Monday, December 29, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

Soooo satisfying - a big ol' hunk of dil-nourishing masala cheese! Lost siblings! Misisng parents! Orphans! Violence! Tears! Religious identity! Shady authority figures! Shenanigans! Splashy piles of currency! Groovy title graphics! Stupid white people! Gangster hideouts! Outsider takes on the system! Very ironic and convenient coincidences! One true love! You have to eat this one carefully, predictable though it can be, because someone stuck bits of razor blade inside and then rolled it in jagged glass dredged up from the sewer. But but it's completely worth the risk if you love cheese (and some good movie-culture and -celebrity play). And I do.

For discussion: did the portrayals of poverty, violence against children, gangsters, police brutality and corruption, etc, sometimes become just as easy-cheesy and/or fantastical as those of the heart-warming parts? I haven't decided. But wow, is my heart ever warm.

22 comments:

theBollywoodFan said...

The only reason I've stayed away from this is I'd rather have access to a fast forward button given the 'violence against children'. Somehow, the mere thought sounds worse than the violence in Ghajini! ;)

Amrita said...

Its kind of odd how weird how warmed my heart is by this movie - it's incredibly violent and icky and nightmare inducing... and yet!

Yet I walked out of Ghajini and it's cartoon violence feeling drained, and I walked out of Slumdog and its very real violence feeling uplifted.

Luvbeers said...

Got to love the Amitabh Bachchan autograph scene!

The Bollywood Lover said...

The more I read about it, the more I get excited to watch it! This movie seems good (and Anil Kapoor is a super-wow actor). I've to find it somewhere (where's the moser-bear DVD ;)).

Temple said...

Hi Beth - I loved this movie! I will pretty much repeat what I said over on P-PCC..
Anil was fine in his supporting role but not top of the acting honours IMO. I would say the same for Irrfan Khan - good but not a standout in a very good cast. And if you didn't know anything about KBC or Anil for that matter, I don't think that piece of casting would make much difference to enjoyment of the movie. I thought it was a nice reference to the Big B and SRK but most people in the cinema when I saw it had no idea about hindi films judging by their lack of reaction.
I loved the editing, the energy of Mumbai that Danny Boyle captured, the casting of all the kids was spot on, the humour, the heart, the anger and the endurance of the characters.
I thought Dev Patel gave a really good performance and I loved the flashes of the sharp determined kid that shone through in some of his answers on the show and at the police station.
The soundtrack worked so well in context of the scenes, and the cheesy end credits sequence was a fitting nod and wink to the home of Bollywood.
I enjoyed Anil's constant references to what sounded like "Who Wants To Be a Milliner", although I doubt that show would rate so well :)
No negatives in this movie for me -The love story was improbable but the actors went in with commitment so I could at least believe that they believed it.
I enjoyed the book, and the changes made in the transition to screenplay worked pretty well, so not even a hint of snark about that.
Strangely the peril in which the children lived from day to day didn't disturb me - It was part of what made their escape so uplifting. It was heartwarming but not too syrupy. I almost lined up to go straight back in for the next session!

a ppcc representative said...

A real crowd-pleaser, I agree. Danny Boyle films are a bit hard to dislike, I've found, though I will also say that I was underwhelmed by Slumdog since I knew EVERYTHING about it beforehand - from plot elements to themes to whatever. So I spent most of the film itself ticking boxes and thinking, "Well, this is just like Maximum City by Suketu Mehta + Deewaar + Anil Kapoor's awesomeness. I know all this!"

Still, I've dragged a few Bollywood virgins to see it and they've all enjoyed it a lot. Also, I've been enjoying it progressively more as I've seen it a second and third time.

Oh yeah, and totally agreed with Temple - it's exciting for us firangi filmi fans to see Anil and Irrfan there, but they don't necessarily stand out. (Though EVERYONE seems to comment on how Anil says "millionaire"... I've already read several reviews that say that, and my fam mentioned it too. Heh!)

memsaab said...

It's funny, because I loved this and despite the awful scenes (and they were very awful, and very realistic) I felt uplifted at the end too.

But some of my friends couldn't take the bad parts and liked it less because of them. They are probably people who should never ever visit India.

And I also walked out thinking: why hasn't an Indian director made this, why? But glad Danny Boyle was around to do it!

ajnabi said...

I'm with the Bollywood Fan, I need access to the FF button before I can watch this one. Still, I'm very much looking forward to it!

