REVIEW

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire - Shock and Aww

January 24, 2009
PH

zaraa mulk ke raahbaroN ko bulaao
yeh kuucheh, yeh galiyaaN, yeh manzar dikhaao
jinheN naaz hai Hind par un ko laao
jinheN naaz hai Hind par woh kahaaN haiN?


Summon the nation's leaders,
Show 'em these lanes and quarters,
Summon the nation's proud flag-bearers,
Where are the nation's proud flag-bearers?

                                                     - Sahir Ludhianvi.

Years ago, on an Indian talk show, a lady in the audience fumed about Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen, "Do you have to parade a woman naked in front of the camera just to be realistic?" On the discussion panel was Gulzar, whose apt - if equivocal - reply was, "It depends on your aesthetic sensibilities." And suddenly, I became aware of a fundamental disconnect: being male, I hadn't seen how gratuitous and humiliating the scene might have seemed to a woman.

In Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, the thematic equivalent of parading a woman naked before the camera is the sequence where little Jamal, plastered from head to toe in shit, jostles through a crowd, all for an autograph of Amitabh Bachchan. Perhaps there is an aesthetic sensibility here; it just doesn't overlap with mine. To me, some subjects - sexual and economic exploitation certainly rank high among them - just don't lend themselves to flippancy. (That's one reason why I hated Anthony Burgess's gratuitous Clockwork Orange and, despite being a Kubrick fan, haven't cared to watch the film.) It would be one thing if an astute director (of any nationality, for the record) were to make a film that questioned the dominant India shining/poised narrative or exposed the systemic morass of corruption and exploitation in Indian society; Slumdog Millionaire is not that film, and Danny Boyle is not that director. (In recent times, Dibakar Banerjee's Khosla ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky, and Shaad Ali's Bunty Aur Babli are much more up to that task). To me, the shit and autograph scene is an in-your-face, shock-the-hell-out-of-them intro to Jamal's tenacity and the rich - poor divide. And speaking of Gulzar, let me point to how it's done: the scene in Hu Tu Tu where Suneil Shetty and Tabu land their private jet on a road, upending a hapless bicycle-rider.

To be sure, Boyle is clever enough not to attempt anything approaching social commentary - at least not on the face of it. Thus, ostensibly, the film is a filmier-than-thou imitation of those Hindi films of yore (as evinced by shots of Coolie and Zanjeer). But, mirroring the malaise that inflicts Hindi film makers who ape Hollywood, the imitation is all in form and schema, not in spirit. Jamal Malik is not the angry anti-establishment hero that Bacchan (or Kamal Hassan in Mani Ratnam's Nayakan) was; he is far too bourgeois for that - what subversive hero would exact his revenge on the system by getting rich on Kaun Banegaa Crorepati? Even Salim, his brother on the dark side, ends up mouthing such platitudes as, "India is at the center of the world", reinforcing the cherished delusions of grandeur instead of challenging them. Surely the romanticized urban common man fared far better in the folklores of Manmohan Desai (Mard, Coolie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Shahenshah), Prakash Mehra (Zanjeer) and Yash Chopra (Trishul, Deewaar); or in the socio-political commentaries of Guru Dutt (from whose Pyaasa comes the above verse of a de-Persianized version of Sahir's scathing poem), early Raj Kapoor (Sri 420), Bimal Roy (Do Beegha Zameen) and Aziz Mirza (Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Yes Boss).

As a fairy tale, too, the film isn't engaging enough. In narrating a story that is, to quote the inspector (Irrfan Khan), "bizzarely plausible", Boyle resorts to such gimmicks as jump-cutting to flashbacks in case you didn't connect the all too obvious dots. Even the badness of the baddies is exaggerated; Javed (Mahesh Manjrekar) growls, scowls and throws things around, looking more like a brat than a brute. And Jamal must face obstacles at every step; getting sheathed in shit isn't enough – his mother must be hacked to death in a communal carnage, his girl must be pimped out, and the quiz show host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) must thwart his attempts at making the millions. My wife put it best when she quipped, "It's like (Sanjay Leela Bhansali's) Black", where every conceivable ailment and impediment, and a stylized storytelling stifle any possibility of a human connection between the viewer and the characters.

