Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire... an overload?

I am thrilled that A.R Rahman and Resul won their respective Oscars!!! I am really proud of them... because AR is what he is, and both being Indians.

But it ends for me there... You see, when I saw Slumdog Millionaire (SM from now on), I had liked it- it's a typical 'Bollywood-style' movie. But at no point did I think it such a great movie that it could win the Oscars! And I also think that AR has made some other great numbers that qualify better than 'Jai ho!'

I had read the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup, when it was just released. And I thoroughly enjoyed it as a good pastime read... and although the movie has been scripted from the same, the title and the modifications done to the story completely change the movie into something else.

I watched the entire Oscar presentation, and when I saw clips of the other movies, I suddenly was not sure if SM even came close to their category. Or even close to some of our own.

The past few days and months, I've been reading and noticing mixed responses about this movie. A lot of them went to see SM because 'everybody' was raving about it... and so have liked it too. Many hated it for the same reason. Very few were clear about their perspective about this movie. I've been seeing messages about SM, with a lot of Indians saying things like, 'what is so jai ho about it or anything else?' and 'its to keep answering here that "no no, Mumbai is not all like that"... and so many others saying 'god, this is not the way it is actually'.

In fact, I was part of a jury panel recently with eminent people from all over the country part of it. And during the course of the day, the topic invariably went to SM. And there were some interesting personal viewpoints these people offered. Almost everybody 'knew' that the movie will win the Oscars. And 'because they (the people at Oscars) need to promote India now'. One of the viewpoints was, 'Because of recession, the US market is down and of course has hit Hollywood. So they are targetting the next big industry, which is Bollywood and so are promoting everything Indian. Look what happened during the time the fashion industry was facing the crunch, they made Aishwarya and Sushmita Ms.World and Ms.Universe in that one year... unheard of earlier.'

One of the other viewpoints was, 'If this was just projected as a rags-to-riches story, it would have been ok, but making it the story of what goes on in India, is not completely true.' One other was, 'If this movie was made by an Indian, would it have made it to the Oscars?'. Hmmm... food for thought and I tend to agree with these points of view.

I have come to a general thought that no matter what, the people at Oscars would have a definite reason for this movie to win, and what really matters is that our people won. But having said that...

I'm only unnerved with the kind of response the foreigners are giving. Tom Cruise said , "I know of Indian cinema and different stars there. I do see some of their films and they must be very proud of Slumdog Millionaire also. It is fantastic.... I can't wait to go to India." This view sort of gives a picture of what meaning India has suddenly taken for the West.

I got a message from a foreign friend from UK, saying 'I just saw Slumdog Millionaire... it was awesome........... I so want to come to India!' And I would love for her to come here, but then again I asked myself, what is it that she really wants to see? Dharavi? The rural India in the metro India? The bustling train stations? The Underworld of Mumbai city? Would she really be interested in seeing India for itself or for what she has imagined through the movie?

I happened to hear a new term, 'slum tourism'.... Is this what will be the eventuality?

I see a lot of travel shows on TV- on Nat Geo, Travel & Living and Discovery. There's this one particular show called the Amazing Race, where the participants go treasure hunting in different countries. And I am always excited when they come to India. But the reactions these guys have is not good at all. Most of them find India 'dirty, poor, yeucky, uncultured...etc' And because this show does not edit comments or statements made, one can clearly hear the sound of disdain from these people. Many think it's ok to make fun of people here. And even if they represent a very small fraction of people, they do represent a common mass in their countries.

Which takes me back to the question- what is that the foreigners are seeing in SM and they want to come to India, which they have not seen in any of our Hindi movies earlier?

And this is something I happened to read today... a comment on the post from

Sambit Prem 02.03.09 | 1:35 AM ET
Scenes of poverty and squalour may appear romantic to Westerners and to our snooty elite but for us ordinary Indians they are nothing new. They are an everyday reality. However, one wonders what sort of mind can find such images aesthetically pleasing. Party-hopping socialites (for example, Shobhaa De after all her bombast of “enough is enough” after the Mumbai attack, went and watched a pirated copy!) who are distanced from such reality may find this film an “eye-opener” but for us it IS poverty-porn. It IS slum-tourism. The music/soundtrack and the technical quality of the film is excellent; but, overall, “Slumdog Millionaire” is unrealistic & overrated because:

1) The director seems to RELISH showing violence. Some of it (like the police-torture) is quite needless. And why was the boy arrested in the first place? On what charge? Was it realistic?

2) How can a boy growing up in slums speak such accented English? Even if one assumes that the language he actually uses to communicate with the game-show host and the police officer is Hindi (granting the director the creative license to use a language better suited for international audiences), there are 2 instances where it is stretched too far: (a) when the boy becomes a ‘guide’ for foreign tourists at the Taj Mahal & (b) when he becomes a substitute-operator at the call-centre.

3) When the boy uses his ‘lifeline’ during the game-show, his friend discovers that she has forgotten her mobile and has to run back for it. This is plain Bollywood masala! Did the director HAVE to make it so melodramatic?

4) How did the boy know who invented the revolver just by watching his brother use it?
How does his friend know about Benjamin Franklin (something which many Americans themselves don’t know!)?

5) “Darshan Do Ghanshyam” is NOT written by Surdas. It is written by Gopal Singh Nepali for the movie Narsi Bhagat (1957). This song is also credited as traditional and originally written by 15th century poet Narsi Mehta, whose life that film is based on.

6) After winning the game-show, the boy sits on the railway platform and nobody recognizes him! Considering the popularity of the show, is that realistic?

7) Two glaring omissions: To get invited to the show one has to answer several GK questions over phone or Internet. Even after making it to the show, a contestant can reach the hot-seat only after qualifying through “fastest finger first”. All this is conveniently forgotten in the film.

8) And of course the greatest flaw in the storyline: programmes like ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ and ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ are NOT telecast live. As a result the entire structure of the film becomes unrealistic. For a film that boasts of being realistic such a flaw cannot be overlooked.

The Academy will lose its credibility if this film gets the Best Picture or Best Director awards.
And also read this,
Subrat 02.25.09 | 4:56 AM ET

I totally agree with Sambit Prem. I am sure he is a person with good taste in movies. Those were the points where I did not agree with the director. I find Dev Patel (the lead actor) totally expressionless while delivering the dialogues. Why the police will interrogate a person who wins some prize money? Did the people in the game show written an FIR? If not who did?

A R Rahman is very talented. There is no doubt in that but, the song Jai ho is not very much original. What I mean to say by that is anybody can guess it’s a Rahman song after listening to it because Rahman had given this type of music before. His music was much better in Rang de Basanti which went to the Oscars but did not even get nominated. That movie is 1000 times better than Slumdog.

I now think all these award functions are a mere marketing gimmick. Hollywood seeing a great opportunity in Indian film Industry right now, so all this is happening. Though this film is a British Movie but lot of people who were associated was Indians. So I think it was just used as a ground to lay the foundation of Hollywood in India. I don’t have any problem in that also as I just want good cinemas to be made. It’s the same as the marketing strategy by Body Shop who continuously choose Indian beauties as Miss World or Miss Universe to create a good Market in India.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sometimes I pause…
As the world whirs around me
like a dust storm.
I gather my thoughts and my feelings
and hold them close to me
lest they be pulled in
by the swirling forms.
And only when I am sure we are one,
I step out.
With a protective blanket
of dreams
around me,
Sewed to my body and soul
so that I am never alone.

(c) D.Athale
19th February 2009