A Portrait of India

Isaac Chotiner

VISITING NEW DELHI and Calcutta not long after the smashing international success of Slumdog Millionaire, I was surprised by the number of Indians who wanted to hear my opinion of Danny Boyle’s film. This was a nice inversion of the clichéd traveler’s narrative, wherein the visitor solemnly asks the locals about the most recent artistic depiction of their homeland. (“American tourists,” a British friend recently informed me, “inquire about The King’s Speech and nothing else.”) But when I turned the question back on my interlocutors, I was surprised less by the vehemence of the criticisms than by the opposing viewpoints on offer. For every person who described the movie as only the latest Western attempt to sugarcoat the realities of Indian life, there was someone else who admitted to feeling shame that the world had embraced a movie which presented the country as nothing more than a poverty-stricken wasteland. While these two points of view might have contradicted one another, each stemmed from the understanding that India was being intensely examined on the world’s stage.

India: A Portrait

by Patrick French

Knopf, 416 pp., $30

 

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