Slumdog Millionaire – A Review

The Film

Very nicely done. Kudos to Simon Beaufoy for the amazingly taut screenplay. To convey a layered complicated story, spanning several years, in just about 2 hours was quite a feat! Also, kudos to Danny Boyle for keeping a positive spirit throughout the film, even in the grimmest of circumstances. Though the kids are fighting the continuous struggle of keeping up with a heartless world, there’s an energy of love, friendship, brotherhood and goodness in every frame. The audience cringes one moment, but Danny makes sure they smile the next moment. For example, the blinded beggar boy who sings for alms deeply saddened me, but when he smelled a dollar bill and said he knew the face on it was Benjamin Franklin’s, I didn’t feel so bad anymore! Or the scene when the kids travel on the rooftops of the train makes you go tsk-tsk, but the next moment they’re stealing food upside-down and you’re laughing your guts out! That’s the kind of magic the film keeps weaving on you. It shows you the harshest realities, but immediately lights a lamp of hope somewhere near.

People aren’t talking about her much, but I have to mention Lavleen Tandon, the assistant director of the film. She’s the one who scouted for locations, who did the casting, who acted interpreter, got the right Hindi dialogues done, used the right songs and the right expressions. The “Indian” contribution is so perfectly noticeable in every scene that one has to appreciate the fact that a British crew could not have achieved this on its own.

I also have to talk about the respect and love for India that the makers of this film have shown. To have more than half the dialogues in a native tongue was a brave decision. Also, the fact that there were no subtitles when Indians spoke English meant something to me. I feel highly insulted every time Discovery, BBC, CNN etc show subtitles whenever a non-American/ non-European speaks in English. C’mon! We don’t understand everything they say either!


India

I’m being asked a lot of questions by foreigners – Is it true? Are things really this bad in India? Yeah, I have to admit everything shown in the film is very true. Slumdog Millionaire has single-handedly showcased to the world just about all the social ills India suffers from – be it the communal riots, poverty, child trafficking, underworld & extortions, child prostitution, lack of hygiene etc. I’m sure, at the cost of a few Oscars, India is going to lose a sizeable chunk of its half-baked tourism industry. And I’m not one of those who’s gonna walk around the Dharavi slums and scream to the world – “See? They live in slums but they’re all so happy! That’s the spirit of India” (like Anil Kapoor did for CNN).

There are so many issues that need attention, so many problems that need solving. But when you are the second-most populous country of the world, the sixth largest country but with just about 10 big cities in it, with people speaking 29 different languages and practising 10 different religions, you aren’t really sure you know the solutions to most of the problems. In the struggle to grow, to make money, to survive, to feed your children, to keep your crops from drying, to be able to live a respectable life, people make compromises. And through these compromises, human society forms an ecological balance. It’s not just India’s story. It’s the story of human beings all around the world, a little more filth here and a little less violence there. But we’re all part of the struggle, some of us luckier than the others.

More than ten thousand people arrive in Mumbai everyday from villages in search of work. Though it is possible for the government to do more than it does, it is not possible to have apartments ready for all of them. Hence the illegal hutments, the slums, the burgeoning population, the crime, the drive to earn money through whatever means. The fittest survive and move on to better accommodations and lives. The lessers are doomed to worse experiences.

India is used to being called dirty and corrupt. That’s why, we are sportingly celebrating a movie that shows our shit to the world. Did you know the Mayor of Shanghai had banned Mission Impossible III because it had shown the slums (and really clean ones!!) of the city?

I have to protest against a few smaller technicalities in the film though

– No one plays cricket on the runway of Mumbai airport. That’s plain bullshit!

– On the actual TV show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”, participants came from all backgrounds and strata of society. The anchor, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and later, Mr. Shah Rukh Khan, were absolute gentlemen on the show. They treated everyone with a lot of respect and never poked fun at any contestant, as is shown in the film.

– When the makers of the film went to the extent of having almost half the dialogues in Hindi to make it realistic, why did they have to cast Dev Patel as grown-up Jamaal? Dev did a good job except for his accent. How can a guy from the slum speak in a British accent? Kinda took away the realism and made it artificial!

