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Movie Review: “Slumdog Millionaire” – Enough Already!

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

There are movies about India and there are movies about India. Particularly when it comes to dealing with an iconic city like Bombay (yes, “Bombay”… most Indians refuse to use the politicized names such as Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, etc.). Bombay has long been the city of dreams in India, what with it being India’s biggest city, its financial capital, one of the largest ports in the country, and of course the Hindi film industry is based there (“Bollywood” for the uninitiated).

From the time movies have been made in India there have been various attempts to showcase life in Bombay and even attempts at making the city a character in the movie. There have been movies about the rich, the poor, criminals and cops, politicians and prostitutes, businessmen and ordinary people — you name it, its been done in Bombay.

Enter Mr. Danny Boyle and company to make a movie in India. One guess where it's set — Bombay! Well, then he wants to make a movie about Indians and let’s have another guessing game what it's about — slums and poverty. And let’s not forget that ultimate cliché that is common to Grandma’s bedtime stories, folklore and bad B-movies — it is a “rags to riches” story with a girl thrown in as well.

2968978540_b3a8f207bc[1].jpg_v=0 by you.Well, it seems like one western filmmaker after another is out to “showcase” India to the rest of the world. First there was John Jeffcoat with his pathetic attempt at showing the software outsourcing industry in India with Outsourced, which received “rave reviews” and  and now Danny Boyle comes along with Slumdog Millionaire. Why is it that a movie about India is received in the west only if it is cliche-ridden and shows cows, slums, and general poverty (of late it is the outsourcing and tech support angles)? And even then, why must is be made by a non-Indian? Shekhar Kapur made a  really good movie called Bandit Queen and the Oscar committee did not have the sense to add it to the Oscar candidates’ list, let along nominate it. Of course, at the time, they were worried someone was going to sue them for it.

Hard-hitting movies about India, also set in Bombay, have been made in the past. Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! was a brilliant, gritty movie about a boy who lives in the streets of Bombay (sound familiar, Mr. Boyle?) and goes through more hell than what is shown in this romanticized movie. Manirathnam’s film Bombay was about the riots in the '90s and Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday was about the 1993 serial bomb blasts in the city and the aftermath. These movies about that city stand far above the lame attempts in Slumdog.

Let’s delve into the details to see why this movie doesn’t deserve all the credit that it is receiving. First off, let's consider Dev Patel as the protagonist, Jamal Malik. What can one say of a character raised in the slums of Bombay who can barely put together a few words of broken English, when those words happen to be in a British accent! He really tries to emulate an Indian accent, but it comes off as a parody of the Apu accent, and that’s giving him credit! He is far from believable in this role and doesn’t even seem comfortable doing it. Here’s what I got from Wikipedia:

To prepare for the role, he went along with Boyle while scouting for filming locations, where he was able to observe the Dharavi slums for himself. He also reported having had a brief internship at a call centre and working in a hotel, where he spent a day washing dishes and generally observing life in Mumbai.

Well, these are the problems with casting people in such roles. For a role such as this you either need someone who is a local and can understand the nuances of the country, the culture, everyday mannerisms, etc. or a phenomenal actor who can slip into a role with conviction and get under the skin of the character. Dev Patel falls flat on both counts and before you go off with, “Hey, he’s Indian” and what not, let me remind you that being of Indian origin doesn’t necessarily mean that you can understand the day-to-day issues of living in the country for a few years and not just a day washing dishes and working in a call center (that modern cliche for India).

Next, the script. Where does one start with a storyline that feels like it has been thrown together in fits of drunkenness? The main outline is that Jamal Malik, a boy who grew up in the slums of Bombay, needs to go on the television show Kaun Banega Crorepati? (the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) to find the girl of his dreams. As improbable as that sounds, what’s worse is that he is actually able to answer all the questions that are thrown at him, no matter how arcane or ridiculous they are. For instance, for the question “Which American politician’s picture appears on the $100 bill?” he is able to obtain the correct answer (Ben Franklin) because of the following sequence of events: He tries to scam some tourists; the driver beats him up; the tourists feel bad for him; they decide to show him the “American way” (another cliche, this time on Americans) and give him a $100 bill; he meets a blind kid who is a beggar that he hasn’t met for many years and they recognize each other; the blind kid who has never seen a $100 bill himself is able to feel the note and tell him Ben Franklin's  picture is on there! So every question that is thrown at him matches an event in his life and he is able to answer it correctly.

