Film: Slumdog Millionaire

I have now joined the esteemed ranks of those who have seen Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a wonderful film – in parts.

I thought somebody described this as a feel-good film. It is anything but. The thing is, the only positive bit in this film is in the last 8 minutes and you get this sinking feeling in your stomach. So the only way out of squalor, poverty, grime and other such dark corners is a lucky streak at a gameshow. Though, you know that the film is probably telling you something at a subliminal level. That every punch life throws at you, it teaches you something. Etc. Etc.

Some spoilers here – but the general drift is that this is a kid who essentially survives on wits and luck. And he has very little of the latter till he turns 18 years old. Mother dies in riots, childhood friend turns badass gangster, childhood love is pimped, money is short. I’ve worked with street kids in Bombay, so can vouch that such stories are rather common.

Yes, this film is wonderful for your senses. The music is perfect in parts, the visuals are stunning. The slums are stark, but not heartless. There’s not a single kind adult in this film. Which is probably true in the real world. But something bothers me about this film. I don’t want to get too much into it … but poverty sells. It’s almost like everytime you see something marked as a realistic film on India, it almost always is about the poorest of the poor. Yes, that is real – but there are other realities. Not that Slumdog Millionaire has to show any reality that it doesn’t want to show – but watching the film, and more specifically, reading the hype that surrounds it, makes you think a little about why it is that the films about the poorest bits of India go down the best with the foreign critics.

No, I am not offended by it. I don’t even feel defensive. Let’s face it – most of Bombay is a slum. I completely understand if that is far more fascinating than any other part of Bombay.

What saves the film from being cheesy is the stunning performance by the kids. Sometimes the accent feels a bit off. But there’s such pathos in their eyes, that your heart breaks just a little bit sometimes. There is something so touching about the fact that little children are forced to take decisions that not even adults find easy. The premise of the film, recollections pieced together with the questions in a gameshow was fantastic. And just for that, I’d see this film.

But this is what I don’t get. This film takes all this pain to be “realistic” till the last 20 minutes, and then it flips. It suddenly wants to affirm something, and drop you into a certain la-la land. People change, they become kind, everything collapses into the formula. After pumping fists into my heart and making me feel miserable that I come from a country where we cannot ensure that all children at least get a decent meal everyday, you suddenly want to turn around and give me a Bollywood story? It doesn’t work that way. Not for me anyway. It doesn’t “feel good” then, it just feels contrived.

It’s a nice film. It just didn’t make me feel very happy. Which many of the critics promised it would make me. I just felt a little cheated.

13 Comments

Filed under Music, Film and Art, Shpeshul

13 Responses to Film: Slumdog Millionaire

  1. It is a bad look out if you believe the critics….. I am not going to say it serves you right…. to be honest i haven’t even seen the film……but have heard too much about it that i don’t wanna see it…… i am already biased………. I would see it 5 years later when everyone(including me) has forgotten abt it………. If i watch it now it would spoil the feel of the movie for me……..

  2. The book on which the film is based is one of the rare fiction (well, airport fiction paperbacks) books that I have read. Your commentary on the last few minutes seems in line with the book.

    I am keen to watch it not because for a change I have read the book but because of the lead (a British Asian kid who last appeared in Skins where he was the only Asian character) and because of all the director’s interviews I watched and because of AR Rahman’s Golden Globe nominated score.

    BTW I believe it is being released on Jan 9th so how come you have seen it already?

  3. No, I am not offended by it. I don’t even feel defensive. Let’s face it – most of Bombay is a slum. I completely understand if that is far more fascinating than any other part of Bombay.

    Hmm.. I think I read a piece sometime back (can’t recall where, maybe in newspaper) that some travel & tour companies are starting slum tourism in India, especially in Mumbai where they bring in western tourists & take them to show around the slums etc. Dunno if that was true or not, but yes it did give something to think about! Food for thought… maybe!

  4. BTW just wondering about your ‘last 20 min’ observation, isn’t romantic/ Bollywood-ishtyle melodrama as prevalent in India as gritty realism?

  5. I think it’s worth a watch – for the fantastic music and the stunning visuals. Plus, there are some really heartwarming moments. It’s not a bad film – it’s just that it’s really not as pleasant as they promised. It’s quite gritty.

  6. Shef – err.. you know me. I find ways of watching things. :) I don’t want to judge every piece of Indian cinema by figuring out if it has completely sold to a certain kind of audience – but one can’t but help it. If you can’t wait till the 9th of Jan – let me know! :)

  7. Waiting for it to release..you are a crook!

  8. WA

    LOL How about the blogger once known as MG :)

  9. WA

    PS: The lad who is probably as crooked as Neha watched it too earlier this week, and his view of the film was not much different. Me being good and waiting for the 9th

  10. Ra

    I must say I can be pretty crooked too…am sure the lad is even more crooked, the younger generation I tell you. I now have a name, as you know.

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  12. aditi rawat

    A ‘feel-good’ movie need not be a ‘good’ movie. I would say slumdog is a good movie, especially since its looking at an international audience. You must realize that many people who have/will watch it haven’t had a fraction of the first hand experience of poverty an average person from Mumbai has.

    I dont think the movie (or any movie for that … Read Morematter) tries to provide solutions, but i think what they try to do is disturb people. The reality with which slumdog is handled, it disturbs without exaggeration… an american friend asked me whether there actually are blind beggars on the streets of Mumbai, I could without hesitation say that the movie had much genuineness. Its upto us now how we direct this disturbance.

    Also, I think the love story was relevant for people who would otherwise feel disconnected. Passionate love stories are perhaps one of the few things that are synonymous around the world.