– Ok, our films do have a lot of song-and-dance. But choreography in Indian cinema is no longer the synchronized aerobic steps. Today, our actors are great dancers and, over the last decade, we have evolved a beautiful fusion of Indian classical and folk with Western dance movements. Therefore, I was squirming in my seat at the lame dance steps of Jai Ho (the ending song)


Slumdog Miilionaire at the Oscars

Well, it’s a nice film. But that’s all I can say about it. Nothing I saw is new to me. Good filmmakers in India have made far better movies on these issues – some serious, some satires. Bombay, Satya, Company, Chandni Bar to name a few. While, on the one hand, I am happy that a film about India has gained so much popularity and is winning big awards, on the other hand, I can’t help feeling that it’s unfair at how less-known cinema in other languages is. I’m sure there are several better films made in other countries every year than the ones that win the Oscars.

If not for all this hype, I would’ve probably thought this film is not the best I’ve seen in 2008.


A step forward for world cinema

When I watched Memoirs of The Geisha some years back, I wondered if I would ever get to see an English-language foreign-produced film set in India and about Indians. It didn’t take long for that wish to be granted. It is great that English-language cinema is spreading its wings and telling us stories from different lands, without any foreign connection in them. It doesn’t always have to be about a Westerner visiting other regions (Body of Lies, The Last Samurai, Syriana etc etc). People in other continents are perfectly capable of being the subjects of beautiful stories.

In the same breath, I have to say that with this step forward, I hope world cinema will not restrict itself to stereotypes. After all, India is not just about slums and poverty, China is not just about people breaking into martial arts, Japan is not just about Samurais and Geishas, Middle East is not just about oil, Afghanistan is not just about the Taliban and Germany is not just about World War II.

A good start would be pronouncing A R Rahman’s name correctly at the Oscars and not messing it up like at the Golden Globes 🙂


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10 thoughts on “Slumdog Millionaire – A Review

  1. vikram says:

    I must say that is one review about Slumdog which didn’t leave me exasperated 🙂 Nice job.I personally was not crazy about the movie but I fully respect what you had to say.

  2. Tissa says:

    Great review :).

    I like the movie, it clearly shows how hopes, friendship, trust, and loves do still have their own place despite all the mess in the world.

    And I too admire how everything is nicely packed within 2 hours span. I have seen a few of Hindi movies, and I feel that some movies could have been nicer if some not-really-necessary-scenes get trimmed.

  3. Aditi/Piu says:

    I very strong share your views of the Slumdog Millionaire where your talking about its goods and bads. I especially appreciate your observations around the technicalities.

  4. sayanti says:

    i too agree that there has been plenty of great indian movies carrying a sense of ‘Indianness’ which dared to create a universal appeal…one of such movies that left a mark on my mind is ‘Rang De Basanti’ which deserved a universal recognition!

    however, ‘slumdog’ is definitely a well made movie and i agree wholly to the areas you have stressed as the movie’s merits and demerits. thank you very much for updating about Lavleen Tandon for us!

  5. simply61 says:

    So well written>Thoroughly enjoyed reading your write up on SDM.

  6. I liked the movie. But at least three or four times I closed my eyes.

    Leaving the movie theatre, I realized some of the dark, ugly aspects of the “slums” that are shown is “reality” and nobody can run away from that naked truth.

  7. […] you’ll find plenty spread across IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and blogs (such as one I ran into here). « Keeping […]

  8. badri says:

    I feel the main reason for the oscars is for the hollywood to get hold of the bollywood money. They very well this is a multi-billion dollar industry. And since the movie going population is diminishing in the west, they need to find alternate markets. These Oscars would be a good inducement, now all the bollywood industry will be looking for hollywood bakras to westernize these movies/music to gain more oscars.

    Trust me, this is what happened with the cosmetic industry when our gals won the Miss Universe/Miss World contest.

    I am in now way downplaying the talent of our folks who won oscars but I am just trying to reveal some amount of the hidden agenda behind. There were way too many good movies made earlier, but probably they didn’t have the hollywood “tag” and the western profit making interests which this movie has!

    The profit from this movie is supposed to be more than 100% from what I heard).

  9. santanu says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! Badri, you’ve opened up a whole new angle to this. Yes, I could relate to the cosmetic revolution in India that the string of Miss Universe and Miss World titles brought about. Before that, we never knew of or had the inclination to buy the big brands. India didn’t know what Chanel, Dior and Gucci were!

    Coming back to the Oscars, I recently watched The Reader. And I would say The Reader or Doubt should’ve won Best Picture. Slumdog Millionaire is good, but it pales in comparison to the artistry in these films.

    Also, the feel-good escapism that is so typical of our movies has been accepted only because it’s a hollywood flick. Had one of our movies had the same ending, we would’ve laughed it off as “this happens only in Hindi movies” 🙂

  10. Mike says:

    Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

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