Slumdog millionaire seemed an excellent idea for this holiday season given all the favourable foreign reviews and awards as well as a jazzy joyous energetic trailer.
Sad to say it turns out a pathetic disappointment, just another moralizing caricature of India — at least Katherine Mayo seemed authentic, this has no authenticity anywhere besides a final Hindi song-and-dance routine which at least looks like a Hindi song-and-dance routine.
The young Brit Dev Patel in the lead role might turn out to be a good actor when he grows up but seems here to have been plucked out of a school-play and asked to do his best impersonation of Ben Kingsley impersonating an Indian person. The lines given to all the actors from India are completely and consistently hopeless – imagine a Mumbai-mafia boss coming home and asking his moll to make him a sandwich! Real men in India don’t eat sandwiches at home by choice, and a real Indian gangster’s moll would have had hot pakoras or kebabs and rotis waiting for him. Somebody needed to tell this Director a million little things like that, though you realize within minutes of the start that this is not supposed to be at all the real Dickensian tale from modern Mumbai that the trailer makes it out to be.
Rather it seems to be something intended to pander to silly Western stereotypes about India that come most easily to mind — poverty and bad sewage systems in the slums, Hindus assaulting Muslims, men assaulting women and children, gangsters plucking out eyes of beggar-children, tourists being robbed at the Taj Mahal, incompetent call-centre staff mishandling calls, gangsters, gangsters and more gangsters and every one of them cheap and worthless, not a Bill Sykes or Nancy or Fagin among them. Even the throwaway lines peddle Western trivia mentioning Benjamin Franklin and even the Edinburgh Festival.
We can only imagine how wonderful a real movie might have been with this same story-line. It should have been done in Hindi or Mahratti throughout with subtitles, and aimed at Indian critics not Western ones. Shekhar Kapur would have done splendidly though even the average Bollywood song-and-dance man might have done well enough.
Slumdog millionaire has practically no art in it because the presence of any art requires an honesty of purpose, and that means, first of all, no pandering to the audience. The slight art that exists in it comes from the street-children who at least run like the wind.
Postscript February 2 2009: It is amusing to hear it said in the American and British press that there has been a “smear campaign” against this movie, and one moreover that allegedly started in India. I think my December 31 review here at this site was the very first from India, and it had absolutely nothing to do with anything other than disappointment that a nice New Year’s Eve was rather spoilt by watching a badly made movie. Far from there being some kind of mysterious “smear campaign”, there appears to have been an obvious, calculated and paid-for promotional campaign in the guise of “Entertainment News” conducted on India’s influential English-language TV channels — without a single serious contrary opinion being allowed to be expressed. If the movie receives awards, it may speak more about the quality of the awards than about the movie itself. But of course there has been a general hyperinflation in awards all over in recent decades, from Nobel Prizes downwards. SR
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