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Slumdog Crorepati: Reprise

with 3 comments

When we saw Slumdog Millionaire in Nov08 in NYC, I came back unsatisfied and I wrote this post. Nobody seemed to agree with me. For weeks after, all I read or heard were people who continued to coo and gush about how fantastic the movie was. In fact, a couple of times, on offering a divergent opinion, my friends looking deprecatingly at me  – not sure whether they regarded me smug or stupid. Vindication came yesterday.

I noticed the now-expanded wikipedia entry on Slumdog which includes some reactions from notable people with an Indian connection – in other words, erudite Indians who know the context better than the band of reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes and can be trusted to say something intelligent in the English language. You know who I am talking about – my compatriots in this realization are Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Rushdie and some distinguished academics who obviously understand the sub-text of everything. I felt kindred spirits with all of them. Like me, they were not impressed. Salman said he was ‘not a fan of Slumdog Millionaire’ – from the dad of magic realism, that is hard-hitting.

It was even more heartening to see them make comments very similar to my own – I am tempted to believe that they were amongst the miniscule reader population of my blog. Amitabh’s comments seemed to have kicked a row – he voiced others’ concerns about the seemingly unfair depiction of India as a ‘Third World dirty underbelly’. Personally, I have no issues with the focus on poverty per se – I was more disappointed by the abundant use of Third World cliches and that’s my point of departure with AB. After all, the story demanded a good look at the slums – you can’t show plush watering holes of South Bombay in a movie about a slumdog. Plus, why be coy about what you have – India is home to millions of poor and parts of our cities are admittedly cesspools. Artistes have a poetic license to use social themes as they see fit – they should not be straitjacketed by the spin of ‘Shining India’. To put this in context, Satyajit Ray was once accused of peddling India’s poverty to the West – imagine if he had succumbed to the spinmeisters, the world would have been poorer by the Apu trilogy.

Anyways, such erudition has not proved damaging to the prospects of Slumdog. The marketing machine at Warner Bros. and Fox Searchlight has proved formidable. At last count, it was been nominated or won awards at more than 30 film festivals, including an incredibly smooth sailing at the Golden Globes. After touring the festival circuit and achieving a minor but solid box office success in the US, the movie is releasing in India as ‘Slumdog Crorepati’. The re-christening means that producers wish to ride the wave and are clearly aiming for wider acceptance in India beyond the multiplex audiences in metros. I am betting it will be a hit – Indians love an underdog story and they also like to reward anything that earns the acclaim of the West.

If it goes on to win some Oscars, I will not be surprised if the Indian government announces some Padma awards for A R Rahman and Danny Boyle. Talking of which, I wonder if two dark horses will find the fame they truly deserve – Vikas Swarup and Loveleen Tandan. As Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle came up to receive their Globes, I was happy to note that both of them thanked these 2 individuals who they depended on for their success, however their names have been buried in the accompanying clamor. 

The script that has won so much praise was a dumbed-down version of the novel ‘Q and A’ by Vikas Swarup. Who Vikas Swarup? Exactly – despite so much media frenzy around the movie, the underlying book has not yet got the press it deserved. Mr Swarup, who is an Indian diplomat based in South Africa, is perhaps logistically challenged to participate but the least the Slumdog production team should do is involve and invoke him in their own celebrations. 

Similarly, Loveleen Tandan, who gets a strange mention in the movie’s credits as ‘Co-director (India)’, did not necessarily get to bask in the glory of the movie’s success. From what I read, she was initially hired to help with casting in India. However, as time went by, Danny Boyle and Co relied more and more on her expertise to deal with the gargantuan task of filming in Bombay and its slums. Her creative inputs went beyond casting soon and she actually helmed the filming of several pivotal episodes. Which is Boyle gave her the unusual credit of ‘Co-director’ and also affixed ‘(India)’ next to the title as if the movie was also shot in Lithuania, Uruguay and a dozen other locations. I am saddened that they stopped short of giving her full credit as a director. Like the director-duos Coen Bros and Wachowski Bros, Boyle could have also apportioned the spoils of their success equally. However, this was not to be – Ms Tandan gets the short end of the stick while SM remains a ‘A Danny Boyle Film’. 

The only truly-deserving award at the Globes though, was the one given to Rahman. Since his debut in the West with Bombay Dreams in 2001, his musical genius has been noticed in fits and starts beyond India. However, the Globe is a good seal of success that transcends linguistic and national boundaries. The scores for Benjamin Button, Changeling etc were stellar too however, I can imagine why it would have been difficult for the GG voters to resist Slumdog. The score, which is always in my ‘Recently Played’ iPod playlist, is difficult to typecast, except that it is consistently high-energy and pleasing to hear. Each and every number is styled differently, yet linking into the narrative of the movie. From the infectiously energetic beats and humming of ‘O Saya’, the title number, all the way to the bawdy ‘Ringa Ringa’ (which reminds one of Choli ke Peeche & Gup Chup songs from Khalnayak/Karan Arjun), the score commands attention (and votes). 

I still believe that the accolades for Slumdog are a positive step towards global recognition of stories and sensibilities of the non-English speaking world. For the non-established individuals involved in the making of the film (many of them, based in India), it is surely an encouraging step. For folks like Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Rahman, the movie helps with international recognition of their talent.

In the end, my gripes remain few and straightforward:

a) I wish the script remained faithful to the source material and the story-telling did not depend so much on the credulity of the audiences.

b) I wish the screenplay remained taut and logical and did not slip into make-believe wizardry as the story progressed. 

c) I wish the media, marketing and production teams feted the writer and the co-director as much as they deserved to be.

I think the opportunity to make a cinematic masterpiece out of ‘Q and A’ is lost for now. However, there are several other great stories with an Indian connection that could translate into great movies. Let’s hope another talented director picks up one such project and is also backed by Hollywood studios that have an equally wonderful marketing finesse.

One prospect comes to mind immediately: ‘Shantaram‘ by Mira Nair starring Johnny Depp and Amitabh Bachchan, anchored by Warner Bros. I can hardly wait.


3 Responses

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  1. why the f***, anil kapoor keeps harping on jamaal being a chaiwallah (in a demeaning way), might be to enforce the underdog factor, but it leaves anil kapoor character in isolation – desperately needing some explanations, which never came.


    January 25, 2009 at 3:18 am

    • totally agree with you bhansingh….anil kapoor was wasted…i made a similar comment on his characterization in my previous post about SM….cheers!


      January 25, 2009 at 9:52 pm

  2. I’m so glad you posted this! I, too, feel similarly about the film and just wrote about it in my latest blog post. Kudos for pointing out the “no love for Loveleen” streak at all the awards shows! I’ve been feeling bad for Tandan from the get go and pointed this out as well just moments ago! In fact, I’d be interested in seeing just how much Tandan directed in the slums…I’d be willing to bet any of the compelling moments in the film came from Tandan and not Boyle.

    Check out my thoughts:

    David H. Schleicher

    January 31, 2009 at 1:38 pm

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