Tag Archives: Slumdog Millionaire

Jug Suraiya takes on the mighty Big B

jug-suraiya amitabh_bachchan

The reverberations of Amitabh Bachchan‘s blog comments on the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire are now being felt in the “cesspool” of Indian journalism.

In his reaction to the movie, Bachchan wrote in January:

“If SM projects India as [a] third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.”

That prompted a column in The Times of India by its in-house satirist Jug Suraiya on March 2.

Suraiya wrote that the reason people like Bachchan were angry with SM was not because it showed the world how pitifully poor India was, but because it revealed how culpable all of us were in the “continuance of poverty”.

“The real Slumdog divide is not between the haves and the have-nots; it’s between the hopers and the hope-nots: those who hope to cure the disease of poverty by first of all recognising its reality, and those who, dismissing it as a hopeless case, would bury it alive by pretending it didn’t exist.”

All very harmless, boilerplate stuff, but a month later, on April 3, Bachchan chose to respond to Suraiya with a long rejoinder that attacked the journalist.

I accuse the journalist Jug Suraiya of failing his professional ethical code of conduct by means of wilful error in the collection of facts…. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, not only as a professional journalist, but as a human being too. Mere opinion and ill-supported prejudice are contemptible in both species.

“My blog did not ‘spark off the current round of controversy on India’s poverty’… Nor am I ashamed of anything about my country. I may be highly critical in judgement, as any citizen of any nation should be, of the society to which I hold allegiance. In this light, I do not find that material poverty in India is ‘a terrible family secret’ as Jug Suraiya alleges.”

Now, Suriaya has hit back in the latest issue of Magna Carta, the in-house newsletter of the Magna group of publications, which had carried Bachchan’s rejoinder.

(Magna owns the movie magazine Stardust, which led a 15-year-long boycott of Bachchan at the prime of his career.)

In a letter addressed to the Magna group’s proprietor Nari Hira, Jug Suraiya writes:

“The newsletter said there was an ‘eerie silence’ from the press to Bachchan’s rejoinder. This is not quite true. The Guardian newspaper, which Bachchan had cited along with my column, has I am told done a detialed rejoinder to his rejoinder.

“In my case, I did not choose so much to maintain an ‘eerie silence’ as to exercise my option of fastidious disdain: I hold Bachchan beneath my contempt and shall not dignify him with an answer to his rantings (which, I am told, are written for him by an ex-journalist hack).”

Suraiya recounts meeting Bachchan years ago in Calcutta. He says he greatly enjoyed his performances and complimented him on them.

“Since then, of course, he has become an international celebrity who uses his iconic status to endose any and all products from gutka paan masala to cement, cars to suiting. There is a word for such indiscriminate commercial promiscuity. I leave it to you to figure out what it is.

“This together with his much-publicised ritualised religiosity makes him an object of scorn for me, all the more so in that he is, regettably, a role model for so many people of all ages, in India and elsewhere.”

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India

Also read: How Big B has pushed India to a regressive low

Before the slumdogs, the mahout millionaire


How a slumdweller became a Newsweek reporter

The demographic profile of journalists worldwide has undergone a radical transformation in recent years.

Whether it has actually made journalism better is a question readers, viewers and listeners answer every day and night with their remote controls and subscription renewals.

Once the lowliest of low professions—the last hope for lazy bums, the dregs of society with “no real knowledge or skill set” who could get into no other profession—journalism is now populated by sharply sculpted careerists with deep pockets and heavy accents, whose reputations are preceded and defined by those of their parents, spouses and their alma mater, usually Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, St. Stephen’s or Presidency.

Rare is a “Slumdog Millionaire” kind of story of a poor boy or girl, who rose from the margins to the top of the pile.

Rarer still is the journalist with the humility to remember, or the courage to tell the world where he or she came from.

Take a bow, Sudip Mazumdar.

Mazumdar has done a first-person piece in the March 2 issue of the magazine on his progress from the slums of Tangra in Calcutta where “scrawny men sat outside shacks, chewing tobacco and spitting into the dirt. Naked children defecated in the open,” to eventually become the India correspondent of Newsweek magazine.

Mazumdar writes with admirable candour about his sister being born in a rat-infested hut in Patna; about a family of eight living in a  single rented room; about running with a local gang in the teens; about stealing from shopkeepers and farmers, and extorting money from truckers before fleeing to Ranchi.

So, how did Mazumdar end up becoming the correspondent of a major American newsmagazine in India?

“I started hanging around the offices of an English weekly newspaper in Ranchi. Its publisher and editor, an idealistic lawyer-cum-journalist named N. N. Sengupta, hired me as a copy boy and proofreader for the equivalent of about $4 a month.

“It was there that I met Dilip Ganguly, a dogged and ambitious reporter who was visiting from New Delhi. He came to know that I was living in a slum, suffering from duodenal ulcers. One night he dropped by the office after work and found me visibly ill. He invited me to New Delhi.

“I said goodbye to my slum friends the next day and headed for the city with him.

“In New Delhi I practiced my English on anyone who would listen. I eventually landed an unpaid internship at a small English-language daily. I was delirious with joy. I spent all my waking hours at the paper, and after six months I got a paying job. I moved up from there to bigger newspapers and better assignments. While touring America on a fellowship, I dropped in at NEWSWEEK and soon was hired. That was 25 years ago.”

Mazumdar now lives in a “modest rented apartment in a gated community in Delhi”.

“I try to keep in touch with friends from the past. Some are dead; others are alcoholics, and a few have even made good lives for themselves. Still, most slumdwellers never escape, But no one wants to watch a movie about that.”

Read the full article: Man bites ‘ Slumdog’

What a headstart of 1,562 months doesn’t give

In an interview with Sruthijit K.K. of contentsutra, N. Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu, talks of how things have changed for the “Mount Road Mahavishnu” after the entry of The Times of India in Madras:

“It’s good, we welcome competition. The Times of India is a major newspaper…. I never put down The Times of India. I learn a lot from them. There are other papers that are non-serious, but not ToI. I not only respect it, I read it with a great deal of interest.

“There is a lot of criticism out there (against ToI) but it’s a serious newspaper. You may not agree with some of the views, some of the things, and they may not like what we do also. But it’s a major newspaper.”

Wiser, more honest, words have probably not been spoken.

The Times of India (established 1838), which is 10 months old in Madras, has 9 full broadsheet pages (inclusive of the advertisements on those pages), plus two edit page pieces, devoted to local-boy A.R. Rahman “breaking the sound barrier” at Slumdog Millionaire‘s Oscar sweep, and other stories.

The Hindu (established 1878), whose home has been Madras for 1,572 months—giving it a headstart of 1,472 (!)  1,562 months in the east coast City over The Old Lady of Bori Bunder—leads with the story on page 1, has a four-column story on page 12, a four-column story on page 16, a full page on the last page of the main edition, and on the first page of the metro supplement, besides an editorial.

What is “over”, what is “sober”?

Should newspapers really mourn young readers turning away?


Also read: When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu

How an Oscar winner ushered in a newspaper

Last year, when The Times of India made its big move to Madras to take on The Hindu, it used music composer A.R. Rahman, who won two Academy Awards today for the best original song and best score for the movie Slumdog Millionaire, as its vehicle of change with this slick television commercial.

Also read: When the Old Lady takes on the Mahavishnu

Any number will do when the game is of numbers