Destination: Mumbai

All the ‘Slumdog’ News That’s Fit to Print

If I hadn’t already used the unstoppable Slumdog line a few weeks ago, you can bet I’d be putting it into play now. Since its big win at the Oscars, the name has been popping up everywhere, and frankly—despite the fact that I loved the movie—I’m reaching my saturation point.

Let’s briefly review the latest developments, and then (I promise) I’ll clam up on this movie-turned-full-blown-phenomenon. Here goes: the two young stars may or may not be the leads in a real-life love story, flats are being rented and trust funds set aside for the youngest child actors (who are slum-dwellers in their off-screen lives, too), and amidst all the media noise the film’s box office haul has just passed the $100-million mark. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a Broadway musical in the works?

Whew. With all the gossip flying around, it’s easy to lose track of the things that got everyone talking “Slumdog” in the first place—namely the movie’s unforgettable sounds and colors, and the universality of its fairy-tale story. So for my last word on this subject, I’ll call on rapper M.I.A. She’s got a video reminder, after the jump:

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A Very International Oscars

Last night’s Oscars ceremony is likely to be up for debate for some time—among the most contentious issues, for me, is the fact that the cast of “High School Musical” got more screen time than most nominees—but one thing is certain: it was the most international Oscars since 2004, when Charlize Theron thanked everyone in South Africa, and the winners from “Lord of the Rings” managed to name-drop just about everyone in New Zealand, too.

In the 2009 edition, there were acceptance speeches smattered with Spanish (Penelope Cruz, for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) and Tamil (A.R. Rahman, the composer for “Slumdog Millionaire”), there were shout-outs to Mumbai (from the assortment of “Slumdog” winners, who took home 8 awards between them), and there were two separate winners from Japan.

My favorite globally-flavored Oscar moments, after the jump:

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Taking Black History Month to ... India?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is apparently making good use of cultural diplomacy early in her term. Before she departed on her current Asia tour, Clinton sent a delegation of U.S. congressional representatives, civil rights leaders and musicians, including Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan, to India to commemorate U.S. Black History Month. The group includes Martin Luther King III, who is retracing a trip his parents, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, took 50 years ago to study Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.

Meanwhile, Hancock, Khan and jazz students from New Orleans will perform at concerts in Mumbai and New Delhi, then jam with students at the Ravi Shankar Institute of the Performing Arts. I’m pleased to see the group continue a long tradition of U.S. jazz ambassadorship abroad.

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Mumbai, India

mumbai REUTERS/Arko Datta

Commuters travel in a suburban train in Mumbai.

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A Sip of Bacon, Anyone?

Bacon may have officially jumped the shark, but don’t tell that to Pankaj Kumar Dogra, recent recipient of the “Bartender of the Year” award in Mumbai, and chief mixologist at the Taj Lands End’s Atrium Bar in the posh Bandra neighborhood of Mumbai. Dogra has just conceived a cocktail list called “Dinner Meets the Bar.” And one of the stars of the list is—wait for it—a bacon-infused vodka cocktail.

Being both intrigued and fatigued at the bacon-makes-you-cool phenomenon, I couldn’t resist trying the porkified potion during a recent visit to India’s largest metropolis. The result: the tomato-water adds a pink hue to the drink, giving it a cosmo-like look. Then your taste buds kick in and, well, it’s like drinking liquid bacon. But not cooked bacon; it actually tastes like liquid raw bacon. Despite fears of a possible tape worm, I finished the drink and moved on to others on the list, hoping to erase the liquid bacon from my memory (and taste buds). The martini blended with betel leaf did just that. So did the ginger-rum cocktail muddled with curry leaf. The balsamic vinegar and vodka was interesting, but a bit too Ferran Adria for my liking. By the time I had moved on to the basil and rum cocktail—an intriguing yet harmonious pairing—I was successful in erasing the bacon-infused libation from my memory. The only problem was that I had managed to erase just about every other memory of that evening, as well.

Who Wants to be a Secret Slumdog Millionaire?

