Saturday, March 28, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire and escaping the reality.

First of all apologies for the lengthy silence. It's one of those points in time for me when it's difficult to work up excitement over all things Indian cinema related. Everything exciting is coming out close to the end of this year, and I'm never in the mood for anything in my large pile of DVD's-to-watch. I haven't seen a single 2009 movie yet. It's odd.

But let's talk about what I have seen, specifically that little movie that won the Best Picture Oscar.

Slumdog Millionaire is a quizzical - pun unintended - piece of cinema. It weaves together the realism of violence and misfortune of the streets, gangsters, religious zealots and orphaned child beggars, with the dreamy escapism of Bollywood films, love conquering all obstacles and the idea of fate, 'kismet'. You could argue that because of this, it portrays Mumbai or Bombay perfectly, the two sides of the city both brought on display. At the same time, for this particular viewer at least, it created a strange discord - I didn't know how to allow the movie the benefits of both styles, how to reconcile the illogical parts with the ones that made more realistic sense.

You must all know the story by now. Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, who I previously loved in the UK television series Skins) is a kid raised in the slums and out on the road, who ends up on the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, hosted by Prem (Anil Kapoor), and against all odds, knows the answers - simply because he does. Accused of cheating, he is forced to relay his life story to a police man (Irrfan Khan), a tale of misfortune but also of success, and of his search for his childhood love, Latika (Freida Pinto).

It feels a bit silly to critisize the movie for things I felt were unrealistic, in a way that quite bothered me, because for one, I did truly enjoy the movie. It was powerful and had a lot of great elements coming together effortlessly. Then, for two, who am I to say what is and isn't realistic? Despite my long interest in India and my knowledge of it, I'm oh so far from all-knowing on the subject. And yet -- would slum kids truly learn such fluent English while being out on the streets (or on the rails, as it were)? Would they ever, later in life, converse fully in English? These are small complaints but they threw me off all the same. It's odd how I could easily suspend my belief on the existence of fate, but not these smaller things.

The film is nicely paced, and especially the scenes with the children actors - first very young and later slightly older - were fantastic. As Jamal matures, Dev Patel carries the role splendidly, but the adult Latika, played by Freida Pinto, is sadly not as convincing. This made me lose interest in their love story just the tiniest. If Freida did have the chops to pull off the role, it felt like she was not giving her fullest and was more of a pretty face than anything else. The other actors, such as Anil and Irrfan, are as solid as one could expect - the layers in Anil's Prem were a pleasant surprise for me. The sound design and music overall deserved the Oscars they received, punctuating scenes fantastically. The song-and-dance, which is surely not a spoiler at this point, is not up to Bollywood standards (the choreography is partly fine, partly reminds me of cheesy 90's Hindi films) but if nothing else, allows the film to end on a high note and was not as bad as I initially expected.

I think it's wonderful that Slumdog has gotten the success and publicity it has and that India, too, has embraced the film as if its own. I'm glad to have seen it and enjoyed it - even though it doesn't quite make any of my favourites lists.


ajnabi said...

Ha! I still haven't seen this despite of my friends and family expecting me to have 1)seen it and 2) loved it and 3)congratulate them on finally having seen a Bollywood movie. LOL

anitarama said...

I basically had the same problems you did with SM. Freida, who my brother met and LOVES, really underwhelmed me. The rest of the world is ga-ga over her too. I really do like her in terms of her as a person and model, but as an actress she's nothing to write home about. I commented about the English-speaking to my parents while we were watching and they just told me to stop talking so they could keep watching the movie, hahaha. XD

I loved the insanity that was the Slumdog phenomenon and I think all EXTREMELY positive and EXTREMELY negative reviews of it are off-base. It's a simple movie with a lot of good parts and a lot of okay parts. And in a slow year in Hollywood it was able to bag all the big awards. But most definitely not a favourite in any sense of the word. That's fine. :)

veracious said...

ajnabi - You'll get to it. On DVD if nothing else.

Anita - Yay, glad to know you agree with me on Freida. I was so disappointed! I wanted to love the couple so much but her non-performance just made me groan. I find it hard to appreciate pairings where one is a great actor and the other one is not giving them anything back. (Had the same problem with Hrithik/Aish in Dhoom 2. In Jodhaa-Akbar, Aish performed better, gladly.)

dri said...

Hmm. Interesting point about Freida's performance. I wonder how much of that was her or the character, if there was enough there to actually work with? I admit I did wonder why he was so enamoured of her, what there was to love ... but then I figured it was a sort of teenage idealistic love, that he pretty much put her up on a pedestal --- the damsel in distress --- and fixated on her in a relatively harmless and positive fashion, the one good thing they could take out of such a horrific past.

It was such a curious blend of reality and fantasy, wasn't it? I did like it for that overwhelming aspect at least ...:p

Chandra Singh said...

Hi Sanni,

Great review on this movie! I really did enjoy the film a lot :) And thanks for all the great posts so far. I would like to add you to our blog roll if you are interested. I'm with - we are a large and growing (500,000+ visitors per month) website focused on movies and celebrities - our Bollywood homepage is at We would love to explore more ways of tapping into your expertise if you are interested.
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Thanks! :)

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kimcareen said...

I loved the movie.

RB said...

Found it repulsive. Mumbai was depicted as a heartless, soulless city where every one is exploited. I have lived in Mumbai my entire life, and while I cannot deny that many people are subjected to a lot of injustice here, this is true for any other city.

Secondly, anybody who has watched Kaun Banega Crorepati will realise how unrealistic the behaviour of the show's host was. The movie basically exploits the stereotypes in the mind of Western audiences when it comes to Bollywood.

Thirdly, discounting Irrfaan Khan, every one else is wooden. Wish the movie was never made.