Sunday, January 11, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I, like so many of us ‘advertising types’ have already seen 'Slumdog Millionaire' before it has got its theatrical release in India. Now, don’t ask me how…you know, wink, wink! But anyway, that’s not important. Some of the people in my office who’ve watched the film as well, are all praises about the film. Everybody is like “what a great film it is”, and “how you need an outsider to make a ‘real’ film about India”. The thing is I really didn’t like the film. And I’ve been much mocked and reviled for not liking a ‘truly great film’. But, I didn’t. Now I thought I’ll keep my mouth shut about it and not act the movie pundit, but I simply can’t help it. The western media is all gung-ho about the film, what with calling it an ‘epic fantasy movie’ and ‘movie of the year’ and all that. I believe, it is really not ‘great’ cinema as it is made out to be. Is it entertaining? Yes. Is it visually dazzling? Of course. Is it a great film? Not by a yard.

The western world is, and forever has been in love with our misery, poverty and the perverseness of our society. They love to romanticize it, taking it to bilblical proportions. Like Johnny Depp calls ‘Shantaram’ his bible. Or when Lars Von Trier challenged his mentor Jorgen Leth to remake his celebrated documentary, ‘The Perfect Human’ in 5 different extremes situations, guess which place he chose when he was asked to make it in what he considers ‘the-worst-place-on-the-earth’?! Yes, you guessed it right! Bombay!! Kamathipura, the red-light district in Bombay, to be more precise. So it is this kind of romantic love the westerners have for India, which the Slumdog Millionaire is product of. Colours, kistch, homeless kids, organised crime, poverty,
Call centers, police brutality…and yeah, a Shakespearean love story above it all. And you have your most human movie of the year. Not that we haven’t seen it before. It’s just that we’ve seen better. Like Mira Nair’s ‘Salaam Bombay’ a powerhouse of a debut film. Slumdog Millionaire just doesn’t do it. It just never rises from a level of morbidity. Slumdog tries too hard to be an entertainer. It is as good a movie on India as ‘Crash’ was about the state of America. Full of cliches. Jamal, the protagonist of Slumdog is like ‘forrest Gump’. He is in the middle of everything, every evil of our society, It is like the ‘Forrest Gump’ in India, only difference being unlike Forrest, Jamal, rarely ever meets anybody with a heart. We are in India, not America, remember.

The movie has an interesting format, ripped from the writer Vikas Swarup’s novel ‘Q&A’ and turned into a rags-to-riches story by writer Simon Beaufoy. But that’s about it. Like I said, the film never rises above the story. One more thing I absolutely hated was the fact that the characters spoke in English, which looked so-so fake. I know the film has been made for a western audience, and that it is an ‘English’ film, but it just doesn’t sound right. Remember the Chinese films that you watch dubbed in English where the characters talk in ‘Chinese English’. You get the picture, right?! And then it doesn’t help that the dialogues are really flat. I know it’s asking for too much but I wish the film was shot in hindi with english subtitles, just the way ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ was shot. Dialogues in English by Indian characters, that too mouthed by the characters who belong to the slums, just doesn’t do it. More so when Dev Patel (Jamal) sounds and looks every bit the British lad that he is. Anil Kapoor does his bit, so do the rest of the cast, especially Mahesh Manjrekar who gives a very balanced performance. The film is shot brilliantly by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and the score by A.R. Rehman is good. But that’s almost all that I found good about the film. The only other Danny Boyle films that I’ve seen are Trainspotting’ and ‘The Beach’. The Beach was entertaining, nicely shot, great score and a brilliant performance by Leo DiCaprio. And I think Trainspotting had everything going for it, the right mix of the dialogue, the music, the performances, the direction, the production values, the humor, the shock-value.

And above all, in these films, you see a director who is in-charge of his material, one who is at home with the subject and their circumstances. Sadly, with Slumdog Millionaire, it isn’t the case.