Is “Slumdog Millionaire” the single worst “Best Picture” ever? But then, Hollywood’s critical sensibility has been declining for years….

What I said about “Slumdog Millionaire” in what may have been the first Indian review on December 31 was this:

“How sad that “Slumdog millionaire” is SO disappointing!

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.”

On February 2 I added a postscript

“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.”

Now that it has won Hollywood’s highest acclaim (giving it its 15 Andy Warhol minutes in the limelight), I am led to wonder if it might be the single worst “Best Picture” ever. I cannot admit to having seen all  the movies below and yes there are several real  turkeys among them, especially in recent times,  but I would have to put it right up there with “Dances with Wolves” and ahead of “Titanic”.

1951 An American in Paris
1952 The Greatest Show on Earth
1953 From Here to Eternity
1954 On the Waterfront
1955 Marty
1956 Around the World in Eighty Days
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958 Gigi
1959 Ben-Hur
1960 The Apartment
1961 West Side Story
1962 Lawrence of Arabia
1963 Tom Jones
1964 My Fair Lady
1965 The Sound of Music
1966 A Man for All Seasons
1967 In the Heat of the Night
1968 Oliver!
1969 Midnight Cowboy
1970 Patton
1971 The French Connection
1972 The Godfather
1973 The Sting
1974 The Godfather Part II
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1976 Rocky
1977 Annie Hall
1978 The Deer Hunter
1979 Kramer vs. Kramer
1980 Ordinary People
1981 Chariots of Fire
1982 Gandhi
1983 Terms of Endearment
1984 Amadeus
1985 Out of Africa
1986 Platoon
1987 The Last Emperor
1988 Rain Man
1989 Driving Miss Daisy
1990 Dances with Wolves
1991 The Silence of the Lambs
1992 Unforgiven
1993 Schindler’s List
1994 Forrest Gump
1995 Braveheart
1996 The English Patient
1997 Titanic
1998 Shakespeare in Love
1999 American Beauty
2000 Gladiator
2001 A Beautiful Mind
2002 Chicago
2003 The Lord of the Rings
2004 Million Dollar Baby
2005 Crash
2006 The Departed
2007 No Country for Old Men
2008 Slumdog Millionaire

Hollywood needs to look at the list and then look in the mirror (which it does all the time except it probably sees nothing back).

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

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The BBC gets its history and geography deliberately wrong again

Last September 27, I said here

“The BBC has unilaterally decided that Jammu & Kashmir has nothing to do with India.  On its 1530 Indian Standard Time broadcast of purported “World News” today, it unilaterally lopped off all of J&K from the map of the Republic of India (shown attached to mention of a Delhi bomb-blast). Usually, the BBC at least makes pathetic reference to something it has invented called “Indian-Administered Kashmir”.  There are senior BBC staff-members who are dual Pakistani/British nationals and who may be counted on to have been pushing such a line within the organisation, but lopping off all of J&K unilaterally may be a novelty. There are several “Indian-origin” staff-members too but perhaps they have renounced their Indian nationality, and apparently they have no ability to make any editorial protest.  Does the Government of India have the sense, and the guts, to call in the local BBC and ask them for an explanation about their insult of history?   For that matter, what is the BBC’s formal position on the J&K  problem?  The same as that of the UK Government?  What is that of the UK Government for that matter?  Has it remained constant since Clement Attlee in October 1947?  BBC staff may like to refer to my articles “Solving Kashmir”, “Law, Justice and J&K”, “Pakistan’s Allies”, “History of Jammu & Kashmir”, etc for enlightenment.”

Then on December 4, I had to say again:

“Ill-informed Western observers, especially at purported “think tanks” and news-portals, frequently proclaim the Pakistan-India confrontation and Jammu & Kashmir conflict to represent some kind of savage irreconcilable division between Islamic and Hindu cultures. For example, the BBC, among its many prevarications on the matter (like lopping off J&K entirely from its recently broadcasted maps of India, perhaps under influence of its Pakistani staffers), frequently speaks of “Hindu-majority India” and “Indian-administered Kashmir” being confronted by Muslim Pakistan….”

Well this morning, in its purported “World News from America” received in India in its 0530 IST broadcast (in a story about that dreadful British film Slumdog millionaire), the BBC has done it  yet again, lopping off the whole of Jammu, Kashmir amd Laddakh from its purported map of India. Clearly the powerful Pakistan lobby in Britain continues to affect British policy deeply,  especially  perhaps through the BBC’s dual-national Pakistani staffers.

I remain intrigued to know the official UK Government position on both J&K and the legality or otherwise of a UK public broadcaster distorting history and geography like this.

Specifically, I wonder if  modern British foreign policy  has, in  a nutshell, taken a hardline, regardless of the facts of  history, on the Israel-Arab dispute and a corresponding softline, regardless of the facts of history, with the Pakistani viewpoint on J&K.  “Accept our position on Palestine and we will accept your views on Kashmir” might be the implicit trade that has been offered to the UK’s powerful Pakistani immigrant community.

