“It used to be the case that western movies about India were about blonde women arriving there to find, almost at once, a maharajah to fall in love with,” Salman Rushdie wrote for a piece in last Saturday’s Guardian. “Or they were about European women accusing non-maharajah Indians of rape, or they were about dashing white men galloping about the colonies firing pistols and unsheathing sabres, to varying effect.
“Now that sort of exoticism has lost its appeal; people want, instead, enough grit and violence to convince themselves that what they are seeing is authentic; but it’s still tourism. If the earlier films were raj tourism, maharajah-tourism, then we, today, have slum tourism instead.
“In an interview conducted at the Telluride film festival last autumn, Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, when asked why he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this project was a great opportunity. Listening to him, I imagined an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there. He would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion.
“But for a first-world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away.”