Sunday, February 1, 2009

Slumdog (again)

Having finally gotten around to seeing the much hyped Slumdog Millionaire, I must confess to a profound sense of disappointment. Apart from a rather trite ending (boys gets both girl and money at the end) I have several bones to pick and not the usual one about 'poverty porn'.

1. The scene in the beginning of Jamal jumping into a hole full of human excrement to escape from the toilet is, I think, the most gratuitously offensive scene of the movie. It is not only unrealistic, it conveys the impression that a slum boy by nature has no sense of dignity in the way he presents himself, apart from the fact that anyone covered in excrement would not be able to approach within a mile of a super star like Bachchan.

2. Even admitting that our city cops do not have a very admirable human rights record, it seems inconceivable that they would administer the third degree, including stringing up and administering electric shocks to anyone other than hardened criminals and gangsters, to extract a confession. Most cops in Indian cities have enough to do, chasing hard core criminals and these days, even terrorists, to worry about one quiz contestant indulging in a bit of cheating in a game show by a private organisation, that too when no money has actually changed hands (Jamal returns the cheque to the quiz master in order to continue on the show).

3. One of the more distracting aspects I found, of the movie was the clipped British accent in which Dev Patel speaks. (Even Ben Kingsley in Gandhi made the effort to put on a generic Indian accent). Perhaps the exigencies of marketing the movie in the West forced the Director to have the main protagonists speak in English, however a bit of dubbing at the end could easily have fixed the absurdity of a slum kid growing up to not only speak English fluently, but to do so in an accent totally alien to his environment.

4. Finally, dare I say it, A. R. Rahman's music is completely pedestrian. Rahman himself has composed far better music (for example all the way back in Roja and Bombay to take but two examples) but this is not one of them.

I realise that I am putting myself at odds with about ninety percent of people and critics who have raved about the movie and the music -- but alas, I was taught by my mother to always tell the truth :)

Tailpiece: Take a look at the tomatometer and watch all the critics rave. Hey, am I missing something here?

13 comments:

pyrochic said...

I agree with most of your comments. I watched the movie in a theatre filled with Americans, and the scene where he dives into the pool of shit made me cringe in my seat. There were a lot of such scenes that portray an India without any dignity. To anyone who has the least bit of pride in their country, it was very disturbing to watch.
I also feel that the movie is highly overrated. It's getting way too much attention for its lack of substantial plot.

AmOK said...

I too finally got to see the movie. Pointwise: 1. The other interpretation is that the slum-boy is determined and fearless and will get what he wants. Yes, approaching Bachchan, coated with excrement or not, is quite unrealistic for the slum dwellers. Substitute any less-dramatic reality for this fantasy. 2. Cops will do stuff to please their masters. It only takes a word from the well-off to punish the slum dwellers-- a methodology inculcated by the British Raj. 3. True -- the Slumdog did not have a slummy accent. How could he speak English? The other option was to train the audiences in the local slum-talk. Have you noticed that the Russians speak in English in many of the movies set during the time of the cold war? Same reason. 4. Yes, come to think of it, Rahman was not at his best -- since I don't recall his music vividly, for this movie.

For pride in the country it is difficult to watch. Check out this article about the tiger attacks -- esp the comments. Many heartless ones.

Rahul Basu said...

AmOK: BTW are you the same or different as AMOK...I seem to be losing track.

My review (if it can be called that) has nothing to do with pride or otherwise in the country but with a realism of the description. I still feel that the excrement part is truly over the top and so is the torture scene. At worst, in such a matter the guy would get away with a few slaps and probably a few whacks with a lathi. But electric shocks? C'mon I think there we are going slightly overboard.

Incidentally notice that this action of handing him over to the police is taken unilaterally by Anil Kapoor and the producer is aghast at this action and also the fact that he actually slipped him the wrong answer in the toilet. You mean the quiz master can get away with anything and the producers have no say?

About the plummy accent, this is why I gave Gandhi as an example. Everyone speaks English there (at least in the Western version which is the one I saw) which is also unrealistic (though people claim Nehru's English was far superior to his Hindi). Somehow though, it does not detract from the message of the movie. There is just something that does not gel here -- maybe Mr Patel has that overly clean shiny, spiffy look (a skin that has seen much beauty treatment) to realistically represent a chai wallah in a call centre. (The younger Messr Jamal and Salim do talk in Hindi...why not the older ones?)

