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Slums, Dogs, and Poverty February 20, 2009

Posted by Sai in Articles, Movies.
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Is Slumdog Millionaire poverty porn? Is Danny Boyle shooting for an Oscar riding on the popularity of sensationalist, poverty-ridden images? These questions are being heard often in the Indian media and a bit in the West and everybody has an opinion.

Here’s what disgusts me about the whole thing. Slow, witless, ignorant, simpleminded imbeciles like composer Aadesh Shrivastava and their moronic opinions.

Mark Twain said something to the effect of “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt”. This applies to Aadesh. I quote his words from a BollywoodHungama story and follow up with my thoughts.

“They’ve started calling Indians ‘ slumdogs’, just like ‘coolie’ was a gaali in Britain”
I don’t know which streets he is walking in but in my streets it still seems like we are the brainy folk who are capturing jobs.

“Does Danny Boyle know what Bachchan Saab means to us Indians? Who would dare approach him like that?”
A starstruck slum kid who does not know what “Bachchan Saab” means to “us Indians” would dare to approach him like that. By the way, I also don’t know what “Bachchan Saab” means to “us Indians”.

“Even I can make a film on child prostitution and pedophilia. But it won’t get Oscars because I am not a gora”
I am not sure that you can make a film at all, let alone a film about pedophilia and prostitution. Even if you do, you won’t get Oscars or Filmfares or even your apartment association’s awards because you are a dimwit. Oscars are awards by and for the goras; don’t covet or bother about those awards.

“What f…k right does the director have to show Mumbai as a slum? Now we are considered a slum city in all parts of the world. Humlog kahin mooh dikhane laayak nahin rahe.”
Was Mumbai depicted only as a slum? Were the tall buildings, vehicles and the millions a part of another city? Can one movie really change people’s opinions the world over? And most importantly, why can’t you show your face to anyone if you are thought to be from a slum? Why?

What the f*** is wrong with poverty? For the life of me, I cannot understand why people are terrified of being considered poor. Sure, it is a hard life and you wouldn’t want to live in poverty after being born with a silver or even a steel spoon in your mouth. But why do some (or many?) individuals look down on poverty? Why don’t they want to be talked about in the same breath as poor people? Why do they feel ashamed to acknowledge the existence of poverty and their own countrymen living in such conditions? And doesn’t poverty exist in other countries? While Danny Boyle is in love with the spirit of these slum dwellers and how they get on with life despite innumerable problems, some of “us Indians” apparently don’t consider it a life at all.

And do I really care if some American looks down upon India/Mumbai due to a partly misconstrued image as a poor country? No. Or would I care if some Englishman finds song and dance routines in Indian films silly? No. No. Why don’t people respect themselves first before craving the respect of someone else? And don’t “us Indians” look down upon some foreigners for what we correctly or incorrectly believe to be their shortcomings? Am I missing something here?

The media attention this is getting is not unexpected from people who are invested in sensationalism rather than news (and I am sure there aren’t too many who notice the difference anyway). But Mumbai’s slum dwellers protesting against a Hollywood film for what they think is a comparison of their lives to that of a dog (even if it is considered man’s best friend) is a bit too much. How does it really matter to them what a foreigner thinks or calls them when their own countrymen, like Aadesh, think they cannot even show their faces to anyone if they are considered to be from a slum? Is that acceptable?

Slum dwellers don’t want to be compared to dogs. Aadesh Shrivastava doesn’t want to be associated with slums. What will we see next? Dogs protesting the association with slum dwellers??

Slumdog Millionaire January 23, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Ever wondered what an Indian film made by an international filmmaker would look like? Slumdog Millionaire is a great example of just that. The unlikely story of how an uneducated boy from the slums of Mumbai wins big bucks on a television quiz show has all the elements of a feel good Indian film but is made with more finesse and subtlety and without the duets and manipulation. The rags to riches tale with a happy ending (feels a bit like a sports movie) is primarily a love story. An improbable story where circumstances keep the lovers away till the very end should seem very familiar to Indian audiences.

Like its main protagonist, the film was an underdog too and was almost destined to be a straight-to-DVD release but fate had other plans or as Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Millions) will now say “It is written”.

Adapted from Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, the film has an engrossing screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). But it is director Danny Boyle’s brilliance that really sets this film apart. He makes fantastic use of the film’s setting and that is primarily responsible for elevating this film to another level. The non-linear narrative employed is essential to the impact of the film. Boyle acknowledges casting director Loveleen Tandan’s inputs to the project by giving her a co-director credit and I am guessing she had a great influence in helping him achieve his vision along with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editor Chris Dickens. The film does take cinematic liberties and has its share of contrivances and unbelievable coincidences but it works nonetheless.

As is being portrayed by some, there is nothing for Indians to be particularly proud of or ashamed about due to this film. The setting is real but I don’t see everyone watching this film going “Oh! This is how life in India/Mumbai is”. No, surely we understand that films are works of fiction. And I don’t see a need for us to be ashamed of poverty. This film wasn’t made to glorify or debase India or its culture, so where is the need to look for yourself in there. It is a work of fiction and has to be looked at that way. It was after all based on a book written by an Indian author. And Danny Boyle has many more opportunities to show pain and suffering but he chooses not to.

The cast is uniformly good but forget the newcomers Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto. Forget the popular Indian faces like Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. The most impressive performances come from the kids in this film. Kudos to Boyle and Tandan for extracting the performances they manage to get from these kids. Ayush Khedekar, who plays Jamal at his youngest is brilliant and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail who plays young Salim is also quite good (and both of them apparently live in the slums of Mumbai). They feature in the most memorable scenes in the film including the Amitabh Bachchan autograph scene and the chase scene at the beginning (the slums are beautifully captured in a chase through the gallis reminiscent of Ram Gopal Varma’s films). In comparison, Dev Patel’s Jamal lacks the energy that the kid displays but then I guess it was by design.

The film has already won big at the Golden Globes and is tipped to be a favorite at the Academy Awards. But personally, among the films I’ve seen from 2008, I prefer Wall-E and The Dark Knight (both of which are unfortunately not in the running for the Best Film at the Oscars) over this one.

A R Rahman’s score is splendid but I am a bit surprised by its popularity at the awards (It already won the Golden Globe and has been nominated for the Oscar) because it is louder than the average Hollywood film score (but is still limited when compared to Indian movies and Rahman notes that he had only 17-18 cues compared to a normal figure of about 150). The score works superbly in the film but Rahman surely has composed much better numbers than the catchy Jai Ho which was nominated for Best Original Song at both the Globes and the Oscars. Nevertheless, it is great the his work is being recognized in the West (3 Oscar nominations and a possible win or two ain’t bad).

A lot has been said and written about this film, so a recommendation is unnecessary but I do have a piece of advice. When you go into a movie theater with bloated expectations about a film, it will, more often than not, fall short. So go in with an open mind, understand that this is fiction and prepare to have a good time.