Of course, the plot would not be complete without… you got it, cliches! There are the usual corrupt and brutal cops, an egotistical game show host, the slums in the city, scenes with filth, people who maim kids to make them beggars, underworld dons, Hindu-Muslim riots and even a brother who only cares about number one. (How would Americans like it if every movie about the US that is made in another country showed cowboys and “injuns” shooting each other and showed the country as still being racially segregated?)

Adding to this whole mess, Danny Boyle tries to be “poetic”. There are no words to describe the lack of originality of the climax, where his brother fills a tub with money and decides to lie in wait for the don with a gun and then dies in a hail of gunfire (of course in slow motion and black and white) with the bills fluttering all around him. Well, except that a Tarantino he is not… not even a John Woo, who with two guns and some slow motion could actually create visual poetry. This was such a lame attempt on the part of the director to try and show off his “talent”. This from a guy who made the likes of Trainspotting!

This movie has just two savings graces and one of them is an acknowledged genius who probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. I’m speaking of A.R. Rehman, the brilliant  composer. The music that he has crafted for this movie is phenomenal, like much of his work. It captures the feel of the city and the mood that the movie is supposed to set. He deserves all the awards that he gets for best score.

The second is Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, as young Jamal Malik. He is perfect as a child growing up in the slums of Bombay. He has the right sense of innocence, wonder (for instance, when he gets an autograph from a movie star), cheek, diction and acting abilities to make him look like a natural in the movie. He is probably the only person in the movie that looks and acts his part.

After the Golden Globe wins for this movie, I am really hoping that the Academy has enough sense to not prop this up any further at their awards. If that were to happen, one would hear no end of an “Indian” movie making it in the Oscars and would probably scar an entire industry brimming with immense talent as they has to put up with jibes based on a sub-standard movie.

All in all, definitely a forgettable venture. Hang on, not just forgettable, but a "lock it up, throw it away, and have your memory wiped" (a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) forgettable type of movie. In fact, thinking about it, go watch City of God instead; it's a far better movie that seems eerily familiar (hmmm!) and was made by someone who knows what making such a movie is all about.

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About Sib.

  • Paul

    Stick to the computer science

  • Sibin

    > Stick to the computer science

    Oh, and why must I do that? Is it because I don’t like a substandard movie?

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    You ask “(How would Americans like it if every movie about the US that is made in another country showed cowboys and “injuns” shooting each other and showed the country as still being racially segregated?)”

    Answer: I would evaluate each movie on its own merit, rather than punishing all films based on my own overbroad characterization.

    It’s a fantastic film — not flawless, but fantastic nonetheless — full of images and patterns both familiar and new, and full most of all of joy and hope. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but most people definitely will.

  • http://www.valentineonfilm.com Brandon Valentine

    Maybe it’s because this is your first movie review published in nearly 19 months. Not that your random opinion isn’t valued, but some might say that it’s a little “cliche” to demote a media darling when it’s reached its highpoint.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree that Slumdog is a flawed film and that City of God is by far superior on so many levels (and striking similar). However, Slumdog is not “lock it and up, throw it away, and have your memory wiped” fogettable.

    By the way, I think there is an extra “and” in there.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Did they or did they not follow the story by “Q and A” author Vikas Swarup? If they did, then why don’t you take any issue up with him since all the story elements you have a problem with are his creation?

    The use of the game show to tell the story of his life is actually a very good narrative device. And the Americans didn’t just give him the money, they were paying for his service.

    What did you mean by “the Oscar committee did not have the sense to add [Bandit Queen] to the Oscar candidates’ list”? The home country submits their entries, not an Oscar committee, and from what I find online, India did submit it.

  • Sibin

    Philip, by “most people” you mean “most non-Indians”. Many people I know from back home don’t really care for it…the only reason there’s hype now is due to the Golden Globes and the Academy Award nominations.

    > I would evaluate each movie on its own merit,
    > rather than punishing all films based on my own
    > overbroad characterization.

    Unfortunately, you haven’t seen the flip side of it…most movie about the US, made by non-Americans, are NOT as I described them. That’s the problem with a hypothetical situation, I guess — hard to understand unless you are in there yourself.

    But hey, I’m just one voice…people are welcome to have their own opinions and like/dislike as they choose! :)

  • Sibin

    El Bicho,

    > And the Americans didn’t just give him the money,
    > they were paying for his service.

    I must disagree. After he is beaten up by the driver, the woman holds him and feels bad for him and then tells him, “let me show you what American generosity is all about” and then turns to her husband and mouths the word “money”. He pulls out a bill from his wallet and she gives it to the kid. (the EXACT words she said might have been slightly different)

    > why don’t you take any issue up with him since
    > all the story elements you have a problem with
    > are his creation

    I didn’t like the movie. I was expressing my thoughts and if my review differs from the others, well, then it IS my opinion! :)

  • http://www.valentineonfilm.com Brandon Valentine

    > :)

    “Enough Already!”

