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SLUMDOG Extraordinaire!

Click HereSo, by now we know all about Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a film that chronicles a young man’s rags-to-riches, fairy tale journey into love and wealth. Funnily, the trajectory of the film mirrors that of its protagonist Jamal: a little known, under-dogish movie with an unknown cast slowly generates a steady buzz which turns into a delirious worldwide cheer by the end of the award season. Beyond Danny Boyle’s wildest dreams I’m sure, not to mention the cast/crew’s stunned disbelief.

      The world is starved for compelling stories, characters and plots. As a person who has to keep somewhat abreast of popular culture, I can vouch for our generation’s creative torpor. So there is much to laud Slumdog for. First things first, the children are stunning. Little Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed) and Jamal (Ayush Mahesh) are not only fantastic performers, they are heartbreakingly beautiful to boot. I don’t even like little boys, and I want a couple for next Christmas. Sheesh! Every half lisped entreaty, every frightened glance, every defiant gesture and every semi-smile is poignant and absolutely convincing. These kids are special mark my words.
      The mise-en-scene (what we film students call the settings, costumes, lighting and figure movement) is commendable. In a world where poverty is carefully removed from our very existence (even if one is in Bombay or Rio) let alone the realm of popular entertainment, to see a joyous, grimy, bright-eyed gang of urchins scamper through every sodden gully, alley and puddle in Dharavi is a treat. Anthony Dod Mantle’s camerawork is very competent—the lovely high-angle (steady cam?) mobile shots of the slum stayed with me for a while after watching the film, as did the frenetic jerky final shots of Latika as she runs to answer the phone. Some of the loveliest shots in the film are of hopeful crowds gathered around TV sets, especially the one next to Taj Mahal. The film is lit like a low-budget horror film; fans of Saw and Hostel will know what I mean. The editing is similarly snazzy and stylish—lots and lots of cuts.
      Now for the narrative. Alas, in my humble opinion, the most interesting aspects of this story were abandoned by the wayside as the film developed. When Salim sits at Prem Kumar’s (Anil Kapoor at his smarmy best) hot seat, the idea of knowledge becomes tantamount. As Irrfan drawls, “what can a slumdog know?” We discover that knowledge, in fact, is acquired in many different ways in differentiated life worlds. Salim knows what weapon Lord Ram carried; the information is seared into his brain since he was pursued by a bloodthirsty Hindu mob as a child, a mob which butchered his mother and deployed as its mascot a young boy armed as Lord Ram. Similarly, he knows who is on a $100 bill, because divesting wealthy American tourists of their cash has ensured his food and sustenance. Jamal is a learner—a wily sponge that absorbs all that life pitilessly hurls at him. But after the first couple of questions and flashbacks, this wonderfully rich and evocative idea is entirely discarded by Slumdog. Hereafter the film becomes a story of the quest for love and the consolidation of the heterosexual couple. Yet again. As soon as we learn of Jamal’s unflagging devotion for Latika (Frieda Pinto), all the quirky Dickensian characters, all the faces/spaces that endows Slumdog with density and texture seem to bleed away. The film becomes yet another tale of impossible love and undaunted determination. Like the million films that have come before it, set in Bombay and elsewhere.
      A. R. Rahman’s music is pedestrian at best. I mean, let us get real here: remember Dil Se or even the more recent Swades? For a composer of his stature, even “jai ho” is hardly a jaw-dropping song. I’m really glad for all the awards it won, but seriously, in many ways Slumdog is underwhelming. I guess this is as much for the hype and hoopla it generated as for the shortcomings of the text itself. For example, the transition to flawless English really grated on my nerves.
      Now for the Oscar ceremony. I was really glad to see the young ‘uns on the red carpet, frilly pink frock, tiny tux and all. A fairy tale indeed. Even a very man-tanned Ryan Seacrest’s awkward attempt to converse with the children in English was somewhat charming. Dev Patel looked fine and achingly young. Irrfan maintained a stiff upper lip, thank god; Anil Kapoor’s infectious exuberance was a tad embarrassing as well as endearing. I mean did you see him jump up and down at the Globes?! Yikes. The empire so fawns back. And somebody, please ask Frieda Pinto to employ a new stylist: if the yellow-mustard dress by Christian Lacroix at the Globes wasn’t bad enough, at the Oscars she donned a blue sequined John Galliano—with a spangled sleeve and a bare shoulder. It looked like a bad Tarun Tahiliani knock off! My girlfriends disagree with me, but I’m sticking to my guns here. Please Frieda, now, post an ex-no-longer-necessary fiancé and with Woody Allen seeking to replace Scarlett Johanson, you need better fashion advice. George Clooney was meeting Barack while we stayed glued to our TVs; more pleasing eye-candy if you ask me. Oh well, on to Dev D peeps. 
Image credit : Photobucket 

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deconstructing slumdog

i think this was a great great analysis. while the film could have been about how knowledge is created through material life experiences, it ended up being a very pedestrian heterosexual romance. in trying to capture the fairy tale that bollywood represents to most slum dwellers in india - the film sadly misses the real point. and i am not a big fan of little boys either but truly the kids in the film were adorable.

Cant agree more about the

Cant agree more about the music...

Seriously!!! This is Rahman's best??

I am sure it was a disbelief

I am sure it was a disbelief for the entire cast and crew of Slumdog! Did it really deserve 8 oscars?????


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