Uh oh. As we’ve noted, there’s been a slow-building anti-“Slumdog Millionaire” backlash—and the latest news should bring it into full bloom. According to E! Online, there’s a new, “Slumdog”-inspired reality TV series in the works. Tentatively titled “Secret Slumdog Millionaire,” the show will feature real, live rich folks going “undercover” in Mumbai’s slums, befriending the impoverished residents, and eventually—ta-da!—revealing their true identities before handing out wads of cash. Said a show insider: “The millionaires who sign up will see real poverty in Mumbai and it is going to be very moving when they reveal their identity and offer these people help.”

Right. Because nothing inspires gratitude in the desperately poor like hidden cameras, secret millionaires slumming in their midst, and advertising revenues that they’ll see only a fraction of. I’ve been inclined to defend the movie against charges of exploitation and voyeurism thus far—and it’s worth noting that the show and the movie are not affiliated in any way—but in this case, I’d say those labels fit the bill. (Via Get the Big Picture)

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Morning Links: God and Jerry Springer in Italy, a Tourist in Falluja and More Photo of U.S.-Mexico border by Allen Ormond, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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Would You Like the Chicken, the Fish or the Dead Hamster?

airplane food Photo by d'n'c via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by d’n'c via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Oh, airline food. Always getting the bad rap. We love to hate airline food. The hate brings us together. It’s airplane conversation starter. I might be one of the few people who doesn’t dislike airline food. Consider the context: you’re eating 30,000 feet above the earth. If I were sitting in a Michelin-starred restaurant, eating soggy croquettes out of a tin tray, I’d probably be a bit disappointed. But on a plane I’m captive. Which is why I watch (and actually enjoy) Drew Barrymore movies while I’m flying. I fork the rubbery chicken into my mouth and like it.

Then there’s this guy. The Virgin Atlantic frequent flyer who had had enough. Food, that is. He wrote a scathing—and humorous—letter to Sir Richard Branson, Virgin’s founder and CEO, about his latest meal on the London-to-Mumbai flight. An excerpt after the jump.

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Mumbai’s Man in the Kitchen

hermant oberoi Photo by David Farley
Photo by David Farley

Chef Hemant Oberoi wants to introduce you to Indian cuisine. Not the curry-laden stuff simmering in a chaffing dish at your local Indian buffet. Oberoi, the head chef for the international Taj Hotels, is on a mission to introduce the world to the vast array of relatively unknown Indian dishes. And he’ll be coming to a city near you. His Bombay Brasserie is a hit in London and he’s finalizing plans on a Boston eatery. I caught up with him at his home base, the Taj Palace & Tower in Mumbai, which made international headlines in November when the hotel was attacked by terrorists. Read the interview after the jump.

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Unstoppable ‘Slumdog’: From Slum Tours to the Billboard Chart

Fresh off its slew of Oscar nominations, “Slumdog Millionaire” continues to rack up the headlines. In the Telegraph, Nigel Richardson reports on the surge in business that the film’s success has—predictably—brought for Mumbai’s controversial slum tour operators. Slum tours anywhere are a tricky business to begin with; something tells me that those Indians who are already less-than-thrilled about the film’s success—calling it, among other things, “a white man’s imagined India” and “a poverty tour”—will be even less happy to hear that it’s now inspiring tourists to flock to the real-life slums.

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Travel Movies Go to the Oscars

Travel Movies Go to the Oscars Photo by ginnerobot via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by ginnerobot via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Yes, the Oscar nominations are in. And while this year’s crop of nominated travel flicks won’t exactly be waltzing down the red carpet with all eyes on them—as expected, the films that made noise at the Golden Globes got significantly less love from the Academy voters—a handful may yet manage to sneak in one of the side entrances and grab some hardware.

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‘Slumdog Millionaire’: Hollywood, Meet India

‘Slumdog Millionaire’: Hollywood, Meet India Publicity still via

I remember reading, when the Bollywoodized Jane Austen adaptation Bride and Prejudice came out a few years ago, that this would be North America’s introduction to India’s powerful film industry. The film certainly brought mega star Aishwarya Rai on to our radar, but any broader, longer-lasting crossover potential seemed to fizzle. Sure, The Darjeeling Limited gave us a taste of the country, and The Namesake touched on the experiences of the Indian diaspora, but for the most part we remained unexposed to the subcontinent’s endless cinematic possibilities.

Last night, watching “Slumdog Millionaire” sweep all four of the categories in which it had landed nominees at the Golden Globes—Best Screenplay, Best Score, Best Director and Best Drama—I wondered if that might finally change.

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