  • Sibin

    Brandon,

    > Maybe it’s because this is your first movie
    > review published in nearly 19 months. Not that
    > your random opinion isn’t valued,

    I don’t write reviews for a living. I write when I want to write, what I want to write. If a movie/book/etc. gets me wanting to sit up and write and I have the time to do so, then I may or may not do it. That has nothing to do with anything, fortunately!

    > a little “cliche” to demote a media darling

    Well, does that mean that I should not voice my opinion? I saw the movie, didn’t like it and then wrote about it.

    > By the way, I think there is an extra “and” in
    > there.

    I know…seems like the edits before publishing changed something…will point that out to the editor.

  • http://www.valentineonfilm.com Brandon Valentine

    Any time a barrage of comments (good or bad) are published to a post within its first hour, that’s a good thing. People getting emotionally involved, defensive, critical, analytical, etc. means that a fire of expression was fueled.

    Not since The English Patient have pockets of protestors of a Best Picture nomination/winner emerged in disgust. Even so, Slumdog is one of the year’s best films in the eyes of the masses.

  • Sushmita Das

    lovely post…i couldn’t have said it better…luvit luvit luvit

    Sush

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Sibin,

    I agree she may have overtipped, but he did perform a service showing the tourists around, and I didn’t find your description completely accurate.

    I understand you didn’t like the movie, and you are certainly entitled to that opinion, but to take to task the filmmakers for story elements that were in the novel that was written by an Indian author, which the film was based on, seems slightly misplaced. Where is your ire directed at Vikas Swarup?

    Pay no attention to Brandon’s comments because they come off as extremely foolish. How often someone writes a review has no bearing on the credibility of the author’s opinion. Quantity is in no way an indication of quality as many writers prove.

    And apparently you should have seen the movie and reviewed it before you saw it. If it wins Best Picture, it hasn’t hit its high point yet.

  • Sibin

    El Bicho,

    > which the film was based on, seems slightly
    > misplaced. Where is your ire directed at Vikas
    > Swarup?

    True, I guess I was only talking about the movie and should have written something about the original storyline. I briefly mention the improbability and the odd sequences of events.

    But a movie maker must still take responsibility for his creation, even if it is taken scene-to-scene from the book. He imposes his own interpretation on it and some of those interpretations I didn’t like. Added to that was the choice of the actor to play the lead character that didn’t sit well with me either.

    But you make a very valid point…my thoughts about Swarup’s book could have rounded it off!

  • Nithin

    I agree that the film was, on many levels, implausible and improbable, and that the choice of actors was perhaps a little strange. However, most of this analysis misses the point of the movie. Indeed, the greatest feeling experienced at the end of the movie is one of supreme hope and I think that it is this overriding mood that the slumdog team has tried to create – let’s face it, isn’t that the aim of most bollywood/kollywood etc movies these days? To allow us all to escape our mundane lives and experience something different, exhilarating, almost? To criticise it and dismiss it solely on the grounds of implausible storylines is quite hypocritical, if you are, as you seem to suggest, placing bollywood movies in general on a pedestal – only a tiny percentage of these plots would actually pass the test of realism…

    Also, I think some of your views are quite bigoted. Sure, the Indian elements that are part of the film’s make-up (and I’m mainly referring to Rahman here, although he has produced so many more memorable scores and songs in the past), but credit needs to be given to the director and his team for the mumbai/bombay atmosphere as it is brought to life in the movie.

    I realise that it is a flawed film for many of the reasons you mentioned, but to simply view it for its narrative is to miss the point, I think.

  • http://www.valentineonfilm.com Brandon Valentine

    > Pay no attention to Brandon’s comments because they come off as extremely foolish. How often someone writes a review has no bearing on the credibility of the author’s opinion. Quantity is in no way an indication of quality as many writers prove.

    While I agree with two out three of these sentences, how are my comments “extremely foolish.” I was merely providing a possible reason why Paul might have said to “Stick to the computer science.”

    Some (possibly Paul) devalue a “negative” review that exists outside a majority of popular reviews (at the height of a picture’s hype) as an attempt to attract and affront readers. After-all, readers enjoy reading a review that slaughters the art in question and then providing their own fanatic opinion as to why the reviewer is dead wrong. Think about it. This post already has more comments than the site’s other glowing reviews.

    So, before The Insect begins mudslinging with derogatory adjectives, perhaps he might consider the concept before jumping to discrediting others as foolish.

