of the evening was A R Rahman, the understated god of music. Many actors and composers have won multiple Oscars (notably the maestro John Williams, who has won five Academy Awards from 45 nominations), but seldom two on the same night. As India’s national treasure walked away with awards for the best score and best song (with Gulzar), the world got to see why he’s the epitome of India’s peerless plurality.
In a loaded comment that may well have been aimed at those who tore India asunder and seek to do the same even today, Rahman, who transcends both religion and region in India, said, "I always had a choice between love and hate in my life. And I chose love and I am here." Hollywood, which has known its share of bigotry and hatred and dealt with it, responded with warm applause.
Earlier, on receiving his first Oscar for best musical score, Rahman joked that the last time he was so excited and terrified was when he got married.
An evening of honours for Slumdog began with it bagging the award for the best adapted screenplay for Simon Beaufoy, for which he thanked the diplomat Swarup, whose debut effort at fiction resulted in a finale he had never anticipated. Swarup, now the No.2 at the Indian Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, journeyed to Los Angeles with his wife Aparna for the Oscars, much to the delight of his many colleagues and peers.
Golden statuettes for cinematography, sound mixing, and film editing followed as Slumdog won eight awards from nominations in ten categories. Accepting the sound mixing Oscar with his fellow awardees Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke, Resul Pookutty fought with his emotions to thank the Academy for honouring India. It was a signal moment for a country whose massive film industry seldom recognizes technicians while idolizing its stars.
While Slumdog swamped Oscar night, there was another victory that brought a smile to documentary fans. "Smile Pinki," director Megan Mylan’s portrait of a young girl in Uttar Pradesh who is treated for a cleft lip, won the Oscar for best documentary short.