You don't really know what to make of Jamal, for instance. Setting aside the leap of imagination it requires to see any Ayush Khedekar growing up to be a Dev Patel, it isn't clear who Jamal is. Even if you accept the story as allegorical, Boyle is too self-conscious (or perhaps too conscious of the poverty that just won't recede to become a mere backdrop) to paint a large, magic-real canvas in the unapologetic way that, say, Forrest Gump or the more recent Benjamin Button do. Unlike his counterparts from the American South, Jamal never quite becomes the everyman's voice of his period in Indian history; we never hear him telling us other people's interesting stories from his vantage point as an 'outsider' (h/t Amrita's post on Button).

All this makes Slumdog a half-hearted, comme ci, comme ca endeavor that wants to both be a fairy-tale and capture urban poverty but falters on both counts. I, for one, can’t see how you can hide abject poverty behind a “feel good” façade any more than you can hide rape. Can you imagine a sexually abused Cinderella finding her Prince Charming? Wouldn't it end up being a glossier version of a B-grade flick? (Indeed, Seema Biswas once joked about how many such roles she was approached for, post Bandit Queen). As the talk show lady’s gripe with Bandit Queen shows, a sentient film maker would create a film Phoolan Devi could watch and experience something of a catharsis, without feeling like a prop. Sometimes, the artist had better not be a predator. Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay was a stark but empathetic and grounded ode to Bombay’s slum dwellers (and the characters were complex, recognizable human beings. How childlike Chillum was; how Oedipal Chai-pau's rescue of Rekha!).

Reading reviews of Slumdog, you’d think the movie had some unique, far-reaching significance. Here’s a mis-reading by Anand Giridharadas from the NY Times: “It channels to them [Americans] their own Gatsbyesque fantasy of self-invention, and yet places it far enough away as to imply that it is now really someone else’s fantasy”. Gatsby, the writer forgets, ended up being shot dead in a pool, not kissing his childhood sweetheart in a triumphant “aww” moment. To that extent, Bacchan in Deewar and the protagonists in Satya and Johnny Gaddar were much more Gatsbyesque.

Slumdog, then, is at best an attempt to cook a saccharine dish in a bitter sauce. Unfortunately, when it comes to the hardships of the disadvantaged, I have no palate for bittersweet. If you have a sweet tooth, Karan Johar's your chef (in whose films, hardship is conspicuous by absence). Me? I'm sticking to Sahir's talKhiyaaN - that's Urdu for bitterness.

A telecom engineer with an incorrigible itch to write.
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#1
Dark Lord
January 24, 2009
04:37 AM

watched the movie and enjoyed it thoroughly esp the first half. The real reason i enjoyed the movie is despite all the shit that happens in his life, his outlook is not bitter. He remains optimistic throughout the movie. The only negative being the mocking laughter of the talk show audience at stupid chai wala jokes. I dont think Indians do that in public places.

>>what subversive hero would exact his revenge on the system by getting rich on Kaun Banegaa Crorepati?

it is not his revenge, it is his search for Latika.

By the way, u hate Clockwork orange and have not watched it.Atleast watch once before hating it.

And "Bunty aur Babli" dealing with morasses of corruption!! where did that come from?

If this movie had a bitter ending, you would have harangued on how gratuitous it was.

#2
anon
January 24, 2009
06:05 AM

Atlast, a review of the movie that makes sense ! I was wondering if I was the only one around here who felt there was nothing exceptiional about Slumdog.

#3
Aaman
URL
January 24, 2009
07:04 AM

Please do write a full review of the film, if you've seen it, for Desicritics

#4
Mumbai
URL
January 24, 2009
09:25 AM

*

Boyle has really done a good job with this movie. While the movie deals with the gory details of the underbelly of Mumbai, it doesnt really leave you with a sick feeling. The story feels like a commentary and at the end you just feel good about the whole movie. Very well done I must say.