Beth said...

I'm still not sure if I think the violence, poverty, etc., had that tang of "westerner finds India shocking" or overly-gritty "this is the REAL India" (as the boys say in Agra). Generally it struck me as realistic-ish, sorta, at least at first, before I thought about it too hard. As PPCC said, a lot of it resonated with me as similar to what I read in Maximum City and Sacred Games, for whatever that's worthy.

BollywoodFan and Ajnabi - I only had to turn away from the screen once, and I startle very easily, so I think you're probably okay. As Filmi Girl says in her review, most of the really bad stuff is implied (though what does it say about the filmmaker's assessment of the audience's assumptions that we are left to assume it? Hmmm....). As for the violence being worse than Ghajini, it was much sadder here, and therefore more emotionally draining, and it was also mostly directed at innocents and vulnerable people rather than gang members. And as Amrita says here, the violence in Ghajini is very...well, filmi, I guess you could say, and here it feels more pragmatic and direct. So yeah, worse.

Amrita - Yes! There is heart all over it, and I loved it! Very uplifting, agreed! My friends and I danced down the street as we left the theater. :)

Luvbeers - YES. One of my favorite parts. PS just looked at your profile - are you part of the Vienna Bolly crew and I have actually met you but don't recognize your user name? :)

Bollywood Lover - Do it So great!

Temple - This is why you should blog! :) You always have such good stuff to say. Though if you wrote them at your own site, I would miss them here very much, so never mind.

Agreed re: KBC, Anil, Irfan, SRK, and Big B. I explained about KBC and its hosts and their histories to my friends who went to the movie with me, and they were really intrigued (but didn't feel they had missed out). Agreed that there is great energy in the city and the people (and the city really is a character here too, don't you think? I love stories like that). Loved the titles and dance number, of course, and aside from my own personal satisfaction with them, I think they suited the feel of the end of the film very well indeed.

And YES re: "milliner." My theater giggled at that every time. Have you read anything about why he did that? Re: the word "milliner," a friend of mine once reviewed a job application letter in which the applicant described her varied career experience thusly: "I have worn so many hats, you could say I am a milliner." AAAAAAAAAAAAH.

I did find this syrupy, but not in a bad way. I wasn't really expecting it to be, but I should have, now that I think about it.

PPCC - Crowd khush hua! Bahut khush!

I too slipped into box-ticking mode partway through once I realized what I was seeing (I had deliberately avoided reading anything about it before watching).

Memsaab - Yes! My friends kept leaning over and saying "Is this realistic?" "Does the city look like that?" "Would someone really jump in poo for that man's autograph?" etc. Agreed, let us be v thankful it was made! Feel-good-o-rama!

Ajnabi - you'll be fine. You can tell when the bad stuff is coming :)

Beth said...

Worth. Not "worthy." Oopsy.

MsP68 said...

Full disclosure: I saw the movie with Beth. Hi, Beth!

Is it possible that the reason the violence in Slumdog Millionaire didn't affect some audiences (myself included) might be because it concerns poor brown non-Western children? Have any of the reviews in the more mainstream press mentioned the violence? (Like Beth, I have been purposefully avoiding reading about this because I wanted to have the freshest viewing experience possible.) Truthfully,the poop scene upset me more than anything else. I also have fair experience watching violent movies, but usually I'm really affected by kids being hurt. It really didn't get me with this one. I don't know if it's because I've seen enough documentaries about India that I assume the realities, if I'm part of a desensitized Western audience, or a little of both. To note: I am admittedly born and bred American working class whitey white girl. The only time I've been out of the country is to go to (ugh) Tijuana.

Another thought: I really wanted to fight the BEST MOVIE EVER hype that has been going along with this movie because I'm just like that. But thinking about it today, I have to agree that I came out of this feeling really uplifted, as both Amrita and Temple mentioned. Also, the way each set of actors portraying Salim, Jamal, and Latika built on the set previous to them really fleshed out the characters. You don't often get that in movies that follow the same characters over decades as this one did. And I can't think of one performance that seemed hollow. In the end, it really is a masterpiece, a sneaky one at that. It's fine fine cheese.

Temple said...

