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The gleam of eight Oscars, it seems, is bright enough to distract a whole lot of people: In India a mere two days ago, Slumdog Millionaire was the subject of occasional political protest and often-acrimonious debate about "poverty porn;" reigning Bollywood stars sneered at it as an outsider's clumsy attempt at telling Indian stories.

But when, yesterday morning local time, the improbable rags-to-riches tale swept the Academy Awards, half of India skipped work or school to watch TV, and no one remembered they ever had anything but love for the film.

"The winners have done all of India proud," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh enthused in a statement. Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who recently mocked the film as a foreigner's exercise in exoticism, was in a similar state of mind: "International recognition for Indian film talent on one of the most well-known and popular forums is the happiest day for Indians and the industry," he blogged after the Oscars.

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The subject of the most intense coverage were the Oscars won by Indians - two for composer A. R. Rahman, already a legend in his country's cinema industry, and the sound mixing prize, which Indian engineer Resul Pookutty shared with two foreigners but claimed as a gift for his country.

These "count" in a way that awards for the British director Danny Boyle, or the American screenwriter who adapted a book by Indian writer Vikas Swarup, do not - although Mr. Boyle has been widely praised in the industry here for having shared credit with his Indian assistant, co-director Loveleen Tandan, and his mostly Mumbaikar cast and crew, wherever possible.

Mr. Rahman's peppy dance number Jai Ho (which translates from the Hindi as "victory to you") won the Oscar for best original song - sparking feverish speculation in the Indian media about whether this would "finally" be the moment that Bollywood music "broke out" of its massive Asian market and into the iPods of Western consumers.

"There was a kind of aversion when any other culture's stuff was played in America - but this makes it accessible," a confident Mr. Rahman told India's NDTV cable channel after the ceremony. He told the Oscar audience in his acceptance speech that "all my life I have had to choose between hate and love. I chose love and I'm here."

Married with three children, he took his mother as his date in Los Angeles.

Mr. Rahman, 42, is the son of a Chennai film composer; he began his life as Dileep Kumar but, in a story much repeated here, converted with his family from Hinduism to Islam 20 years ago after they were influenced by the teachings of a Sufi leader.

Mr. Rahman began scoring films for the Tamil-language film industry in 1992, and is renowned in India for his ability to compose in myriad styles, from traditional Tamil to jazz.

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"It is the spirituality of his music that makes it so special," said Shabana Azmi, a doyenne of Bollywood, who has acted in many films for which Mr. Rahman composed.

Mr. Rahman has had a reasonable career without "breaking into" the Western market - he has sold more than 300-million recordings of his music - and there was similar irony in the debate about whether the Slumdog Oscars would boost Indian cinema. The industry here currently produces more than 1,000 films a year, and is second in size (but vastly superior in quality) only to Nigeria's.

"It's great to see Indians being recognized like this," said Geeta Tamang, a New Delhi paralegal who watched Mr. Rahman's acceptance speech on a friend's cellphone in her office. "Maybe the next time it will be for a real Indian film, with an Indian director and everything."

By last night, when the Oscars were still the only subject on any cable channel (with riots in Kashmir relegated to a teeny scroll at the bottom of the screen) the anchors had had time to work their way around to philosophy.

Mr. Boyle had thanked Mumbai in his acceptance speech, calling the frenetic city a star of the film, and many people talked about how the recognition for Slumdog helped to supplant the memory of the last time Mumbai dominated television screens - the terrorist attacks of last November.

Many commentators gently noted that the three Indian Oscar winners (Mr. Pookutty, Mr. Rahman and Gulzar, the veteran lyricist with whom he worked on Jai Ho) are all Muslim.

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The children who star in the movie were darlings of the red carpet in Los Angeles; in the slum of Mumbai where their families still live in makeshift shacks, their parents watched on borrowed televisions and wept with pride (in front of a massive media tangle) as the kids were carried on stage for the best picture acceptance.

Mohammed Usman, father of Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, said the whole neighbourhood had been praying at temples, mosques, gurdwaras and churches. Mr. Usman, who resells junk furniture, told local reporters, "Though we cannot afford much, we shall try to make it a memorable event when the children return from America."

snolen@globeandmail.com

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India's global clout

Slumdog Millionaire's success at the Oscars is being heralded as a sign that Indian cinema is poised to break into the Western market, just another indication of India's growing global clout. These are some others:

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Population India is set to overtake China as the most populous country by the early 2030s.

Economy India is on track to be the fastest-growing economy through 2030, averaging annual expansion of 6.3 per cent.

Commerce Indian companies have been making major business acquisitions around the world, including Tata Motors' purchase last year of Britain's Jaguar and Land Rover vehicle makers.

Investing India recently edged past the United States to become the second-most-preferred destination for foreign direct investment after China.

Cinema Indian superstar actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan co-stars with Steve Martin in the recently released Pink Panther 2.

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Jai Ho remix

Most people in India have never seen the multiple Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who can't hum the theme song, Jai Ho.

And now that the film's music has won two Oscars, its reach can only grow. The song's already been performed on Jay Leno's Tonight Show. Now The Pussycat Dolls have released a remix with English lyrics - albeit much racier than the original Hindi words by Indian poet Gulzar.

Where Gulzar has the stars of the movie singing, "I counted the stars till my finger burned," the Dolls sing, "I'll make you hot, get what you got, I'll make you wanna say Jai Ho."

CORRECTION

Gulzar, who shared an Oscar for original song with A.R. Rahman, is not Muslim. Incorrect information appeared in an article yesterday.

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