Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Slumdog"...

...backlash?

Patrick Goldstein

Dennis Lim

Daily Variety

Lim's view is, I think, overstated (as befits a former Village Voice ideologue-critic) but corresponds most closely to my reservations about the film: that its splashy, exuberant style and the more horrendous scenes of poverty and child exploitation are a queasily awkward fit. This is not a political objection but a nagging doubt about Boyle's sensitivity. That doubt, and the central deficit of a somewhat inexpressive leading man, kept the (splendidly staged) finale from being quite the emotional lift off for me that it has been for others.

Possible "inspirations" I haven't seen mentioned: Rohinton Mistry's great novel A Fine Balance, for the scenes of organized beggars deliberately mutilated to make them more effective, and Anurag Kashyap's dogged docudrama Black Friday, for its breakneck, hand-held chases through the Dharavi slums. LA Weekly review here. (One of the sources Boyle and Slumdog screenwriter Simon Beaufoy have acknowledged is Suketu Mehta's excellent book Maximum City, which covers many of the same events as Black Friday.)

13 comments:

c said...

orchestrated.

c said...

I also think its despicable how the little kids that acted in the film are being drawn into the contraversy.

unlike brothels (a couple of years ago) these kids are actors in a fictional film.

the equivalent is is Satyajit ray was sued by the family of the boy that played Apu.

Generic said...

Meaning that's an organized conspiracy of some sort? By whom? To what end?

c said...

conspiracy? no..

just a day at work for some people

c said...

re your reaction to lim,

ww ! i dont think i agree with any of what you are saying..

^ i think boyle has choreographed the poverty beautifully into the story.I just think the second unit did this, not boyle himself.

^ I think the leading man- model is one f the few genuinely charismatic things about the film.

^ dont know abut the other two, but this film is NOTHING like Maximum city,which is a complex messy work of brilliance. This film is more like bombay dreams the musical.

Generic said...

Differences of opinion, all, except the last: not saying the film resembles the book, only that the book is an acknowledged source.

c said...

I think maximum city is th acknowledge source for even bombayites view of mumbai. (there's no way any one person can come to know the neighborhoods of 8 million people othervice.

however, simon beaufoy's quoting the book is IMO an attempt to gain some legitimacy for his screenplay from it. IMO, seeing as there is little real resemblance, he should stop.

You are allowed to differ from My Opinion, David. haha

Sambit from India said...

Scenes of poverty and squalour may appear romantic to Westerners and to our snooty elite but for us ordinary Indians they are nothing new. They are an everyday reality. However, one wonders what sort of mind can find such images aesthetically pleasing. Party-hopping socialites (for example, Shobhaa De after all her bombast of "enough is enough" after the Mumbai attack, went and watched a pirated copy!) who are distanced from such reality may find this film an "eye-opener" but for us it IS poverty-porn. It IS slum-tourism. The music/soundtrack and the technical quality of the film is excellent; but, overall, “Slumdog Millionaire” is unrealistic & overrated because:
1) The director seems to RELISH showing violence. Some of it (like the police-torture) is quite needless. And why was the boy arrested in the first place? On what charge? Was it realistic?
2) How can a boy growing up in slums speak such accented English? Even if one assumes that the language he actually uses to communicate with the game-show host and the police officer is Hindi (granting the director the creative license to use a language better suited for international audiences), there are 2 instances where it is stretched too far: (a) when the boy becomes a ‘guide’ for foreign tourists at the Taj Mahal & (b) when he becomes a substitute-operator at the call-centre.
3) When the boy uses his ‘lifeline’ during the game-show, his friend discovers that she has forgotten her mobile and has to run back for it. This is plain Bollywood masala! Did the director HAVE to make it so melodramatic?
4) How did the boy know who invented the revolver just by watching his brother use it?
How does his friend know about Benjamin Franklin (something which many Americans themselves don’t know!)?
5) “Darshan Do Ghanshyam” is NOT written by Surdas. It is written by Gopal Singh Nepali for the movie Narsi Bhagat (1957). This song is also credited as traditional and originally written by 15th century poet Narsi Mehta, whose life that film is based on.
6) After winning the game-show, the boy sits on the railway platform and nobody recognizes him! Considering the popularity of the show, is that realistic?
7) Two glaring omissions: To get invited to the show one has to answer several GK questions over phone or Internet. Even after making it to the show, a contestant can reach the hot-seat only after qualifying through “fastest finger first”. All this is conveniently forgotten in the film.
8) And of course the greatest flaw in the storyline: programmes like 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' and 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' are NOT telecast live. As a result the entire structure of the film becomes unrealistic. For a film that boasts of being realistic such a flaw cannot be overlooked.
The Academy will lose its credibility if this film gets the Best Picture or Best Director awards.