Beth and MsP68 - I have been thinking about the violence and why it was not as offensive, while still having an impact. I don't think it is because it was happening to non-Western children. I think perhaps because it was all in the context of the kids lives - the race riot, their unquestioned homelessness, their independence. Their lives were set in a world where bad things often happened to good people and there was nothing remarkable to them in that. Even when they were taken in by Maman, they weren't surprised to be let down by an adult or having to fend for themselves. So the violence then became part of their story rather than a shocking incident laid on top of their story. The characters fo the kids just made the best of what choices they had. The film doesn't seek to explain the treatment or justify it, it is just part of what made those kids.

me said...

I loved this movie. Just before the end credits, I said to my sister, if this just had a song and sance number it would be a fine Bollywood movie. Then, Jai Ho. When other westerners try to do Bollywood, it seems imitative and watery limp. But Boyle seems to have internalized the formula and so it comes out fresh again, both honoring and challenging the conventions of a Bolly masala film. Beth, you left out the trope about brothers, one goes wrong, one goes good, and the wrong brother sacrifices himself to protect the good one. I'm sure there are others I have missed or forgotten.

Danny Boyle finds beauty in Mumbai places and people that most people cringe from or ignore.

Incidentally, Memsaab, great minds do think alike, because I read a comment from Vinod Chopra which echoes what you said, that an Indian director should have made this film.

There's a lot of Indian-Western cross-pollination in this film. I can't wait to see where this goes next. Oh, and Anil Kapoor! A deliciously sly performance. Can't wait to see him on the red carpet at the Oscars.

Nida said...

Beth,

We've been seeing the same movies lately! I just saw "Ghajini" yesterday and "Slumdog Millionaire" today! Must be the weather--yep, ours has been just as dreary and gray...today we had a "warm" front to start with but by the time I left the theater it was snowing :(

Next time we should just go together!

This movie was awesome! I loved the kids--especially Jamal--and I really appreciated the song and dance at the end--almost like the director paying a tribute to Indian cinema. I mean, so much of what sells in America that has to do with the Indian culture is dhoom and gloom--the rough, violent life of the streets and opression of women. I'm not saying we can't have a realistic film portraying that, but it was nice that "Slumdog Millionaire" combined the dark side of the story with some cheery stuff.

Darshit said...

i am dying to see this one. Still its not released in here, India.
Soundtrack is awesome. Can't wait.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

This was very hard for me to see- more than Ghajini, to the extent that I haven't been able to write about it! Ghajini I know isn't real- no matter how affected I was, I can stop thinking about that one; but this FEELS so real that I am simply trying to let it sink in (STILL). The violence was too much for me, despite the happy ending :)

Beth said...

MsP!!! Woot! I still haven't read enough of the big publication reviews to know about this question. I'm just remembering when Water came out and lots of people were angry that the western filmmaker chose to present a negative aspect of Indian culture/traditions. This is a different movie, though, and it has the benefit of being contemporary.

Excellent point about the different sets of the actors. So well done.

Temple - I agree that the tragedies and violence were contextualized. The film is stronger for making that choice.

But if I wanted to nit-pick (and I don't, necessarily), one could back the questions up a bit and wonder if the setting was chosen to be extra heart-string-tugging or shocking or whatever. I don't know what the setting is in the book.

What I really need to do is stop being lazy and go look what the big reviewers and my favorite bloggers are saying.

me - Ha! Agreed, the formula has been revisited successfully - because it has heart!

Ah! How could I miss the brothers!

Anil was sooooo icky. Very well done.

Nida - I see from your blog that you had a double-header of goodness at the theater! :)

I do think the filmmakers played it a little sly peddling in the doom and gloom of what other countries tend to hear about India - I mean, he gave us a child covered head to toe in poop, for goodness's sake. But as Temple said, all of that was contextualized - and I will add that I think they did very effective and ultimately uplifting things with what they chose to use.

Darshit - Is there a release date for it?

Shweta - I can imagine!

Richard S. said...

I saw Slumdog Millionaire after seeing a whole lot of Golden Age Indian movies (for the first time, since I'm from The Bronx, not Bombay), and though Slumdog... has some good qualities, it falls short, in my estimation, as social commentary when compared to those old Golden Age movies - as most movies made in the last few decades would for me...

Here's the main problem for me: Although there is some scathing critique here about rampant crime and poverty in the world, and there is, I think, a lot of reference to the heartlessness and corruption of the world specifically under globalized capitalism (not, I think, necessarily specific just to India)... And although we are also encouraged to root for the poor and the donwtrodden, not a thing so common, from what I know, in recent movies (especially not American ones)... The film really doesn't say much in terms of even vaguely suggesting what should be done, or what people can do, in the face of all this. Basically, all the poor can do is just root for the one-in-a-million (or billion) poor guy who wins millions because of his fate/destiny.