Oh, well, I guess given the hype, we are indulging in too much post mortem...(though there has been no mortem!)

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I haven't seen the movie yet but here's another critical review that doesn't call it "poverty porn". This reviewer compares the movie very unfavourably to the book, which she already found underwhelming.

Rahul Basu said...

But interesting all the same...maybe I will actually read the book, more to 'spot the differences' than any burning desire to improve my reading list. In fact I am truly baffled by the hype over the movie and the music. Do Western audiences really see things so differently from 'us'?

AmOK said...

Indeed Sire, at your service.

All this analysis, soul-seaching and dissection of Slumdog makes a point. One expects something BETTER from the West than a Bollywood-type drama. Should one not instead be celebrating the adoption of a dream-like and serendipitous Bollywood by the West? Why not accept the acclaim as a worldwide recognition of Bollywood as an emerging standard? Or does one look down on one's own, dear Bollywood, enjoyed by daily by the masses?

Ramanan said...

Yeah completely agree with you. Each and every word! There was no need of that dirt scene. I felt like walking out of the theatre. Just because I am ready to see a movie on slums doesnt mean I can be shown vomitty stuff. Plus that autograph from Mr Bachchan.. no wonder he is so mad at the movie.

Also, at the end of the day, Indians wud see it as a Masala movie.. and there are so many good masala movies!

The subtitle part (for Hindi sentences) was below standards.. some scenes cudnt carry them since they were swear words, but there were many scenes where they didnt have subtitles.

Amok, .... in many scenes Jay Patel talks like a Westener .. I mean not just his accent ... but the style of speaking.

I however disagree with Amitabh about the mafia part.. one good thing is that we have to be told repeatedly that Mumbai has mafia...

Ramanan said...

that agree with you was my agreeing with Rahul and not Amok!

Sunil Mukhi said...

Evidently no one who's commented on the movie here has seen Danny Boyle's brilliant movie "Trainspotting". Or else people have failed to notice (come on, even the Indian press noticed it!) that the "jumping-in-shit" scene from Slumdog is a cinematic repeat of the "jumping-in-the-vomity-toilet" scene in Trainspotting.

In both cases - very sorry to point out the obvious - it's a device called a "metaphor". Boyle could be criticised for using the same metaphor in two different movies, but then one can find the same metaphor in many different Rushdie novels...

How does this affect the discussion? Because the criticism of this movie in India is based so largely on the assumption that it is very literally "about" slums and India. This leaves little room to appreciate that it's a work of art by a gifted director who brings his idiosyncracies and perceptions of the world (NOT JUST India) to it.

It might be possible to conclude that it's a "bad film about India" but nonetheless a "great film". The same might be said for Trainspotting in the context of Scotland. Is this film, about heroin addicts in Edinburgh, representative or accurate? Probably not. But everyone I know, including many Indians, felt it was a brilliant film and did not impose such unreasonable requirements on it.

Rahul Basu said...

Thanks a lot for this intellectual insight about metaphors. I admit I have not seen Trainspotting and so I missed this metaphor - though I have read Rushdie and am perhaps aware of mataphors.

Nowhere did I object to the 'slums' aspect of the movie - in fact I thought I made this clear in the beginning. I merely objected to several unrealistic aspects of the movie (and the somewhat pedestrian musical score). And metaphor of not, I stand by my comment about the 'jumping into shit' scene. I humbly submit that the scene is not only sickening and unrealistic but singularly lacking in any redeeming quality, notwithstanding its 'metaphoric' quality. Hanging a label on a scene does not redeem it in any way.

However the Hollywood glitterati are clearly in disagreement with me. Even as I write, Slumdog has received Best original score, best original song (Jai Ho! Puleeze), cinematography, adapted screenplay, best sound editing (Resul Pookutty)... and of course Best Director and Best Picture - eight Oscars in all. What can I say...

femmedouce said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
AmOK said...

Apparently SLUM per se is not bad. It must have been DOG that got everyone then.

AmOK said...

And now, the learning from SLUMS can happen locally in America.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7297093.stm