The music score by Rehman is amazing, the actors who played junior Jamal and Salim were the real stars. They were simply too good.

I thought Freida Pinto was overhyped. I think she had just 15 mins of screen presence in the whole movie.

#5
PH
URL
January 24, 2009
11:27 AM

@Dark Lord,
"It is his search for Latika". Perhaps, but the subtext of a slumdog making millions is a form of 'revenge'...no?
You're right, I liked the first half better than the second one

Bunty Babli, IMHO, was a comic take on the small-town folk trying to make it big by hook or by crook - hence the "morass of corruption".
As for Clockwork, I said I hated the book, not the movie. Dont hav plans of watching the movie though - like I said, its my bias.

PS - In the end, a review is one person's opinion, so we can disagree:) Thanks for writing in!

@anon
Thanks! Welcome to the club:)


@ Mumbai
Liked Rahman's score and the junior stars myself. The movie just didn't seem right, all said. Thanks for the comment!

#6
temporal
URL
January 24, 2009
01:05 PM

PH:

speaking of books (That's one reason why I hated Anthony Burgess's gratuitous Clockwork Orange and, despite being a Kubrick fan, haven't cared to watch the film.) Q&A to slumdog millionaire was danny boile's leap but ram mohammed thomas was a big jump;)

is pixote next?

ps: watch clockwork...pls:)





#7
kerty
January 24, 2009
01:28 PM

"Q&A to slumdog millionaire was danny boyle's leap but ram mohammed thomas was a big jump;)"

Its all Hindus fault. Ram Mohammed Thomas was orphaned before he was born. They slained his mom before he could be born.

#8
Aditi N
January 24, 2009
01:34 PM

PH: I must say that my opinion of the film aside, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review and the discussion you created with your examples. Bandit Queen I remember was a film wrought with conflicting takes and controversy at the time it was released. When I finally saw it, I was just confused as to why people would have issue with the film especially since it only visually recreated true events. Even as a woman, in watching a woman being paraded naked and then gangraped, it was more upsetting to know that this scenario took place and still does than to know that Shekhar Kapur had put it in his film.

In your review I see an honest appraisal of a film where you haven't just dismissed it as "bad portrayal of India by a westerner". And so even though it was different than my own opinion of the film, I loved reading it. It is refreshing.

"Slumdog, then, is at best an attempt to cook a saccharine dish in a bitter sauce"

I have to admit, bittersweet is an acquired taste. :)

That being said, it is said that fact is often stranger than fiction and so on the streets of Bombay I have seen many a fantastic tale amidst the cruelty of every day reality. I cannot wait for someone to make a film based on Govinda or Jackie Shroff's lives. How cool would that be!

#9
temporal
URL
January 24, 2009
02:07 PM

adi:

you'd probably know them better...but there have been some big names who actually slept on the pavements before making it big...i recall only one name...naushad...

#10
Deepa Krishnan
URL
January 24, 2009
02:26 PM

What a well written review! It was a pleasure reading it. A winner, both in style and content. I hope you write more often.

#11
temporal
URL
January 24, 2009
02:32 PM

adi:

you'd probably know them better...but there have been some big names who actually slept on the pavements before making it big...i recall only one name...naushad...

#12
temporal
URL
January 24, 2009
05:02 PM

Objections to the depiction of crime, grime, excreta -- underbelly of Mumbai if you will -- preceding the release of Slumdog Millionaire reminded me of the brouhaha over a film made by ad-man Prahlad Kakkar for Mid-Day 15 years ago, during my tenure with that paper.

For the 15th anniversary celebrations, Mid-day commissioned six or seven film-makers to make a two-minute film on what they considered was quintessentially Bombay. I forget now what the other films showed, but Kakkar shot various homeless people attending to the call of nature along the railway tracks of the city. The camerawork was candid, the editing crisp, and the title of the film as evocative as it was provocative: Bumbay.

