December 28, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire" - A Metaphor for India?

Slumdog Millionaire is a refreshingly different movie; perhaps an expose of sorts, but disguised under the soft nuances of a romance. The setting of the movie is again a surprise, as it's Mumbai 2008; the producer couldn't have imagined that Mumbai would hold spotlight, world-wide, just as his movie was to be released!

Danny Boyle, the director of the movie, has a reputation for making controversial movies, and this was no different as it elicited some extreme reactions from the audience. Some felt the movie was a misrepresentation of India, others had a problem with the myopic lens of the film maker whose depiction of India was apparently 'lopsided'; though the fact that the story writer is Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat, gets Danny Boyle off the hot seat. Then there were those viewers who were convinced the movie would be nominated for the Oscars for it's direction and screenplay. However, there was one thing all these viewers had in common: they were all of Indian origin. All of this made me want to see the movie and decide for myself!

Slumdog Millionaire turned out to be a very entertaining movie that showcased some stark scenarios in Mumbai like that of abject poverty leading to child abuse and prostitution. It also highlighted the Hindu Muslim divide in Mumbai leading to violence and oppression for the underprivileged. Having said this, one would imagine the movie to be a somber tale of struggle with little reprieve. However, that's where the movie surprises; the stark reality of Mumbai is so naturally embedded in the storyline that it ceases to be revolting. For instance the 7 year old protagonist being covered in human feces does not evoke shock or revulsion as much as it does laughter and empathy for the passionate young film lover. 7 year old Jamal is clearly determined to get his favorite Bollywood actor's autograph, even if that meant going through a hole in the ground which happened to be the slum dwellings public-toilet-facility! It is this, the master weaving of the somber amid the tender and the humorous, that allows the movie to get away with the shocking and inhuman scenarios it presents; all apparently happening in Mumbai.

The movie is about a young boy called Jamal who serves 'chai' (tea) to employees in a call center in Mumbai. He is suddenly thrown into the spotlight when he becomes the most unlikely finalist on a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" TV game show which would earn him a million dollars if he were to win it. The movie glides smoothly between the the protagonist's past and present, by the end of which the viewer has a clearer picture of who the protagonist is and why he is so. The three actors who play his part through the different phases of his life do justice to the character as they provide him tremendous credibility; it is difficult to believe that the 19 year old Jamal of the movie is in reality a British actor, Dev Patel, who hardly knows Mumbai!

I would recommend this movie to anyone who believes art is but the artists perspective. As the audience, we don't have to be one with the perspective or with the vision that is born out of it, though we could appreciate the artist's passion for having created a piece for us to ponder upon. In fact I pondered on this particular one a trifle too long; I now see Jamal, the unlikely finalist wanting to be millionaire, as a metaphor for 21st century India, the surprise contender for being the top economic growth engine of the world.

Definitely a movie worth watching.

19 comments:

Saadia said...

I recall another blogger reviewing the same: http://www.riazhaq.com/2008/11/mumbais-slumdog-muslim.html. Thank you for reviewing the movie with class. Trademark, Id! I think its time I rented it.

Saadia said...

*Bought it. Gone are the day when we'd rent VHS videotapes. They mostly only sell DVDs now.

Georg said...

Hallo I Me My,

Just to wish to a happy next year and a lot of inspiration to go on like this.

As to the movie, your description is so vivid, it makes me wish to see it.But I don't think this one will ever come to the little towns in central France. Thanks nevertheless.

Georg

Lash said...

I'm waitinng to watch it this weekend on Google Videos..

cubano said...

I've been waiting for this movie to be released in cinemas here. I think that it's coming next week. Can't wait to see it.

EYE said...

no wonder it has bagged so many awards.

starry nights said...

I have heard so much about this movie, have not seen it yet. It may win an Oscar .Wishing you and your family a happy new year.

Tazeen said...

excellent one ... the two boys who played youngest saleem and jamal were perhaps most endearing.

sivananth said...

the engine is sputtering but still alive. Would definitely watch it.

Anonymous said...

