Tuesday, 13 January 2009
Slumdog Millionaire - The Review
Given all the hype surrounding the overseas release of Danny Boyle's film, I was left wondering when I would get my hands on it. Yesterday I did. So, yeah, what is my verdict?
I wasn't expecting this, at least not in this way. Even though I'd heard the story (like I said in the last post, it matters not if one knows the plot beforehand-- good films still remain essentially good). Not this.
No spoilers this time. None at all.
A few random thoughts that crossed my mind: first, this is a film that was aimed at the awards right from the starting frame (and seeing the Golden Globes, seems the arrow's hit the bull's eye). No two ways about that! But wait, so was Forrest Gump, and I love that one so! Yes, I am very happy for Rahman-- but honestly speaking, this is not his best. Let me, therefore assume, that this is what Rahman should have had long before-- for all his scores that bettered Slumdog Millionaire's and didn't get recognised widely. Mind you, I'm not saying this is bad: nice and all, just not the Rahman I've loved for so long. Two, if you pay attention to details, logical ones especially, then perhaps you won't like this movie at all. Right from the start there are obvious gaping flaws in logic: no television audience jeers a poor call-centre assistant on a game-show (and especially one as widely followed and discussed as Kaun Banega Crorepati, or maybe if you prefer this, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?) just because of his profession. Moreover, no television anchor, if he ain't insane, talks that condescendingly to a contestant on air, as low as his social or economic background may be-- this is national TV, mister, and one is under the constant gaze of both the junta ki adalat and the ever-on-the-lookout-for-some-spicy-story media. Flaw number one. And then, how do slum-urchins suddenly learn such fancy English (granted that Jamal, the protagonist, works in a call center: so what! And aye, English with a proper Amrican accent; take that!)? Flaw number two. Like I said, this is a film aimed at the awards. After all, we can guess that the awards jury prefers films that they can easily comprehend-- so bye-bye subtitles, as far as possible (the portions where they are present, though, are unique in a little detail-- we'll come to that later). Flaw number three: a bit too much of co-incidences, but that I guess is one of the best things about the movie. And finally, the biggest flaw: it is not quite clear how or why Prem, the anchor, deduces that Jamal is a cheat and betrays him to the police. Enough about flaws, now (though there are still a bit too many that can be named).
The good thing: Boyle's treatment of a disarmingly honest script that adheres not to reality, nor pretends to. If you are a wide-eyed fan of Amitabh Bachchan flicks of yore; yes, when he was the 'angry, young man' going through bad times, getting his ration of dishoom-dishoom, punishing the baddies for all the pains they'd inflicted on him in an adrenaline-pumping climax, and bagging his heroine at the end of the film (each one screaming HAPPY ENDING in your face)-- this is what you'd been waiting for, for long! Oh wait, the Big B does actually appear in the film, and what a delightfully repulsive scene that is. (In case you're wondering about the oxymoron, go watch!) Did I say something about subtitles before? Yes, maybe a minor detailing, but the whole load of enthusiasm and energy oozing out of every frame in the movie leaves it's indelible mark on the sub-titling too: they pop up in lively bubbles as the characters speak, instead of staying far away from all the action down under. The camerawork is fascinating and fresh-- remember Dil Chahta Hai?-- and does justice to the repelling yet adventurous tumult of the Mumbai slum-world. If Aamir used exactly the same setting to depict a dark, brooding atmosphere holding God-knows-what terrible secrets in it's womb, Slumdog Millionaire romanticises the will to live, even inspite of all the filth and sickening poverty. Not bad, that!
Which brings me to the final and most important bone of contention regarding this film: an issue that has been addressed in some blogs and internet forums I happen to frequent. The portrayal of India. Given the kind of skewed idea of India that some westerners still donning their imperial sunglasses have-- that of snake charmers, fakirs and derelict maharajas living lavishly as their subjects rot away (a bit of an exaggeration on my part here, perhaps)-- was it apt to portray that part of Indian society which is among the most deprived in such vivid detail? Isn't it going to strengthen the flimsy picture of our country that firangi-s have? Well, yes and no. Also, why choose a call centre, of all things, as the workplace of Jamal, our protagonist? Isn't that another stereotype? Deja vu: yes, and no. Yes, because it is largely true that India has both a booming call-centre/BPO culture, and one of the largest, if not THE largest, population of desperately poor people in the world. The problem is that it does not give the complete portrait away; and therefore inspite of being largely applicable to our society, it is not exact in it's statement of truth: hence, no. The danger of India getting cornered and stereotyped in the eyes of the western world remains: but that is a risk not quite as bad as the truth itself. So, even though I agree with both parties in the debate (and realise the ramifications of such stupid stereotyping), I refuse to join either.
So, your final question, I suppose. Did I like it? Should you go watch it? A resounding yes to both. This is NOT the best film of the year. Far from it, and far from intellectually rousing territory. This is NOT flawless cinema, nor is it revolutionary. What this IS then: a strangely uplifting tale of hope, fate, love and conscience (Salim's murder scene is brilliant, and that I must single out for praise). Go watch it. Your rationale will possibly discard it, your heart won't. This is, as a recent Hindi movie name suggests, a marriage that God decreed-- a union of the heart of 70's Bollywood (sans the cheese) with the technique and elan of Hollywood. So gobble it up! And take your pick. You either love it, or you don't. As for me, I do.