Furthermore, in the event the UK Government  and the European Union recognise Indian sovereignty de facto and de jure over J&K on the Indian side of the Line of Control with Pakistan and on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control with China, does the BBC, as a public British broadcaster, have any  legal business to be setting that aside and instead  inventing its own history and geography as it pleases?

The Government of India really needs to formally ask the UK Government  what its opinion is.

The organisation that presently goes by the name BBC seems to be  only very   distantly related to the organisation by the same name whose radio news-broadcasts  used to be definitive in my childhood.

Subroto Roy

POSTSCRIPT: But see now “Progress! The BBC retracts its prevarication!”

RAND’s study of the Mumbai attacks

RAND’s study of the Mumbai attacks

by

Subroto Roy  January 25 2009

The conspicuously good thing that can be said about the RAND Corporation’s study of the Mumbai massacres (“The Lessons of Mumbai”, RAND January 2009) is that there is no sign of it having been affected by the powerful Pakistan lobby.  Far too many purported studies emerging from American or British “thinktanks” cannot say the same.

If anything, the ten American authors of the 25-pages of the RAND text have among them two prominent advocates of better US-India relations.  This is helpful to truthfulness because of the simple fact India has been in this case a victim of aggression that originated in Pakistan. Whether elements of the Pakistan Government were involved is almost the wrong question – if some retired underemployed former soldier drawing a Pakistan Army pension helped the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s commando training of the Mumbai terrorists, the existence of Pakistani state involvement is proved. Commando training requires technical skills of a sort that can only originate with a military.

In Pakistan as in any other large populous country including India, the state tends to be a hydra-headed monster and it may be foolish to imagine instead a rational, unified, well-informed or even a benevolent political entity.  State involvement in Pakistan, India, China or elsewhere is something hard to isolate when there is so much mixing of private and public property or misuse of resources arising from the public exchequer.

What Pakistan’s PR campaign has done after Mumbai is not so much raise the Kashmir dispute as to obfuscate things by shedding crocodile tears and pretending to share victimhood saying, oh we sympathise with you but please sympathise with us too as we have been victims of even bigger terrorist attacks by the same kind of people, we have lost Benazir, we have lost many more people than you have, therefore  cooperate with us and we will try to do what we can to help you in this matter.  English-speaking liberals educated at places like Karachi Grammar School have then appeared on Indian TV stations (owned by Delhi people from places like Doon School) purporting to represent Pakistan on “the Mumbai incident”; none of them can have much credibility because the real India-haters in Pakistan might cheerfully make them murder victims too given half a chance.

The RAND study deserves credit for avoiding all misleading Pakistani rhetoric about the Mumbai massacres and at least intending to try to get to the bottom of things in a systematic manner.  Beyond that, unfortunately, it has made logical and factual and methodological errors which cause it to fail to do so.

The key logical error made by the RAND authors arises from combining a central front-page statement

“Evidence suggests Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group based in Pakistan, was responsible for the attack”

with assertive suggestions about Mumbai’s police being backward, incompetent, cowardly etc (“passive”).  Yet how precisely did evidence about LeT culpability come to light?  Only because Mumbai’s police and the Railway police engaged, injured and then captured Kasab using their antiquated equipment the best they could.  There is no evidence of police cowardice at CST Station; to the contrary, it took courage to aim .303’s at adversaries firing back with assault rifles.  Kasab received his first hand injury there. ATS Chief Karkare and his fellow-officers may seem foolhardy in hindsight to have been driving in the same vehicle but they did engage their unknown enemy immediately they could and died doing so, crippling Kasab badly enough that he could be captured in due course at Chowpatty.  [Correction: it appears that though Kasab was fired upon by the police at CST Station  he  received both his hand injuries from the firing by the ATS squad.] And the Chowpatty police action showed obvious bravery in absorbing injury and death in order to kill Ishmail and capture Kasab.  (Kasab, among the youngest, had been paired with Ishmail, the apparent leader of the group.)

Furthermore, Kasab upon capture was treated humanely and lawfully.  His injuries were treated, he was produced before a magistrate within a week who asked him if he was being mistreated to which he said no.  Slumdog millionaire may get undeserved Oscars portraying torture of a British actor by Mumbai police but it is ridiculous fiction – Kasab the captured Pakistani terrorist mass murderer was not tortured by Mumbai’s police.

Contrast such Indian police behaviour with the “enhanced interrogation techniques” the Bush Administration used with negative results in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib – which President Obama has now started to end.  Kasab, an ignorant misguided youth, was grateful enough for the humane and civilized treatment to start singing like the proverbial canary.  The result of that has been precisely all the evidence the Government of India has now presented to the world and Pakistan about the LeT’s culpability.