There were some murmurs of disapproval when the films were aired at a function at the Hanging Gardens, but these were soon dissipated by the brilliance of Kakkar's concept and craft: In a two-minute allegory in which he showed plenty of bums and agonized faces, he had held up a mirror to the disdain with which this city treats so many lakhs of its less privileged denizens.ayaz memon

#13
kavita chhibber
URL
January 24, 2009
08:51 PM

Interesting review. I'm going to try and see if I can send it to Danny Boyle.
I don't know if you've seen his other films but I'm going through all of them and it seems he has a great penchant for excreta. Just see Trainspotting one of his big successes and you'll know what I mean. I couldn't take my eyes of the screen and wanted to puke at the same time.

I guess it could be because people are either in deep sh..t or full of bull sh..t..Jokes apart, I enjoyed both the book and the film. It was interesting to see how he could make a masala film and have it so universally accepted the world over-interesting also that the themes have been tackled time and time again in Indian commercial cinema but never received so much adulation. So the British come to India again and become news makers :)

#14
kerty
January 24, 2009
11:53 PM

So far, most of the reviews critical of SM have lamented SM going too far, going over the top, going for gore in the name of reality. This is the first review that laments the movie not going far enough and not being a bitter dish - a case of Cheeni not Kum. But this movie works with its intended audiences precisely because of what PH finds as flaws in this movie. Would western critics gotten turned on if this movie had no masala or saccharine and only mind-numbing reality of grinding poverty? The story of resilience, revenge, beating the odds, triumph, jai-ho, hope, redemption, lost-and-found-love of the underage and disadvantaged underdogs always make compelling cinema. Its a tried and tested formula that has universal appeal. It works every time. And that is the flaw SM suffers from.

#15
Hardik
URL
January 25, 2009
12:07 AM

I really don't think it deserved 10 Oscar Nominations. Dark Knight would've been much better off in it's place. The sheer brilliance of Christopher Nolan has been missed out by the Academy Award committee, and they're famous as ever for selecting the underdogs.

#16
Hardik
URL
January 25, 2009
12:16 AM

Also I think I can safely say that if the exact same movie was made by an Indian director, there would've been no nominations at all. Because they don't give a hiney to what Indians are doing.

#17
kerty
January 25, 2009
12:39 AM

#14 The last line should read as:

It works every time. And that is NOT the flaw SM suffers from.

#18
PH
URL
January 25, 2009
06:21 PM

temporal @ #6

watching pixote and clockwork next will surely make enough bitter for the whole year:)
will consider watching clockwork. "hated" might've been an exaggeration on my part but stil don't see wht the fuss is abt

Aditi @ #8,

Takes a discerning and mature person to appreciate a different opinion. My respects! Thanks a ton for your kind words. Oh no, I dont think I have any greater claim to India's poor than anyone else in the world, so why shoot messengers? In fact, as i said,my problem was that it somehow reinforced the common falsehoods.
All in all, Bandit Queen was good (esp coming as it did at a time when Hindi cinema was ek dam insipid). Depicting stark reality is not a prob in itself, but "how" is where the devil lies.

You nailed it - those "strange" survival and success stories are themselves interesting enough and a simple film would do them better justice, IMHO
Good one on the bittersweet:)

Deepa @ #10,
thanks for your very kind words. means a lot coming from someone whose own discoveries of mumbai i greatly enjoy reading abt:)

temp @ #12,
"Bumbay" is hilarious:) No wonder Prahlad K was a successsful adman.

kavita chibber @ #13,
Thanks for ur kind words. havent seen trainspotting but did read about the feaces connection - for Boyle's sake, I hope he isn't into ummm scatology:) (somehow reminds me of the fat bastard character in Austin Powers)

kerty@ #14,
glad u saw something new in my review. thank you!
u're right, it is a tried and tested formula which begs the question - why the hype?