It won the Best Film of the Year award from the film critics!

sr said...

well, this movie cleaned up last night!

i finally saw it last night (apparently, while it was busily collecting awards). i thought it was a good movie. two comments for those who think it highlights the negative aspects of indian life:

1) danny boyle's other movies include trainspotting, which is not the most glorious depiction of late 20th century scotland either. so, it's not like boyle is breaking from character in depicting the troubling aspects of life in bombay.

2) in the past half-decade or so, everyone has seen the glorious highs of the indian economic engine. india is one of the few countries that can even come close to comparing to china's exploding economic growth rate (it may even be the only one). is it really all that surprising that there is a downside to all that frenetic growth? i think it is important that we be aware of the negative consequences of economic growth while appreciating all the benefits of such growth.

i liked the movie and your review of it. thanks.

How do we know said...

there must be sth really wrong with me. i did not enjoy the stereotyped portrayl of everything .. did not enjoy the film at all!

In the book, there is no Jamal, it is Ram ~ Thomas. There is no elder brother or mother or riots. There is no Latika love angle. The movie is a far cry from the book. In fact, a VERY far cry. The only common thread is the Who Wants to be a Millionaire. You should read the book. Much better storytelling. Lots less hype.

Id it is said...

how do we know,
Thank you for the heads up on the different storyline in Swarup's novel. I am getting a copy of it shortly and that may give me a different perspective on the movie. There are many out here who reacted the same way you did; however, there is something about the movie that made it tick with film critics as also with the public considering the number of nominations and awards it has received and the amount of revenue it has collected in a short span of time.

Saadia said...

Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan rubbishes Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire could only have been made by a westerner

Id it is said...

Saadia,
Thanks for the links! Most informative and insightful. I lean more toward Mr. Dhaliwal's stand on this one because I really enjoyed the movie! Besides, I came out of the movie with a feeling of deep respect and admiration for the people portrayed in the movie; their never say die take on life is indeed remarkable especially in the light of what they face on a day to day basis. Also, at no point did I believe that this was all there was to India; Boyle presented but one slice of Mumbai with an artists brush which is allowed some levity as all of us know. Cinema is obviously a take on life and not life itself!

Saadia said...

True. I fail to see why Mr. Bachchan reacts so sharply.

And you must've noticed by now, I love posting links!

hfm said...

I love this viewpoint of Mumbai, it shows that there is the existance of slums and dreams- both are reality for so many of the people living in Mumbai.

I enjoyed the film and would recommend it to anyone.
:)

berenice said...

hola dear I My My
long time no read you
but i am glad i am back!
loved your review of Slumdog Millionaire, i am really curious about this film for a couple of reasons...

1. a few years back I used to watch all the Oscars nominees for Best Picture, not that I think the Oscars have it 'right' but just out of curiosity, this year, I am not that interested on the list of films nominated, except for Slumdog Millionare and Milk, I have seen Milk already, a great film, but mostly 'cause of Sean Penn's acting...

2. I used to like Danny Boyle's films, they are always rather unusual... so I was pretty surprised that he's the director of this film, again, I haven't seen the film yet, but after watching Trainspotting and Shallow Grave (films directed by Boyle) it seems almost unbelievable he went for a totally different kind of film

after reading your review, I am even more curious on the film, thank you!

and now taking advantage of your blog and seen Saadia and other bloggers here, I'd like to ask yours and their opinion on this controversial film on the lives of widows in India called "Water"
the film was visually beautiful, but the content was rather shocking
here about the film
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_(2005_film)

now... after I watched i realized how controversial is this issue in India, and saw this article on youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj9HAmNhkMk

now some Indian people hated it! and some people loved it... I will like to know what 'real Indian' people think of it...

ahhh films films films

glad to read you again dear I Me You :D

SSQuo said...

I thought Dev was just OK, I think the kids stole the show though!

I hear they are not actors which is nice to hear coz its that raw spirit and spunk that comes through. A similar approach was adopted by newcomer Rajnesh Domalpalli in his movie Vanaja. Have you seen it? Thoughts?