Generic said...

Sambit,

The specific unrealistic lapzses you're talking about are the kind of thing that could be pointed out in any film that takes dramatic liberties. (The sequence of events re. KBK was probably simplified just get him into the chair faster, for example.) But on the larger question I don't entirely disagree with you: The material that the movie processes into propulsive entertainment is too wrenching to be flashed up this way. The stylistic glitter makes me question the depth of Boyle's response to what he was seeing. I'm sure your feelings are even stronger

Also I think it would be a shame if these good comments were posted only on my lightly traveled little blog. The discussion is on-going on many sites in the US that are more popular, including this one:

http://weblogs.variety.com/thompsononhollywood/2009/02/oscar-watch-boyle-wins-dga.html

Thank you for you very thoughtful and passionate words!

Jared said...

Sambit's comment was very interesting, and it's nice to know some of the ways the film isn't as realistic as a lot of people think. But I disagree that the film itself claims to be realistic--I actually think that's an assumption being made by western audiences. They feel good about liking the film because they see it as authentic and socially responsible (I'm basing this on callers to this show) while they actually like it because it's a nice fairy-tale love story where the guy gets the girl and the money.

Actually a lot of Boyle's films have done this trick of dramatizing people's illusions and seeing what the consequences of them are, but I think he pulls his punches here for the sake of a happy ending. He's usually very good at tailoring the look of the movie to fit the type of illusion he examines--think of the bright shiny domesticity in Millions and the sublime, oceanic brightness in Sunshine. But here he seems to think that this means bright colors and pop music with a third world accent. (I have to agree with MIA's criticism here.)

This kind of examination of dangerous illusions can be useful social criticism, but Slumdog did not do that--in fact it seemed to be arguing that dreams of instant millions is an acceptable illusion. Jane Dark said it best--the movie is fun, but only because MTV doesn't show music videos anymore.

nitesh said...

It's strange to read Sambit overeaction. Bollywood rather the mainstream film Industry has always taken this liberty of making everything a fantasy. And if you point fingers at them, than they point fingers back at audience’s asses who love escapism. And they will defend to their death –bed for such films and tell you to forget the film inconsistencies- as if it’s their sole birth right. And they would not want you to criticize, since after a hard day work, a person wants to be entertained and not be bored with art film.

Not everything shown in the movie is a reality, but what are people harking about? Reality? Which reality? Every day and ever week they defend films that take reality to a toss? Filmmakers speak about experimentation that only can only be understood by them or realism as the new fad in Bollywood. So this question of realities are pretty baseless especially from Indians, it just shows our hypocrisy.

What SM should be treated as, is a film in the mannerism of Bollywood done with style. And many Indians had a problem with this film being appreciated world over and why not a Bollywood film? Well we need to wake them up and ask, “When did a Bollywood filmmaker learn how to use a camera?

And if people still don’t understand put 10 films, and show their shots side by side, all of them will appear the same. What will change perhaps stories but cinema would remain the same, and if one wants to see stories, it’s better to read books or if one likes acting better take up theatre.

And if someone here in India really thinks SM is bad film, please don’t pretend your opinion has anything to do with cinema.

This is what one of our cinephiles wrote about the film:
OF SLUMDOG

The film shuttles and functions between three clearly defined planes of story-telling – the police station, the TV Studio, and the experiences in Jamal’s life. The three are also a deft representation of the three Indian classes – the middle class, the upper class, and the lower class respectively.

The police station – The cynical, skeptical, questioning middle class. They cannot fathom the exorbitant success of the chaiwallah(tea-seller). They cannot believe he has done so well, and most importantly, they cannot believe that he has done so much better than they have. The proverbial qualities of people like the reader, and the author. We are either jealous, or we are cynical, but we are never really appreciative, unless ofcourse, the icon is so large so as to remain safely at a distance from our personal feelings. Then we jump onto the bandwagon. Yes.