    Well put Nithin. Well put.

  • Sibin

    Brandon:

    > Some (possibly Paul) devalue a “negative”
    > review that exists outside a majority of
    > popular reviews
    > (at the height of a picture’s hype) as an
    > attempt
    > to attract and affront readers.

    Wow! That is quite a stretch!

    Btw, how do we define “majority” ? You mean majority *western* media and audiences ?

    Nithin:

    > Indeed, the greatest feeling experienced at the
    > end of the movie is one of supreme hope and I
    > think that it is this overriding mood that the
    > slumdog team has tried to crea…

    What can I say, but that I disagree? This review of mine surely must show that much…I got no such feeling. Only a sense of annoyance.

    > f you are, as you seem to suggest, placing
    > bollywood movies in general on a pedestal

    Ummm…where are you guys (Brandon with his conspiracy theory oe deliberately trying to draw readership and now this) getting these ideas from? I pointed out two or three movies that I said were good. I did by no means put all Bollywood movies on a pedestal (there is only one movie industry that I would really do that for, but that’s another topic entirely :))

    Btw, I write, as I mentioned because I felt like I needed to and I had the time…whether someone reads it or not is entirely up to the audience and not me. Remember, these are MY personal opinions about a movie.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Then, I’ll correct it for you.

    “Pay no attention to Brandon’s [interpretation of Paul’s] comments because [it] come[s] off as extremely foolish.”

  • Nithin

    > What can I say, but that I disagree? This
    > review of mine surely must show that much…I
    > got no such feeling. Only a sense of annoyance.

    Well my point was that you were perhaps expecting the movie to deliver something different to what it does (in terms of your *pre-requisites* of a realistic plot, authentic castings/language etc), but that it still is a good movie in its own right, for alternate reasons as I’ve suggested – it’s perhaps a bit foolish to hurriedly dismiss it for your reasons.

    Perhaps you (along with Amitabh and others) might be suffering from a perceived inferiority complex – that India seems to only be shown and popularised in terms of the slums, poverty, decadence and outdated, immoral practices – and while I see your point, people around the world are realising the growing might of India as a nation, in various fields – and while in this movie those very facets of the lower-class way of life are shown, there’s still an overwhelming tide of hope that lingers when the credits start to roll and I think the strengths and resilience of India and Indians is portrayed throughout. It’s definitely not an anti-Indian film…

  • Sibin

    > Perhaps you (along with Amitabh and others)
    > might be suffering from a perceived inferiority
    > complex

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…funniest thing I’ve heard all week! Some people and their “analysis”, and that too for the sake of a movie review which even after multiple attempts on my part to explain how “opinions” CAN differ, the idea just doesn’t seem to get across!

    > It’s definitely not an anti-Indian film

    Seriously, where are you getting these ideas? It is NOT an anti-Indian film…just a BADLY made film SET in India that purports to be about India!

    But I guess I can draw some consolation at being put in the same category as Amitabh Bachchan. If my review achieved nothing else, it at least did that!!!

  • Jordan Richardson

    I don’t know that it purports to be about India more than it simply purports to be about hope, poverty, and perhaps fate.

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    You said, “Many people I know from back home don’t really care for it…the only reason there’s hype now is due to the Golden Globes and the Academy Award nominations.”

    I don’t which “many people” you do, but I know the reviews on Desicritics.org, mostly from “back home,” have been largely positive.

    I also know that I raved to everyone I knew about this film the first time I saw it, months before the nominations, and I was not alone. Twitter and Facebook tell the tale! The hype for this movie, I can assure, is not “only” because of nominations; it comes in large part from dedicated fans, and may have led *to* the nominations.

  • Radha

    Well,first off I must say that this is not a BAD movie. Although the movie did not strike a chord with me overrall,there are aspects of the movie that I really liked. The briliant child artists, the music(Rahman has always been a favourite and this is not even his best work) and the cinematography being some of them. And I can maybe even understand why some people felt a sense of hope after watching the movie. After all, this is supposed to be a feel good movie.(Movies that make people feel good and bring a smile on their faces as the end credits roll are in my opinion very underrated.But that is a topic for another day)

    But is this the movie that deserves an Oscar? Is this the Best of the year? That answer is a Resounding NO. The reason is not that it is a particularly BAD movie or that it has cliches; we have seen worse movies and also at times loved movies that are cliche-ridden; but that there are far far BETTER movies out there. I agree with Sibin about the ridiculous casting choices and a very average, sometimes silly screenplay. The makers have done a great job of advertising the film and releasing the movie first worlwide(it came to India much later) was a masterstroke. It was almost like they anticipated the mixed reviews that they would get in India. It can’t be denied that reason for the popularity and meteoric rise of the film are largely due to the western audience and people’s understandable attraction to that which is unusual, foreign and exotic. I will be surprised if tbis film beats all other films to win any “meaningful” awards(But hey, marketing and hype have done wonders before).

