India celebrates 'Slumdog' success

Distributor Fox STAR says film has built credibility

MUMBAI -- In a city that worships the movies, people are proudly embracing "Slumdog Millionaire" as the newest addition to the cinematic pantheon -- never mind that it hasn't hit the screens here yet.

The "Slumdog" sweeps at the Golden Globes on Sunday were enough to make an unseen sensation of this Mumbai-based fairy tale of love and riches. It became the talk of Mumbai, where the vast Hindi-language movie industry known as Bollywood is based.

Now, many are predicting blockbuster sales when it opens in India on Jan. 23.

The movie tells the story of Jamal Malik, a poor kid from the slums of Mumbai who becomes the champion of India's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" as he searches for his lost love.

"Indian tale catches global fancy," the Hindustan Times said in a proud headline. "The $lumdog Has Its Day," said the Times of India.

Despite its setting and partial Hindi-language dialogue, "Slumdog" isn't true Bollywood. It has a British director, Hollywood backing and a $14 million budget that -- while small in the West -- is enormous by Indian standards.

"Danny Boyle is a culturally sensitive director and I'm sure it will be a good film, but you cannot describe it as a Bollywood film," director Kabir Khan said.

But when the movie won four Golden Globes and became the movie to beat at the Oscars, it was immediately adopted.

Shobhaa De, a chronicler of India's new wealth and changing social mores, watched it on a bootleg DVD -- and was entranced.

Mumbai is a city of extremes: wealth and poverty; multiculturalism and ethnic bigotry; gleaming skyscrapers and vast slums. To the country's poorest, it is spoken of as a financial Shangri-La, and thousands of people arrive every day in search of new jobs and lives.

The movie is Boyle's "gift to Mumbai," De wrote in the Times of India. "He has unblinkingly shown us the rather hideous face of this devastated metropolis that still remains the magnet for the rest of India."

But, she added, Boyle shows "there is still lyricism, tenderness and love under all that grime."

For many in India, though, the loudest cheers were saved for A.R. Rahman, who won the award for original score. Rahman, who has composed music for more than 130 Indian movies, is a musical institution in Bollywood.

"Rahman has seen huge success in India, but the U.S. is a totally different market," said Subir Malik, a well-known Indian musician. "For Rahman to win a music award in a language that the critics don't even understand is fantastic. Now when the movie releases here it's going to be a sellout."

Vijay Singh, CEO of Fox STAR Studios India, which is distributing the movie, is hoping for a blockbuster.

"It's an exceptional film, it has Indian emotion much like a Bollywood film," Singh said Tuesday, adding that a version dubbed in Hindi will be released for smaller towns and villages.

"The film has been built on the buzz, it built its credibility in the U.S. and then rolled out in the rest of the world."

Indian poverty is a delicate issue here, particularly when it's raised by an outsider. While the country has gone through spectacular economic growth over the past decade, about 400 million people are believed to live on less than $1 a day. And while Mumbai has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, more than half the city's 18 million people live in ramshackle huts packed near train stations or adjoining towering skyscrapers.

But fans believe the movie speaks about hope even as it shows slums where the poverty can be shattering.

"Why run away from things? We have our slums and the world knows about our slums," Malik said.