The TV Studio – The studio audience. The upper class. The hypocritical upper class. The levels at which Jamal reaches are representations of the levels of appreciation they have for him. In the first half, they laugh at every snide remark, or offhand joke that the anchor supplies them with. They mock Jamal, ridicule him, and detest him for having occupied a hotseat they presume is solely meant for them. Then he begins winning. And they start cheering for him. They prepare acceptance of Jamal as being one of their own.


The Experiences – Mostly featured in as a series of flashbacks, they are summaries of what Jamal has been through, and how those experiences help him in reaching the level he is at. Throughout this plane, Jamal becomes a symbol of the Indian lower class, forever, trying to attain a higher goal – whether monetarily or spiritually. He is desperate, often helpless, yet hopeful.

It is also interesting to note the transformations in the second and the third group. The second is moving, emotionally. They are always in a state of emotional transition, and are mere spectators, but their habits are not passive. The third group, the experience, is also moving, both literally and figuratively. It is only the first plane, the police station, which remains consistent in its cynicism, even while releasing the prisoner they arrested in Jamal.

At the center of the conjunction of these three is the show host, gleefully played by Anil Kapoor, who as I can imagine, might have wholeheartedly occupied the position occupied formerly occupied by two of the most powerful actors in the country, a position he hoped for in real but attained only on the reel. He is a man who has been through all the three planes – the lower, the middle and the upper. At various points during the story, he represents both, condescension, cynicism and glee, at Jamal’s exploits in the game show, thus becoming, at various points, a part of each group. His is the toughest role ofcourse, and while Kapoor’s clearly not an English actor, he does well.

Boyle’s camera is observant. But it is clearly not a tourist. It is a generally keen observant. It is a robust, moving, curious, curious observer. It does not want to settle down. The trip is short and there is so much to discover. So his camera never really stops. It moves at a vulgar, often indecent speed, and then suddenly, it screeches to a stop- at the most critical of moments- when the hero and the heroine hug. Or when he just looks at her through the large gate, or when he sees her left behind on the non-descript railway station. The observer stops at an emotionality alien to him. It is a kind of sentimentality he does not see back home. It is a sentimentality that he does not have an idea about, but is fascinated by. It is sentimentality so typical of Bollywood, and so when the camera stops, not only is he respecting the most repeated clichés, he is celebrating them.

By placing them carefully and cautiously to convey the same drama that the Hindi industry uses them for. The crucial difference here is, that in his post-modernistic homage, he does not mock them, or satirize them, or makes fun of those clichés. He actually uses them.

The camera thus, observes. And it remains assured of what and when it needs to observe, often through unnatural cants and tilts, a dynamic he captures the so-called grit of Mumbai, and of Agra, and of the police station, and carefully uses mostly the conventional angles of the TV show, and thus opts, reconstruction over original construction, which would in any case, have defeated the purpose of using such a popular quiz show.

It is amazing how Boyle’s filming, and Beaufoy’s script (based on diplomat Swaroop’s novel ofcourse), evokes the most evident Indian icons – the Taj Mahal, the red-light districts, Amitabh Bachchan, the Bombay slums, Kaun Banega Crorepati, and brilliantly, never lets them function in their own isolation or function in their personal context. They exist because they have some relation to our protagonist, and otherwise, they do not exist. When in Delhi, shoot the Qutub, when in Kolkata, shoot the Victoria, and when in Hyderabad, shoot the Char Minar, irrespective of whether a character has anything to do with them.


He shoots in a style I personally can trace back to Jeunet and Caro’s 1991 film ‘Delicatessen’, which though, did not epitomize the style, but did initiate a few of its origins – bright, vibrant, radiant colours, colour contrasts increased to abnormal levels, and a fast, dynamic camera. Lately, City of God employed it masterfully.


The film does not dumb down. It does not feed. Why does the brother die at the end? How does Jamal achieve what he does? Why does the host write an answer on the bathroom mirror? It also is ‘different’, and it also recycles the same old clichés and uses them in a new template and thus achieves a result which our filmmakers are not attempting, and more importantly, are proud of not attempting.

c said...

http://rameshram.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/a-r-rahman-and-the-slumdog-oscar/

Lynden Barber said...

Has anyone noticed that Danny Boyle has this weird fetish for people diving into shit? Witness Ewan McG diving into toilet bowl to retrieve drugs in T-spotting, and the kid deliberately jumping into latrine poop in Slumdog (yeah, sure...). The audience I saw the film with thought this was hilarious. The shit on face scenes in Death at a Funeral got a similar delighted reaction. Conclusion: if you wanna manipulate an audience, throw shit their way.