  • http://www.valentineonfilm.com Brandon Valentine

    Love the correction.

  • Sibin

    Philip,

    “I don’t which “many people” you do, but I know the reviews on Desicritics.org, mostly from “back home,” have been largely positive.”

    I just checked the Desicritics page and found TWO reviews on there (possibly three).

    I must say that your above statement is hard to digest… you have read TWO(or three) articles on Desicritics written by folks who like the movie. I on the other hand know LOTS of people (both in India and otherwise) who didn’t like the movie. For me, all that “many” has to represent is more than TWO second-hand reviews which is all you know about opinions “back home” (you made a statement about getting information from Desicritics, not me).

    Now if one of the above authors had stated that he/she knows many people who like the movie, they wouldn’t be wrong, just as I am not wrong in stating that I know many people who didn’t. India is a large country with LOTS of people and just as many, diverse, opinions.

    Remember that I didn’t say that “most” people hate the movie. Even if that were true, I am not qualified to make such a statement since I have not conducted/read any polls or performed any formal analysis to prove that, just as YOU are not qualified to contradict my statement about “back home” by just getting third-party information from two (or three) other people’s opinions.

    Note: I have no problems with their reviews… that is their opinion of the movie which they are entitled to hold.

  • Nithin

    >Seriously, where are you getting these ideas?
    >It is NOT an anti-Indian film…just a BADLY
    >made film SET in India that purports to be
    >about India!

    Ah jeez, you keep on missing the point of the movie – if you wanted a complete and realistic account of day-to-day life in the Bombay slums, this isn’t the right place to be looking. On the other hand, if you’re after a heart-warming tale of hope and an unprecedented rags-to-riches storyline, with some exposure to the environment within the slums, this is your movie. The point is that it’s not a realistic movie – that simply isn’t the genre under which this movie can be categorised. By imposing that constraint on the movie, you’re missing the point of the whole thing – ultimately, I think your downright dismissal of the movie is quite unfair.

    Btw I hear that the Indian press/people aren’t taking too kindly to the term “slumdog”?

  • Sibin

    > Ah jeez, you keep on missing the point of the
    > movie – if you wanted a complete and realistic
    > account of day-to-day life in the Bombay slums,
    > this isn’t the right place to be looking.
    > On the other hand, if you’re after a heart-
    > warming tale of hope and an unprecedented
    > rags-to-
    > riches storyline, with some exposure to the
    > environment within the slums, this is your
    > movie.

    Nithin, to be honest you are missing the point of my review. While I did mentioned that the movie IS unrealistic, etc., I also DID NOT LIKE the movie for what, as you suggest, it is supposed to be. Even thought it tries to show a cliched “rags-ro-riches” story, it seemed to be a BADLY made movie. The script was full of holes, the acting bad and the direction left a lot to be desired for.

  • Vishal

    Ok I don’t understand what the big deal here is. Its a MOVIE for crying out loud. There is a disclaimer in there which states any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely co-incidental. I have seen loads of movies where the Westerners are depicted in bad light and these movies were made by the Westerners themselves. Does this mean those Westerners are bad people or that the US or UK is a horrible country? Of course not! Every Nation have rights on their own and they live it their way. You either love your country or jump in a well!! The fact of the matter remains that SDM is just a movie and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely co-incidental!

  • Vishal

    PS: Its an awefreakinsome movie!

  • Ali

    If you just let it slide onto you, it s an enjoyable film. Then once its done, you find yourself with lots of qs. Most of all, I wonder what wouldve happened if this film had been made only in English, like Boyle had first promised the studio? Hmm… It wouldve been very obviously totally unrealistic (but interesting) crap. Now the question whether or not its unrealistic is something I actually have to ask (not being a slum dweller myself).

    For me, SALAAM BOMBAY is still the epitome of gritty Mumbai, a story told w a very internal documentary style verve. Mira Nair and scriptwriter Sooni Taraporevala really got something right, even though it was their first film of this sort. And its stood the test of time, and has a place in cinema history. (FYI Taraporevala is debuting as a director w her own Mumbai-based tale). SALAAM BOMBAY was the low-budget, Little Movie That Could. The underdog that became the darling of the cinema world. Slumdog is in a sense an underdog but it was by no means low budget or as raw. History will have to see how it stands.