Have Western film-goers been racist?

As Slumdog Millionaire makes the jump from Bollywood to Hollywood, star ponders whether preferences have changed at last

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 20 February 2009 18:43

Anil Kapoor, one of the stars of the Oscar-nominated Slumdog Millionaire, said that if previous Indian movies have had difficulty making a breakthrough in the West, that could reflect in part a latent racism among Western audiences.

In the film, directed by Manchester- born Danny Boyle, Kapoor plays the villainously smug host of the Indian version of the TV show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Kapoor said he was delighted at the way British and American cinema-goers had responded to multiple award-winning Slumdog .

But he said he could not explain why other films had failed to bridge the gap between Bollywood and Hollywood, in terms of audience appeal. Asked whether racism, however suppressed, may have been a factor, he told The Independent : "The thing you cannot deny is that [Western audiences] have a particular preference or whatever.

"But I feel that the way Americans have reacted and the way it has been accepted is to be applauded."

Speaking ahead of tomorrow's Oscar ceremony, for which the movie has received 10 award nominations, including for best picture and best director, he added: "I think there was the election of [President Barack] Obama, the first black president, and then Slumdog Millionaire .

"I think people want change and you can see change, and people are moving towards it. The thing is that the world is shrinking. Globally, I feel that Asians and Africans are going to be centre stage."

Kapoor, 50, a veteran award-winning Bollywood actor who has also produced a number of films, dismissed the controversy that Slumdog Millionaire has created in India. Some have expressed concern that the movie – directed by a foreigner – had focused on poverty and human rights abuses and shown India in a bad light. But Kapoor said that the movie had largely been celebrated as an Indian achievement and enjoyed by audiences there.

"It's very few people who are saying that. It has died down. Today we are living in an age where the [media] like those sorts of things," he said. "But let's be honest, this is what makes the whole thing about our country so exciting. It's a big democracy and everyone can say what they want."

Kapoor's comments came as the child actors who performed in Slumdog Millionaire were preparing to leave India for the first time and fly to Los Angeles to attend the Academy Awards ceremony. James Finn of Fox Searchlight Pictures told reporters that the actors will be flown to Hollywood and put up in a five-star hotel for two days. All nine actors who play the three main characters in three stages of their lives will attend the Oscars, said Mr Finn. They include the 10-yearold Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, whom director Danny Boyle and his team discovered in the slums of Mumbai, India's financial capital, and the increasingly famous Indian actress Freida Pinto, who played opposite the male lead, Dev Patel.

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Azharuddin will travel to the US with his mother while nine-year-old Rubina Ali, who also lives in a Mumbai slum, will travel with her uncle.

"I'm very happy that I'm going to the Oscars. My friends are saying, ‘your fate is so good'," Rubina told the Associated Press, just hours before she was due to leave for the US. "I'm not scared. I'm going to go and take a lot of pictures and show them to people over here."

Rubina's uncle, Mohidden Khan, 40, laughed when he was asked what he would wear on the red carpet. "I'm thinking maybe jeans and a Tshirt," he said.

Azharuddin's father, Mohammed Ismail, said he felt "very, very good" that his son was making the trip. Mr Finn said that until the very last minute, Fox Searchlight had been making visa and travel arrangements for the children and their relatives – a tortuous process at the best of times as many poorer Indians do not possesses the correct paperwork demanded for such documents.

"Everybody is really excited about it," he added. "It's nice the whole gang will be together."

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