Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Finally I have watched the much-talked about Oscar nominated movie by Danny BoyleSlumdog Millionaire and it is a thrilling and grippy movie. Slumdog Millionaire is a good entertainer at it’s best, but not a great movie or worthy of the talks it has going on about it. Because the movie is too much Bollywood-ish in it’s story line. But it is not surprising as the director Danny Boyle has mentioned drawing influence from many Hindi films including Company and Black Friday. Priyadarshan saar – please note this, as you seem so angry at Danny Boyle, that the director himself has credited his influences before somebody else has mentioned it. Ever cared to credit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for Thaalavattam? Or… oops! I forgot!! There are way too many movies by you which have lifted story lines from Hollywood movies and made in Malayalam!!!

What is beautiful about Slumdog Millionaire‘s story narrative is the way the Q & A sessions connects Jamal (the lead character played by Dev Patel) back to his memories. It was a beautiful narrative to show how Jamal connected the game show questions to the events of his own life. But I think that Boyle did not need to bring in another narrative with the questioning scene in the police station. That was overdone.

Minuses and pluses

– The lead actor Dev Patel doesn’t sound like an Indian at all. At his best, he looks like an English man’s kid left at the slum in his early teenage. Dev does a horrible job of portraying the slum kid with his British accent which would not go away no matter how hard he tried (and we can see in the film that he tried hard). The movie shows Jamal serving tea in a call center, perhaps to add credibility to his British accent, but that doesn’t save him the embarrassment.

– I have one question. The youngster who plays Jamal’s brother does a good job and looks very native. Why wouldn’t the casting crew find someone of that sort? I am not blaming Dev Patel. I would rather blame it on the casting crew of the film.

– The game show’s anchor (played by Anil Kapoor) wants Jamal out of the show. For what, we do not know. We could understand if it was part of such game shows, planned by the entire crew, but the crew is actually happy at Jamal winning and the anchor is not. Why? The movie doesn’t give us a clue. And he throws him out to the cops at the end of the show. Excuse me?

– The blind beggar boy in the subway tells Jamal that the person whose face printed on an American Dollar note is Benjamin Franklin. So Jamal, who doesn’t know that it is Gandhi who is on a Rs. 1000 note, learns that it is Benjamin Franklin on a Dollar. I don’t really get this unless the director wanted to make a sarcastic remark on the globalized face of India.

– An Indian taxi driver of American tourists beat up Jamal when they find out that their things were stolen while Jamal was guiding them through Taj Mahal. The tourists ask the driver to stop beating Jamal and when Jamal says “here is a bit of real India for you“, the American woman says “here is a bit of real America for you” and signals at her husband to give Jamal some money. Again, I don’t know if this was about sarcasm but it did not give me a good impression as an Indian.

– The kids who have played Jamal and Salim in the early childhood have done their jobs exceptionally well. I don’t know how some international awards have gone to Dev Patel because some of the other kids have done a wonderful job in acting than Jamal. Not that Dev is a bad actor, but he couldn’t fit into the character and he ends up being a metro NRI looking kid.

– The music given by A R Rahman is okay, but not great. Except for some Sitar tones and occasional strings, it is just a work of ‘sounds’. It does not have much to represent anything Indian either. I am not saying that A R Rahman did a bad job. He did what the movie needed, because the movie progresses with music very well with it’s adventurous pace. But considering that there are James Newton Howard (for Defiance), Thomas Newman (for Wall-E) and Alexandre Desplat (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), I doubt if A R Rahman stands a chance to win in the Oscars and I will be surprised if he does (the others use full piece orchestra and manual instruments in their works). This is not to under-rate A R Rahman’s abilities as a music director; I think he has done wonderful works in Indian language films. Jai Ho is a typical Bollywood song and Rahman has done better songs than this before. But as a huge fan of A R Rahman, I wish him all the best in winning Oscars.

The controversy

About Amitabh Bachan’s comment on Slumdog Millionaire – I have already written my views on that in an earlier post in this blog. Even after seeing the movie, I do not see how the movie showcases India in a bad light. But it does show the two faces of India, which is a reality and not a Western made- up story. The movie also shows a Marlboro smoking low rank gangster and his boss who lives in an expensive bungalow and eats sandwich (and a film critic at Rediff says that it is “implausible” that a hardened gangster asks for a sandwich. So the gangsters do not eat sandwiches or burgers? 😀 ). It also has a scene where Salim points out at gaint apartment complexes and tells Jamal that there once was their slums.

Perhaps Amitabh Bachan was offended at one scene that depicts him in the movie. The scene where his helicopter flies over the slums. The image of two Indias come into picture here – the rich and the poor. Perhaps Bachan was offended that the movie makers took him as a representative of the glossy, rich, affluent creamy layer of India.

Overall, the movie is a fast paced, adventurous entertainer that does give a positive outlook on life. It tells the story of hope, dreams, love and achieving it all. But in it’s urge to narrate in a Bollywood-ishtyle, Slumdog Millionaire becomes nothing greater than a good entertainer. With the movies like Milk and Changeling to contest with, I doubt if it will stand a chance to win at Oscars. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy chooses to push a Gay movie (Milk) out of the Oscar’s way and push in Slumdog Millionaire instead.

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