Hardik,

Agree on the Oscars. Havent seen the Dark Knight, but I'm hearing so many good things, I should watch it (temp,clockwork moves further down:)

#19
kavita chhibber
URL
January 26, 2009
12:11 AM

Interesting that many people say 10 oscars were a bit much, but I guess when you are on a roll, you are on a roll. The Dark Knight-I have to admit, each time ledger exited the screen, I found my mind wandering off, or my entire group whispering-when is he coming back-outside the hall it was the same thing..it was all about Heath Ledger, so keep that in mind when you see the film. PH will check out your other posts. is there an email address to reach you. I'm sending your review link to Gotham Chopra who interviewed danny Boyle and is sharing the interview on my site. Its a pretty interesting interview-out of the box and not the usual questions.. and interestingly contrary to the hype, most of the shooting was not even done in Dharavi-it was done in the Juhu slums

#20
PH
URL
January 26, 2009
10:29 AM

Kavita,

Once again, thanks for passing on the link. As for the Oscars, well they are the awards everyone loves to hate:)

#21
Anamika
January 26, 2009
06:57 PM

Thanks for this review - and glad you flagged up some of the concerns I have had with the movie. Meanwhile - and not really surprising - for a western movie "with a conscience" (funny how similar this story is to the Kite Runner one):

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/4347472/Poor-parents-of-Slumdog-millionaire-stars-say-children-were-exploited.html

#22
PH
URL
January 27, 2009
11:06 AM


Thanks, Anamika. Read the piece in the Telegraph. Am at a loss for words. And they were by far the best actors!

#23
Aditi N
January 27, 2009
11:44 AM

PH & Anamika: The fees that are paid to child actors from the slum are often taken by their parents and used as their own little lottery. People either drink away the money or use it for their own agendas. The child who acted in the film does not benefit from his/ her work. Hence a lot of production houses set up trust funds (without the knowledge of the parents who would otherwise explout the money that rightfully belongs to the child) and pay for something that benefits the child directly: such as education (which Fox Searchlight is doing). If you remember, this precisely what Mira Nair too did: the Salaam Balak Trust established for the child actors of Salaam Bombay.

There have been many horror stories related to child actor fees in India. Years ago, I remember reading about this little girl from the slums who acted in a popular TV series that came on Sundays (I forget the name). Her father would use up all the money the television producers paid him and the girl went on without an education to become a teenage domestic servant. She was discovered and interviewed and her words were "I wish they would've paid for my schooling instead of paying my drunk father".

P.S: To avoid these hassles, Bollywood film producers don't hire street actors/ slum kids even for the 30 second footage of a beggar at a traffic signal and instead hire children from well-off backgrounds so they don't have to haggle with the uneducated parents of the street kids who have been rendered greedy by their circumstances. These parents all want film producers to lift them out of the slums and give them an apartment just as that article Anamika provided a link to describes. In such a situation it is important for a production house to make the difficult choice between the child's best interests or the bad publicity that an article such as the one in The Telegraph might bring.

PH: As a side-note, I should add that what I liked about your review is that it critiqued the execution of the film and not the motives of the filmmakers such as a few commentators have.

#24
Aditi N
January 27, 2009
11:47 AM

PH & Anamika: The fees that are paid to child actors from the slum are often taken by their parents and used as their own little lottery. People either drink away the money or use it for their own agendas. The child who acted in the film does not benefit from his/ her work. Hence a lot of production houses set up trust funds (without the knowledge of the parents who would otherwise explout the money that rightfully belongs to the child) and pay for something that benefits the child directly: such as education (which Fox Searchlight is doing). If you remember, this precisely what Mira Nair too did: the Salaam Balak Trust established for the child actors of Salaam Bombay.

There have been many horror stories related to child actor fees in India. Years ago, I remember reading about this little girl from the slums who acted in a popular TV series that came on Sundays (I forget the name). Her father would use up all the money the television producers paid him and the girl went on without an education to become a teenage domestic servant. She was discovered and interviewed and her words were "I wish they would've paid for my schooling instead of paying my drunk father".

