Monday, January 26, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire****

It is very difficult to be objective about the phenomena called Slumdog Millionaire. The Golden Globes and then the Oscar nominations have easily made it our own Couching Tiger Hidden Dragon (no disrespect meant to Awara, Pather Panchali, Gandhi, Salaam Bombay, Lagaan and Monsoon Wedding). From my own worldview, the story of the underdog succeeding against insurmountable odds has already been told quite well by Nagesh Kukunoor in Iqbal, or even by Ashutosh Gowariker in Lagaan.

With its destiny-led story, happy convenient ending (with no thoughts on the after-effects) and a Bollywood style end-credit number (rather tame by our vigorous standards), Slumdog.. is a quintessential Indian film. What Danny Boyle (and Vikas Swarup actually) do to give it an international halo is getting the context of the Bombay slums right (just like Crouching.. had Oriental mystique about it)! Poor Amitabh Bachchan has been unnecessarily dragged into a 'poverty-porn' controversy by the marketeers posturing as journalists at The Time of India (similar to how late Nargis Dutt accused Satyajit Ray).

I am not going in to the authenticity of what is depicted (I felt the most squeamish when Salim was shown re-sealing a mineral water bottle, it questions an entire bottling and packaging industry). Critically, none of our ilk is in a position to actually confirm or deny what is shown in the movie. Moreover, as Hindi film buffs, if we start seeking reality in our cinema, we might as well stop watching anything made here. As I have believed, Tarantino and Karan Johar are in a strange way similar, it is just that they choose to give their wings of fancy in dramatically different directions.

Danny Boyle has been a celebrated British director for his cult-classic Trainspotting (have not seen it). In fact, before Slumdog.., the only flick I have seen is possibly his only conventional Hollywood drama (in the spirit of things, lets play a quiz: the movie stars Leonardo and the answer can be checked on imdb). Because of Danny's international sensibilities, and attempt to adapt the product to the local context, Slumdog.. pervades the best of all worlds, marrying the seamier side of Bombay shown by Ramu and Anurag Kahsyap, to the relatively rosier aspects of life as captured by Mani Rathnam (the obsession of Jamal with Latika is so Dil Se) & Karan Johar. If nothing else, Danny Boyle possibly resembles our most international director, Vishal Bharadwaj. Moreover, the cinematography used to capture the Bombay locales is superb (Anthony Dod Mantle aptly has got an Oscar nomination).

Performance wise, apart from Dev Patel (as the grown-up Jamal; taking nothing away from Dev, I wonder why they could not have cast an Indian actor for the same), no one gets sufficient screen-time to score an award nomination. Freida Pinto (Latika, the love interest) is in real life six years older to Dev, but looks good with him, and otherwise (in fact, the scar makes her even more attractive, and real). Shah Rukh Khan had refused the manipulative crooked quiz-master's role (he claims he thought the character in the book was modeled on a real Bollywood personality; I think because it would have been too much grist for the mill to see him villainizing Amitabh's avuncular friendly quizzing in KBC). Anil Kapoor took on the role quite well. He is especially superb on the last question, where he is distraught with Jamal's winning, but has to still congratulate him in a celebratory style. Irrfan Khan has nothing much to do.

However, the real show-stealer for me was Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, as the youngest Jamal (there are 3 of him in different stages of life). All the three youngest characters are played by actual slum-kids, hence the most authentic use of the real language. The dancing of the kids Jamal and Latika in the end-credits easily outperforms the entire grown up crew. It just goes on to show that in any walk of life, if India needs to actualise its potential, it is necessary to drag all this hidden talent on to the mainstream (Brazil & Argentina do this very well in football).

The single biggest contribution of Slumdog.. is to bring our biggest world-class entertainer, AR Rahman, on to the global stage. Illaiyaraja might be more classical, RD Burman might have been more evergreen popular, but the genius of Rahman has been to fuse it all together, and more. His first album, Roja, was radically different from anything anyone of us had ever heard, and he has never looked back since. He has probably given better numbers. If nothing else, his first collaboration with Gulzar, Dil Se, is easily my personal best score. Delhi 6 also sounds very promising (the other album he was working on along with Slumdog..). However, I am not sure the West would have ever been exposed to the explosion of varied musical instruments they got here. And it sure is catchy!

is a celebration of life, of living, against all odds! Jamal is just after his girl. Instead of using guns like in a conventional flick, he uses brain-power, to impress, to succeed. Along the way, he gives us practical life lessons, on secularism, on morality (his elder brother's character easily was the most grey), on keeping the faith. It just goes on to reaffirm my belief that no education can compensate for actual worldly experience. Jai Ho!


raj said...

Just want to note that Ilaiyaraja is not all classicism. He is a better fusion master than Rahman is. Rahman brought a new sound, credit to him and is a good soundscape artist. IR's fusion integrates the underlying forms seamlessly and retain the essence of both. While Rahman is a genius, this pigeonholing you did is unfair

ayush said...

its been ages since u wrote something!