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Slumdog Millionaire – the number one film in the entire world

Riding on the waves of post-Oscar fame, Slumdog Millionaire rose over the weekend to be the number one film across the globe, grossing $27 million, nearly $12.5 million of the total gross came from the United States where it is playing in nearly 3000 movie houses. The worldwide gross for the film now stands at about $210 million.

“The whole world is falling in love with the film,” said Ashok Amritraj, the producer of 100 films in Hollywood. Amritraj who is also a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) that gives out the Oscars.

“People are able to relate to this film across the world. India is not the only country with slums and street children. The fact that this is a very hopeful film, which has fabulous artists from India ranging from Anil Kapoor to Irrfan Khan, and the lovely newcomers Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, is also helping it. And let us not forget the fabulous music by A R Rahman.” 

The film, which is yet to open in Germany, Sweden, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and many other countries, could end its record setting dream run with $300 million.

Like many Indian film-makers and artists in Los Angeles including Maulik Pnncholi and Pooja Batra, Amritraj too sees Slumdog as a bridge-builder, nudging more American and British films to be shot in India.

He dismisses the accusation by some that the film is selling India’s poverty.

“Surely the film was not made for the tourism department,” he says with a chuckle. “The kind of poverty we see in the film is universal – only the degree varies. But most people I know who have seen the film talk about it as a work dealing with crime and redemption. They look at it as a film with an optimistic outlook .”.

This is the second time in Oscar history that a film shot in India has become number one film worldwide; the previous record setter was Gandhi released in 1982. But Slumdog is selling far more tickets than Gandhi.

Amritraj says the first time he attended the Oscars the winner was Gandhi. And the second film to win the Oscar and which was also shot in India is Slumdog.

“Isn’t it interesting that both films were directed by men from Britain?” he muses. Gandhi was co-produced by director Richard Attenborough with India’s National Film Development Corporation. Though director Danny Boyle had no Indian co-producers on Slumdog, all its artists are either from India or of Indian origin. The co-director of the film Loveleen Tandan is an Indian. And a significant number of crew is also Indian. 

The top crown could be snatched away from Slumdog next week by the big budget, sci-fi adventure Watchmen but box-office experts believe that Slumdog has really strong legs.  

In many countries, its weekend gross shot up by 50 percent in over the weekend following its Oscar win in eight categories including the best picture and best director. It was number one in Argentina, Croatia, Hong Kong, Latvia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Distributors from Mexico to Hong Kong assert that the main reason the film is doing so well is because it has a fantastic word of mouth. And in country after country, the film’s finale with Jai Ho song and dance has become its major asset..

“The song Jai Ho has become a world anthem,” writer Vikas Swarup whose book Q & A inspired the movie said last week after the Oscars were announced. Old timers recall the title song from Raj Kapoor’s Awara which became phenomenally popular in the 1950s. But the song immortalised by Mukesh was a sensation, along with the movie, across the Soviet Union and the satellite countries, China, the Arab countries and Turkey.

The Oscar-winning Jai Ho, on the other hand, has become a worldwide phenomenon. Be it Uruguay or Croatia or the Netherlands or France, it is a big draw for the film. It is unlikely anyone walks out before the song ends. Distributors of Slumdog Millionaire in Mexico and several other countries said that the song is becoming popular in the clubs, too.

The accusation that the film is ‘poverty porn’ does not sit well with many Indians, and certainly not with the likes of Amritraj, Pancholi and Batra who divides her time between LA and Mumbai..

“On any day, a film about poor person aspiring to change his life is more interesting than the story of a person who is rich,” Amritraj says.

“Had Slumdog Millionaire been released five or six years ago when the economy was doing very well in America and other industrialised countries,” he continues, “it might not have made the kind of impact it is making now.

“Today we are looking around us with disbelief how some corrupt corporations and CEO’s have cheated millions. .In Slumdog Millionaire too we see corruption – and how a young man wants to rise above the life of crime and corruption.”

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