P.S: To avoid these hassles, Bollywood film producers don't hire street actors/ slum kids even for the 30 second footage of a beggar at a traffic signal and instead hire children from well-off backgrounds so they don't have to haggle with the uneducated parents of the street kids who have been rendered greedy by their circumstances. These parents all want film producers to lift them out of the slums and give them an apartment just as that article Anamika provided a link to describes. In such a situation it is important for a production house to make the difficult choice between the child's best interests or the bad publicity that an article such as the one in The Telegraph might bring.

PH: As a side-note, I should add that what I liked about your review is that it critiqued the execution of the film and not the motives of the filmmakers such as a few commentators have.

#25
PH
URL
January 27, 2009
12:31 PM

Aditi,

Interesting point about paying the kids as opposed to the parents - I do see the wisdom of that, and am aware of the Salaam Baalak Trust as well. Let me concede that it makes sense given the ground realities. Perhaps the gross inequities in remuneration are no more than is "normal" in either Bollywood or Hollywood.

As for your side note: I deliberately left out the "motives" of the film makers, simply because I don't know how one can be sure of such things in the first place. And I don't believe I have any special claim to India's poor or India as a whole. Being Indian and having seen slums day in and day out can de-sensitize one, in fact, and says absolutely nothing about understanding poverty. These issues are too complex to discuss here IMHO.
My problem with SM remains in the "how" not in the "what".

On the other hand, Anamika's point about the representation of the "other" in Hollywood isn't entirely vacuous either (Note: I stress - Hollywood - not every Western perspective ever. For instance, generally speaking, I liked Paul Thereoux's Great Railway Bazaaar. In fact for a long time my email signature used to be his "It is an accepted fact of Indian life: there are too many Indians"). And hers is, I hope, a gripe about the "how" as well.

Thanks for bringing this out:)



#26
Anamika
January 27, 2009
01:41 PM

Aditi, I agree with the general points you made, but as per the report, there hasn't been a "trust" set up - as was the case with Salaam Bombay - which makes the SM closer to the KiteRunner situation than Nair's film. The telegraph article did suggest that they expected an announcement of a "trust" made by the team once they published the piece.

Unfortunately, having worked with various foreign film productions in India in the past (I finally gave up), I do think there is an element of truth - far too many filmmakers are quite happy to exploit the poverty-stricken (including kids) as and when needed.

One scene I remember well was from Attenborough's Gandhi of the old woman with no clothes. Have ever wondered whether she was an "actor" paid to be revealed in her naked poverty to the world or yet another poor person exploited for awards and box office gains?

I am sorry but SM is the newest in a long standing tradition of very problematic cinema made by western filmmakers about the third world. To simply gush about its "artistic" merits (and/or be grateful for "Indians" getting awards and nominations) is to ignore the far more exploitative reality of such cinema as well as the very politically problematic master narrative to whose construction it contributes.

#27
smallsquirrel
January 27, 2009
01:56 PM

anamika... i think what Aditi might be saying is that there is a trust but that the production house is not telling the parents for fear they will try to take it. I have heard many sides to this breaking story and it is indeed hard to know what is going on. I do acknowledge that exploitation occurs, but I am not sure it has been wholly proven yet in this case.

And like I have asked before (in all earnestness), I am wondering if you think it is possible for a westerner to make a movie or write a book about the third world without it being, in your estimation, exploitation.

#28
Anamika
January 27, 2009
03:57 PM

SS if there IS a trust, there is no way the parents can take it. Which is what gives this story its momentum - if the production team/Boyle/PR team had simply said - "yes there is one," and the story would have died nearly immediately. Which is why it suggests that as in case of Kiterunner, there was exploitation, which will be remedied only as a PR device.

To answer your question, absolutely yes there are ways of westerners writer/film-makers to create books/films about the third world without being exploitative, although it requires far more subtlety and artistic awareness than Mr Boyle (or generally the studios are capable of).

The first criteria for such cinema is a recognition and acceptance that one is using, representing and/or appropriating a voice that is relatively under-represented and has relatively less power in historical, political, economic terms.

