'Slumdog's' Oscar victory sends a message to the world

By Andy Goldberg

Los Angeles, Feb 23 (DPA) Before "Slumdog Millionaire's" amazing Oscar win pundits were wondering whether art might imitate life. On Sunday night, on the crystal-swathed stage of the Kodak Theatre, and in front of the world's biggest celebrities and a huge global audience, the cliche came true, and then some.

The Mumbai-based movie about the unlikely rise of an inconsequential Indian pauper to win India's most popular game show, won an even more remarkable victory when it swept eight Oscars, including the most coveted one of all for Best Picture of the year.

To put that achievement in perspective, the $14-million movie almost didn't get shown in the US, when its original distributor pulled out of the indie film market after deciding that there was no real chance for a film that was half in Hindi to succeed in the US.

That decision surely ranks alongside that of the producer who passed on the Beatles for failing to recognise how one piece of art can be so profound as to change the entire context which surrounds it.

"Slumdog..." did what all great art aspires to: it communicated across boundaries of culture, geography, economy and language. It shone a light into the heart of characters from Mumbai, but in so doing it taught everyone who saw it - from Mumbai to Milan, from Bangkok to Brazil, and from Lagos to Los Angeles, something about themselves and their immediate world.

Penelope Cruz, who won the supporting actress award for portraying a mentally unstable Spanish woman in "Vicky Christina Barcelona", best explained the magic that lay behind "Slumdog's" success.

"I always felt that this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world," said Cruz, "because art in any form has been will be and will always be our universal language."

The movie has already earned close to $160 million at the global box office, and the Oscar win will surely boost its earning significantly.

That could profoundly change the way films are made and distributed, giving filmmakers and the investors who back them more courage to pursue vibrant, global movies that celebrate cultures and characters that go beyond the usual Hollywood star system.

By choosing "Slumdog" as the year's best movie, the power players of the US film industry also sent a strong message around the world, one that echoed the political approach of the country's new underdog president. No more American hegemony, but new collaboration and respect for the other peoples of the world and their traditions, creativity and culture.

The uniqueness and unmatched energy of "Slumdog's" approach was clear even on the Oscar red carpet. As the regular phalanx of stars strutted the carpet in their glamorous designer togs, the cast and crew of "Slumdog" looked like a big happy family on an annual outing - albeit somewhat incongruously dressed in tuxedos and gowns.

The contrast between the glitz of Hollywood and the grit of Mumbai was striking, but it was also part of the message.

"Together we have been on an extraordinary journey," said producer Christian Colson as he was surrounded on stage by dozens of the cast and crew. "When we started out we had no stars or muscle, we didn't have enough money to do what we wanted to do. We had passion and we had belief and our film shows if you have those two things truly anything is possible."

As though to prove the point, the world's biggest movie stars howled their approval, and gave him a standing ovation.

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