Monday, December 29, 2008
Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire
So I did not think this was a great super duper uber fantastic greatest movie of all time. It is a good movie. Very entertaining. But somehow the kind of buzz (some even mentioned "Oscar") this movie has been getting misled me to believe this is a movie phenomenon. Maybe it will get an Oscar. We had the "black" Oscar year, the "gay" Oscar year, so maybe its time for the sweetly timed "Mumbai" oscar year. I am bored of people in west developing this habit of telling Indians that the India of the slums is the real India. There was a time when I drunk the kool aid and all this was nice to talk about. Now when some Indians tell me that too.. I wonder about credibility. Apparently, these people are trying to tell me that have lived and experienced a nuance regarding India's poverty. Something that has escaped me and the zillions of other people where have grown up in that country. I strongly believe that there is no 'real' India or that there are so many 'real' Indias that it is not worth examining which is more real. If this movie is seen as a 2 hour stereotypical Bollywood fantasy - it is thoroughly entertaining. If people start reading athi-bhayankaramulu philosophical undertones into it - it is nonsense.
All the stereotypes that the west associates with 'poverty', 'street fighter kid', and 'India' etc are here in this movie. If an Indian had directed it - it would have not been this successful. The stereotypes are presented in a checklist fashion. 1. Show extreme and unbelievable poverty to shock the white man - check. 2. The cute (and he is super super cute and lovable - I have to give that) innocent kid who is wronged by destiny of life - check. 3. Indian teachers are dhoti wearing kid-beating people - check. 4. Hindus are bad (that is the only acceptable secular view nowadays) - check. 4. Muslims (replaceable with any minority) are oppressed - check. 5. Show extreme gore being committed to earn money - check. 6. A kid from slums has nothing to loose so will run with the vagaries of life - check. 7. Bollywood masala (nonsensical love and stereotypical gangsters) - check. 8. Overly optimistic and positive ending that shows that the wronged deserve their luck however far-fetched it might sound - check. 9. Show the cliched and boring Taj Mahal to the white man - check. 10. Show extreme poverty and exploitation juxtaposed with India's riches again and again - check. So this movie is not special. Pudhupettai did better in some aspects.
There are merits to the movie. As a fantasy fiction Vikas Swaroop's story and Danny Boyle's depiction is extremely fast paced. The fact that they used "Who wants to be Millionaire" as a narrative instrument is a very good idea. However, I did think that the background for a few answers were too contrived and in general made the movie a little bit over the top. The arrow of the story does pierce through a slice of Indian life and shows a particular possibility of exploitation. The actors playing slum kids but speaking English with a touch of Brit accent was slightly concerning. The success of the movie shows an old but reliable Max Mueller trend. That the western world will welcome, with open arms, any story about India, as long as it is colored by and told by one of their own. Oh! yeah -> it needs to show only negatives and stereotypes. I am glad they didn't show an elephant. Maybe, Anil Kapoor was compensating for that little oversight.