The second part is to recognise that one's own writing/film-making may actually contribute to the continuing imperialism (despite good if unself-conscious intentions).

Thirdly, awareness alone is not enough, and must translate into action: This can mean being aware of the ways a people have been represented, non- exploitative production methods, and also an active cultural sensitivity (for example this means that means that aliens should not be speaking kikuyu (ie Star Wars), nor Japanese actors playing Chinese/Korean characters because hey they all look the same, nor Latin Americans playing Arabs). These are all frought areas of representation.

And yes this will "drive up costs" but not nearly as much as one believes. The cost excuse is used a lot in all such controversies but its actually doesn't hold up. Its a combination of callousness, arrogance and lack of interest that fuels this, not to mention it is generally easier to fit in with western critics/audiences with exploitative cinema/books than with more subtle aware ones.

I would suggest that the Battle of Algiers is one such example of film-making that walks the fine line.

Another interesting comparison is of the "exotica" created by the "diaspora" film-makers. So think, "The Warrior" (Asif Kapadia with Irfan Khan in lead, set in India) with something far more culturally sensitive and de-exoticised as Caramel (Lebanese/European production team) or Khamosh Paani (German/Pakistani/Indian).

#29
Aditi N
January 27, 2009
04:16 PM

"To answer your question, absolutely yes there are ways of westerners writer/film-makers to create books/films about the third world without being exploitative, although it requires far more subtlety and artistic awareness than Mr Boyle (or generally the studios are capable of)"

Anamika, I won't argue with you. I cannot. I don't have your tenacity. But w.r.t your above statement, I would like for you to give me just one example of this above genre of cinema where "westerners have made a film about the third world with being exploitative of the poverty". Pls try and include examples of films that actually include a story about a lower-middle class man if not a slumdweller and a film that actually made a global impact. An indie-film that was screened at 5 theatres in Europe won't count.

The whole argument boils down to this: When I see a film, I see it as a film not a social/ political endeavor. I mean, we Indians, don't hold our government responsible for anything so holding foreign filmmakers responsible is quite a leap. I generally critique the execution like PH has in this above article. I don't care about the motives because I simply cannot judge them without introducing my own bias. When one starts scrutinizing motives then one is faced with these impossibly complicated scenarios of whether or not a trust has been established, whether the production company really exploited the kids, whether Danny Boyle is just a "poverty porn" peddler etc. These are juvenile debates that I cannot get into. I don't personally know Danny boyle and so to defend his motives or criticize them is beyond my abilities. Besides such debates are heavily influenced by what news report one is reading. In India, there is no authentic trustworthy news source. One news source says there is a trust, the other says, there isn't. I don't have the energy to find out because I realize that 2 trust funds for 2 street kids doesn't do squat. Therefore, in watching SM and other films, my sole interest lies in watching the film and either liking or not liking it. If the film were titled "Danny Boyle and the charitable endeavors of Fox Searchlight" then it might have made sense to debate about these matters.

To be fair, if your goal w.r.t SM is to make sure that the child actors receive fair remuneration then I see why this would be of prime interest to you.

#30
kerty
January 27, 2009
05:08 PM

Intent and motives are subjective, irrelevant, what matters is end results. We judge not by words, intent or motives. We judge by the results and consequences.

Now that SM has generated worldwide awareness and attention to the plight of sum dwellers, it would be pity if all it succeeds in doing is merely gathering few awards, fame, fortunes and trust accounts for the people involved in making of SM. To me, that would real self-serving exploitation of poverty and slums, if nothing more comes out of it. This movie should be able to generate larger soul-searching about how to improve the conditions of slum dwellers in general and how to prevent slumification of urban areas. We need to re-examine models we have used for economic development and urban planning that are contributing to slumification in India, and that debate has to be international in scope as India is following international trends in those fields. Not only role of government, but role of civic bodies, communities and family also need to be empowered so that people can take care of each other. What kind of safety-net people would have, should something terrible happen to the bread-winners and care-takers of families? Wouldn't members of such families fall thru the crack like Jamals and Laitkas, with no trust accounts to take care of them? A healthy debate in India would do them good.