While destiny is a big thing in old Indian films too, there was also once a strong emphasis, especially in the films in the '50s (which dwelled a lot on the problems of crime and poverty), on collectively finding a way to overcome these problems in society, even to transform society itself. Think about some of the movies by/with Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Guru Dutt, etc. (OK, a couple of GD's films that I saw were a bit more fatalistic, but at least they approached problems with a well thought out social-philosophical perspective, which isn't something I see in a movie like Slumdog Millionaire.)

Slumdog Millionaire also had the most shallow villains. What did we know about these bad gangsters, except that they were bad guys, sadists, who hurt children? A villain from a classic Bollywood film of the '50s would be a far better developed, more interesting kind of character.

Some of the violence didn't bother me all that much because it was kind of ridiculous. I didn't believe the scene with the electric shocks or the blinding of the child. Maybe these things do go on (though I really find it kind of hard to believe someone would be given electric shocks for suspicion of cheating on a game show), but they just weren't credible for me as they were presented in this film. (I'm not even sure why, but the scene with the schocks just seemed so damn silly! And it's not because I don't believe there's extreme police brutality - I've witnessed police brutality myself in real life...) Maybe, then, for me, in answer to Beth's question, these scenes were a bit "fantastical."

The movie wasn't all bad... It did function as social crtique about half-way, the imagery was often remarkable (I guess that was the cinematography), the good characters were certainly sympathetic enough (and a hell of a lot deeper than the villains) and it was a pleasure to hear two M.I.A. songs!

But I personally think this film was far from a masterpiece, and it paled next to old classics.

yves said...

Hi Beth,
Did you do a write-up of the movie somewhere? I've just seen it (yes I'm a little slow!) and I'd like to know how come you wrote that it was "a big ol' hunk of dil-nourishing masala cheese!": Because on the whole, I found it not too Bollywoodish, if you see what I mean. The only real song & dance was at the end, after all.
cheers
yves

dinkirani said...

Although, this is a much older posted topic, I would like to add something,
Has anyone thought why movies like Slumdog Millionaire get all the glamorous attention and movies like Kala Pani (1996) get very little attention.I happen to watch this movie, and I was just swayed away by all the acting and cinematograpghy...surely a must see!Yeah, get this DVD to 'glamourize' your collection!!
If I were the one who nominates Oscars for movie, I would totally nominate this one!
You think the Amitabh Bacchan autograph signing is the best you have ever seen, well you have yet to see the show licking and the Brahmin eating a cockroach alive scenes!
Its just maybe cold to the British, and their imperialism but what the heck it still deserves every oscar in the list!

zeeniebaby said...

I realize that this has been posted a long time ago but I recently discovered your blog and would like to add my two cents about this movie.

Full disclosure, I am an Indian living in the US for almost ten years now.

I liked this movie but I have seen a lot of movies (both from Bollywood and elsewhere) that are much better at presenting similar issues. A lot of commenters here express surprise that this movie was not made by an Indian. I would like to disagree, I think this movie has been made by Indians many times. The only reason this movie seems different is because it shows us things from a non-Indian view point but highly inspired by Bollywood movies especially from the 70's. I think what makes this movie better for Western audiences is that it shows them the India they find interesting. I am not talking about poverty or religious tension here, I just mean the aesthetics of the movie. It reminds me of the feeling I get when I look at pictures of India taken by my American or European friends. They are very beautiful and interesting but as an Indian I would never think of taking that picture because to me that would be something mundane and ordinary. When I went to India last year and took some pictures of the local spice market, my nephew called them my "Danny Boyle pictures" because you need an outsider's eye to frame things in a certain way. Somehow, I cannot see "Salaam Bombay" being as popular in the US even though it is pretty much the same, the characters have a lot more depth and it is a well made movie.

I have read the book and there was a change that the movie made which disturbed me a little bit. In the book there is no mention of the mother getting killed in communal violence. In fact, the reason he could answer the question about a different religion was because as an orphan he had been raised by people belonging to many religions. India is a land that has a lot of religion based violence but India is also a country where people of many different religions live together and respect each other. The fact that the moviemakers decided to change the latter representation to show the former especially when it makes no difference to the story, makes me a little disappointed.

Anonymous said...

Dhobi Ghat and Salaam Bombay is better!