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”.


Raghu said...

hi, agree with you buddy, its well directed, and has fantastic editing. why cant we see a film neutrally and decide on its merits. cant say much on priyan, though, dont know why he was foul- mouthing it, its tons better than what he has been bringing out recently.

Sanjeev Nair said...

To highlight ur point about priyan.. have u seen billu??? What was the man thinking? Hasn't he seen the original?