#31
Anamika
January 28, 2009
04:11 AM

Aditi: "Pls try and include examples of films that actually include a story about a lower-middle class man if not a slumdweller and a film that actually made a global impact. An indie-film that was screened at 5 theatres in Europe won't count."

I DID give you an example of a film. And to call the Battle of Algiers an "indie-film that was screened at 5 theatres in Europe" betrays far more about your lack of knowledge about cinema. Watch it and you'll see the slums as well as the people who reside there. Its just not sold as glorified porn by the director.

The Warrior btw was the film that forced the Academy to change their rules on Foreign Film nominations and thus paved the way for SM (ie language in the film need not be "indigenous" to the country). Caramel was a general release film that did extremely good business. It did not have the hype or box office success that SM has - but then Spike Lee's cinema on racial issues has never had the success of that iconic racist flick King Kong.

Would love to continue the discussion but I think such discussions are only valuable when (1) the other person READS the comment, and (2) either has or cares to acquire the knowledge of the topic. And no this isn't meant to be insulting but we might as well be talking of game theory with one party unaware of basic principles of numbers.

#32
anon
January 28, 2009
07:41 AM

Its kind of funny when people say they wouldn't judge a director's motives but then go on to judge AB with comments he never made.

#33
Aditi N
January 28, 2009
10:36 AM

Anamika:

"Would love to continue the discussion but I think such discussions are only valuable when (1) the other person READS the comment, and (2) either has or cares to acquire the knowledge of the topic. And no this isn't meant to be insulting but we might as well be talking of game theory with one party unaware of basic principles of numbers"

The simple answer is I was typing out my comment when yours was posted :) So didn't get to read its content before hitting Publish.

If you feel that I do not care to "acquire knowledge" of the topic (which I take as meaning "films") then we have reached what I believe is called an "impasse". Coz I feel the same and it doesn't seem likely that either one of us will budge on our own very well-conceived notions about this film and the philosophy of its makers.

I must add that I always enjoy discussions with you. And I am not in this case completely rejecting your view. I do see where you are coming from regarding narrow and restrictive Western portrayals of India. I just cannot apply that perspective to SM; in terms of execution maybe, but not intent. Thats all. My opinion is that in the case of SM, that restrictive view was already created by Swarup's Q & A, and not by the filmmakers. I too would love to discuss this further. Especially since you have pointed out a couple of good films that I have to admit, I have not watched.

Unfortunately, if our discussion about SM continues on this forum we will unintentionally make way for the likes of anon #32 here who continues to carry irreparable hurt from my ~2-week-old satirical piece about Mr.Bachchan.


#34
kaffir
January 28, 2009
11:12 AM

Aditi, have you read "Q&A" by Swarup? And if so, why do you think certain significant changes were made in the film script, like changing the name of the protagonist; who raised him; pedophile Christian priest etc.?

Oh, and I'm with 'anon' about your "satire" - more like egg-on-your-face even though you haven't shown the courage/honesty to eat crow - since it's quite clear you didn't even bother to read what Amitabh wrote (just like so many others), and instead ran with the controversy that the irresponsible media created.

#35
Aditi N
January 28, 2009
11:24 AM

And there you go, proving my point is #34. This is what I'm talking about. I cannot have fruitful discussions with fifteen odd vexing comments lined up between the two relevant ones that don't have insults, personal attacks and reactionary bull-crap.

I feel like I am being forced to eat my favorite food while watching someone poop. The later can be ignored but is grossly unappetizing, distracting and somewhat tragic.


...Not to mention, it would break my heart to turn PH's thread into an Aditi-haters forum.

#36
Deepti Lamba
URL
January 28, 2009
11:42 AM

Aditi, another fruitful activity is to have fruits with baboons!

Incase of confusion refer to - Hell between the legs;)

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