Monday, February 23, 2009

And the award goes to.... Abhishek Singhvi and the Congress party!!!

First of all congratulations to the cast and crew of Slumdog Millonaire. Since I've not seen any of the other four nominees for best film it would be premature to say that this was indeed a deserving win. Definitely Slumdog doesn't measure up to the standards of a Silence of the Lambs or Life is Beautiful. But it had a freshness about it that was appealing. However, the victory has set off wild celebrations in India from all walks of society. Which is kind of surprising considering the reception given to the movie prior to the Oscar win. Anyway all manners of jingoistic hypernationalism is on display now and if some of the congratulatory messages are to be believed then every Thomas, Sadiq and Hari seems to either have predicted that these men would one day achieve greatness or in some crazily indirect way claimed to have contributed to this achievement. As usual the politicians take the cake, coming out with the most ridiculously opportunistic statement I have read/heard ever in all my years of following the news and current events.
This from Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, and I quote "We are proud that in the conducive environment of good governance by the United Progressive Alliance with special emphasis on inclusiveness, we have been an achieving India." This was part of his statement congratulating the cast and winners of Slumdog Millionaire. This has to be the most outrageously shameless attempt to bask in someone else's glory, ever. What has the UPA government done that could contribute to Slumdog's victory? I can only think of one thing. This government has done absolutely nothing to relieve the common man's poverty and misery and has thus perpetuated the slums in Mumbai maybe even contributed to its expansion. Besides how does a victory for Slumdog become an example of an achieving India? It is after all a Hollywood production and the fulfilment of director Danny Boyle's vision.
Yes, more Indians have managed to get on the winners' list on Sunday, than in all the previous years put together. And our Hindustani hearts beat with furious pride in the light of our fellow countrymen's achievement. But make no mistake about it; this is their achievement and theirs alone. Neither society nor government has played any part in it. So while we savor their moment of glory, let's also remember that this is after all an award... for a movie. Nothing more.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire ki Jai!!!

Slumdog Millionaire continues its relentless march to Oscar glory. After astounding critics and experts at the Golden Globes and sweeping the BAFTAs, after a long time we now have true Indian representation in the Oscar nominees list. This fact alone makes the 81st Annual Academy Awards due to be presented next week more highly anticipated than it usually is. But for a movie that has so thrilled the West, India’s response to Slumdog has been lukewarm to say the least. Is it because we cannot recognise good cinema even if it is right under our noses? Our previous entries for best foreign language film at the Oscars would definitely suggest it is so (Jeans or Hey Ram anyone?). Or are any of the many arguments against the movie valid?

The arguments against the movie are many. It exploits Indian poverty. It portrays India in a bad light and makes too much of our corruption and or communalism. It exploited the child actors and didn’t pay them enough. Or in the words of India’s highest paid director (and also its biggest plagiarist) Priyadarshan, it’s just a terrible movie. At least in Priyadarshan’s case he seems to be ranting against the quality of the movie. But are the other arguments even worth mentioning? It is a truth that we ignore at our constant peril that India has Asia’s largest slums smack in the centre of Mumbai. And that obscene opulence coexists with heart-wrenching poverty all over India. It is also true that we rank among the most corrupt nations in the world with one of the lowest regard for basic human rights. And it’s also true that India has been witness to more communal violence than any other practising democracy. So when we are voicing our opposition/dislike for this movie in these terms we aren’t really saying it’s not all true. We are just saying it’s unacceptable to our sensitivities to have it all portrayed on screen and that too so successfully. It’s really a ridiculous argument to make against any movie but especially against this movie. If anything director Danny Boyle has brought out the sheer joy and hopefulness of the people who live in the slums of Dharavi. It’s a brilliantly shot movie and even the much discussed shit scene is at once revolting and hilarious. But at the end of the day that’s all this is. A movie. It adds nothing to or takes away nothing from the marvel that is India.

