Sunday, January 11, 2009

Slumdog tales


It’s kind of weird. Indian media and the Indian middle class have started resembling the typical American middle class. We start raving and appreciating anything just to be hip and cool. Case in point is Ghajini and more recently, Slumdog Millionaire.

Slumdog Millionaire (SM) is a decent film, well crafted but definitely not in the league of Academy awards or Golden Globe, period. Danny Boyle is a brilliant director and has portrayed Mumbai wonderfully for his main clientèle, the Western audience. I might have strong reservations against the movie mainly because I watched it with an Indian eye. This might not be the case for the Western media since this movie is a two hour sojourn into the images that defines India for them: Mumbai slums, prostitutes, beggars, underworld, Ram, Taj Mahal and yes, call centres too! So it is natural when NYT or Washington Post gives this picture a splendid rating, but why is the Indian media so frenzied about it? For any typical Indian movie buff like me, this movie would just fetch 2.5/ 5 stars

You may argue that I am overcritical because the plot is Indian. Well, a good comparison will be Fernando Meirelles ‘City of God’. The movie is based on the life of children turned gangsters in the slums of Rio de Janero. It has a tacit plot and keeps the audience spellbound. This grip is missing in Slumdog. The second half of the movie is too filmy and is very typical of a Bollywood flick where there are baddies who ham to the core, goons who chase the lover duo in Mumbai locals but importantly love wins over all evil in the end…that too in typical Indra Kumar/ Subhash Ghai style.

These flaws appear mainly because the novel ‘Q &A’ on which the movie is based is definitely not the best piece of literary work and doesn’t qualify for a good screenplay. However, the movie is not a cent percent adaptation of the book and most changes have been incorporated to suit the Western palate.

The protagonist in the book is Ram Mohammed Thomas, an orphan who is strangely named so to appease all religions. In the movie, he is just Jamaal Malik. This rechristening does not bring any kind of value addition in the movie, the only advantage being that a Muslim protagonist suits a post 9/11 world, especially when US moviemakers have become more interested in Middle East and Asia (Syriana, Kingdom, Body of Lies, etc)

In the movie, Jamal works as a ‘chottu’ in a call centre as opposed to a ‘teawallah’ in the book. We are treated to a jam-packed call centre (similar to the call centre video in the Russell Peters show) where aspiring employees learn English diction and try to be pseudo cool.

Some of the good pieces in the book which involves a film actress, a gay actor is left out in the movie mainly because it is tough to weave these snippets into the main storyline. My personal favorite is the story of the blind singers which has been brilliantly directed by Boyle. Anil Kapoor has acted brilliantly as the egoist superstar but the characterization is shaky. In the book, Anil Kapoor’s character has a larger role in the hero’s life and I would prefer it that way.

The effort by Danny Boyle is noteworthy especially for a foreign director especially when Western filmmakers have done a poor job with Indian themes, the best example being the veteran David Lean making a mockery of ‘Passage to India’.

Rahman’s background score and songs are brilliant…especially when the kids escape in the train. The most disappointing song is ‘Jai Ho’ which appears in the climax when the couple along with a bunch of junior artists dance like in a ‘mandatory mass drill’ in typical Saroj Khan style of the late 80s. The song sounds more like Anand Raaj Anand or Viju Shah than A R Rahman. But surprisingly, this song has won the Golden Globe. No comments J

The film has won the Golden Globe mainly because the movie delves into a theme hitherto alien in mainstream Hollywood. ‘Salaam Bombay’ was never mainstream and it was always meant for the wine sipping intelligentsia.

The Golden Globe will do wonders for Indian films and is recognition for the world’s biggest movie industry. It is definitely a good signal for Indian films, esp. when we have big names like Warner Bros producing ‘Chandni Chowk 2 China’ and Sony Columbia producing ‘Saawariya”.

All said and done, as I stated initially, I still can’t understand why we Indians are raving about it! Assume that this movie was directed by Priyadarshan and produced by Sajid Naidawalah instead of Danny Boyle and Twentieth Century Fox ; end product being the same, I am sure that the Raja Sen’s, Khalid Mohammeds and Shobha Dee’s would have ripped apart the movie!

This reminds me of an old Malayalam saying ‘Sayippine kandal kavathu marakkum’ which can be loosely translated as ‘Indians are so awed/ floored by foreigners that they forget their surroundings when they see a foreign babu’.


12 January 2009