As for the anti-terrorist actions of the Indian Army, Navy and NSG, the RAND study is right to point to multitudinous errors and it is useful to have these listed in orderly fashion.  But many of these errors were obvious to millions of lay Indian citizens who watched events on TV.  The central fault was the scarcity of trained NSG officers and men, and the failure to apply standard emergency management protocols.

The RAND study, by relying overly on government sources, has failed to point to what ordinary Indian citizens already know – the NSG is being utterly wasted protecting our politicians.  India has no proper equivalent of the US “Secret Service”, and even if we did, we would probably waste that by spreading it too thinly among politicians.  As it happens if almost any politician in India today did happen to be unfortunately assassinated, the main mourners would be family-members and not the general Indian public.  Despite politicians constituting rather “low-value targets” for terrorists, India’s scarce anti-terrorist and police resources have been misallocated to protecting them.

Finally, the RAND study makes the lazy-man’s methodological error of supposing outfits like the LeT think and behave in a manner explicable by American political science textbooks, or ought to do so.  What Western analysts may need to do instead is learn from the old Arabist and Orientalist traditions of how to think and see the world from Eastern points of view.    But that may require greater self-knowledge than the modern world tends to permit.

Postscript:

My December 6 2008 analysisA Quick Comparison Between the September 11 2001 NYC-Washington attacks and the November 26-28 2008 Mumbai Massacres (An Application of the Case-by-Case Philosophical  Technique of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough)” is republished below.  I have corrected “Rome Airport” with “Lod Airport” on the basis of  reading the RAND report, though may not have received the courtesy of aknowledement for the reminder of the  Japanese Red Army attack.

 

“In my book Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, 1989) and in my August 24  2004 public lecture  in England  “Science,  Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, both available elsewhere here, I described the “case-by-case” philosophical technique recommended by Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough.  (Bambrough had also shown a common root in the work of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.)   Herewith an application of the technique to a contemporary problem that shows the “family resemblance” between two modern terrorist attacks, the September 11 2001 attack on New York and Washington and the Mumbai massacres last week.

Similarity:  In both, a gang of motivated youthful terrorists acted as a team against multiple targets; their willingness to accept  suicide while indulging in mass-murder may have, bizarrely enough, brought a sense of adventure and meaning to otherwise empty lives.

Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, Mohammad Atta seemed to have been a single predominant leader while each of the others also had complex active roles requiring decisions, like piloting and navigating hijacked jumbo-jets.  In the Mumbai massacres, the training and leadership apparently came from outside the team before and even during the operation  – almost as if the team were acting like brainwashed robots under long-distance control.

Similarity:  Both attacks required a long prior period of training and planning.

Difference: The 9/11 attacks did not require commando-training imparted by military-style trainers; the Mumbai massacres did.

Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, the actual weapons used initially were primitive, like box-cutters; in the Mumbai massacres, assault rifles and grenades were used along with sophisticated telecommunications equipment.

Difference: In 9/11, the initial targets, the hijacked aircraft, were themselves made into weapons against the ultimate targets, namely the buildings, in a way not seen before.  In the Mumbai massacres, mass-shooting of terrorized civilians was hardly something original; besides theatres of war, the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Japanese Red Army used these in the 1970s as terrorist techniques (e.g. at Rome Airport  Lod Airport; Postscript January 26 2009: I make this correction after reading and commenting on the RAND study which unfortunately  did not have the courtesy of acknowledging my December 6 2008 analysis) plus there were, more recently, the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres.

Similarity: In both cases, Hollywood and other movie scripts could have inspired the initial ideas of techniques to be  used.

Similarity: In both cases, the weapons used were appropriate to the anticipated state of defence: nothing more than box-cutters could be expected to get by normal airport security; assault rifles etc could come in by the unguarded sea and attack soft targets in Mumbai.  (Incidentally, even this elementary example of strategic thinking  in a practical situation may be beyond the analytical capacity contained in the tons of waste paper produced at American and other modern university Economics departments under the rubric of  “game theory”.)

Similarity: In both cases, a high-level of widespread fear was induced for several days or more within a targeted nation-state by a small number of people.

Similarity: No ransom-like demands were made by the terrorists in either case.

Similarity: Had the single terrorist not been captured alive in the Mumbai massacres, there would have been little trace left by the attackers.

Difference: The 9/11 attackers knew definitely they were on suicide-missions; the Mumbai attackers may not have done and may have imagined an escape route.”

SEE ALSO

https://independentindian.com/2009/11/26/did-civil-military-conflict-contribute-to-the-2611-destruction/
https://independentindian.com/2009/11/26/on-decision-making-in-terrorist-hostage-situations/

How sad that “Slumdog millionaire” is SO disappointing!

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.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

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

Post-Oscar Postscript: Is Slumdog Millionaire the single worst “Best Picture” ever?