So that’s how it must be judged. Slumdog Millionaire is a rollercoaster ride and it’s easy to see why the Western audience would take a liking to it. It’s like nothing seen before in Hollywood. The opening sequence alone sets the pace for the rest of the movie. There’s really no need to go into plot and cast details. Half the world has seen this movie by now. But for what it’s worth here’s my 2cents. It’s beautifully shot, perfectly casted and adequately scripted. The music’s great but this is definitely not Rahman’s best work. But the movie has its flaws. My biggest grouse is how Simon Beaufoy has deviated from Vikas Swarup’s original novel; starting with the protagonist’s name. In the original it is Ram Mohammad Thomas which is sort of a testament to the secular nature of poverty; this has been changed to Jamal Malik in the movie and in my mind that opens the gates for somewhat justified criticism. The child actors switch from street lingo in Hindi to perfect convent school English with way too much ease. And Dev Patel could have been instructed to curb his British accent. Regardless of how much time one spends listening to it, it is kind of difficult to accept that a chaiwala at a call centre can pick up the Queen’s English. Anil Kapoor’s character is not as well-defined as it is in the novel and that sort of hurts the climax of the movie as well. But overall it’s worth the time and full paisa vasool. And at the end of the day that’s all that should be expected of a movie.

So this 22nd I will be cheering for Slumdog and hoping that the musical genius of Rahman will be rewarded with a statuette. What could be a bigger validation of our style of movie making? And that would be something that should cause all of us to shout out, “Jai ho”.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Come on Federer!!

Rafael Nadal is now the new Australian Open champion, the first man since the legendary Andre Agassi to win Grand Slams on 3 different surfaces and, it seems, the undisputed number 1. His 5-set victory was typical of his style of play; unrelenting and brutal. That it came after an even more exhausting and thrilling semi-final victory, only shows how strong Nadal is, both physically and mentally. But what of his opponent? Roger Federer was on the cusp of history at the start of Sunday’s final. He would’ve equalled Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles had he won. But in the end the Spaniard prevailed, and convincingly so. So is Federer now on a downslide? Can he be written off in the face of a bullish Nadal?

Nadal’s game has all the brute force of a bazooka. He can outrun and outhit just about anybody on a tennis court. And he never ever gives up. His current number1 ranking is a testament to his impressive run last year. But he still has some way to go before he can be compared to the Swiss maestro. Federer on song is a delight to watch. His game is nothing less than poetry in motion. The grace of his backhand, the accuracy of his forehand, the effortlessness of his court coverage all of this and more has been eulogized many times. But the man’s greatness lies in his remarkable consistency. He has spent a record 237 weeks as world no.1 and has every appeared in at least a semi-final or more in a Grand Slam tournament for the last 19 attempts dating back to Wimbledon 2003, winning 11 of those. Even in 2008, the year most critics say he had his biggest slump in form; Roger reached the semis at Australia, the finals at Wimbledon and Rolland Garros and won the US Open. Simply put, he is a victim of his own high standards of excellence. Having already earned more than any other player ever to pick up a tennis racket, and having won almost everything in sight(the glaring omission of course being the French), Roger really has nothing more to prove to anybody. He is chasing history and will sooner or later etch his name firmly as ‘the greatest player ever.’ This I truly believe. But for this he has to first win the French Open. And the fact that he has an opponent of Nadal’s calibre breathing down his neck only makes his victories that much more valuable. And what better time than this year? A victory in Paris will be his record equalling 14th grand slam, will avenge his last 3 final losses there and will cement his place as the greatest ever tennis player, having won all 4 Grand Slams. The loss at the Australian Open may have been draining, both emotionally and physically, but the Swiss genius will recover and will bounce back. All the while the Matador from Mallorca waits, for he also knows it is only a matter of time before even he loses on the clay courts that he has made his backyard. If you are not yet a tennis fan, this is the best time to tune in. It doesn’t get any better than this. Allez Roger!