Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Slumdog Millionaire – The Most Over Hyped, Most Average Movie Ever?

Posted in Current Affairs, TV, Entertainment & Movies by Amit Paranjape on January 30, 2009

Disclaimer – I am no film critic, so read this review (more of a rambling…) with a pinch of whatever it is you take J. If you agree with my views, thanks! If you disagree – sorry about wasting your precious 5 minutes!

 

Imagine its early 2009 and aliens from a distant galaxy ‘happen’ to visit earth. Technologically they are 1000s of years ahead of mankind…proven just by the mere fact that they made it all the way here J. Yet they are completely confounded in their understanding of the human mind! After researching through each and every human behavior pattern and psychology, they still cannot figure out why these homo-sapiens are so crazy about this new hit movie called ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. And it’s not as-if they didn’t do their homework!

 

Thanks to their superior screening and learning abilities, they have already internalized all the great Hollywood classics from the past eight decades. They admired the depictions of space travel in Star Wars, the portrayal of prehistoric worlds in Jurassic Park, the history lessons from Ben Hur to Gladiator; and the drama in God Father. A simple love story that translated into probably the biggest all-time movie, ‘Titanic’ also aroused their strong interest. All these movies had terrific music, direction and cinematography.

 

These aliens have even tried (admittedly, with less success) to understand India’s ‘Bollywood’ and have studied great musical works of A.R. Rahman such as ‘Roja’, ‘Lagaan’, to name a few. After all, the language of music translates across galaxies J.  They have seen stark and realistic depictions of harsh realities of urban life in the developing world, in movies such as ‘Salam Bombay’ and ‘Traffic Signal’.

 

And now they are hit with this new challenge…How in the world (Sorry, How in the Universe J  ), to explain this phenomenon of Slumdog Millionaire! I and a few others (it seems for sure…) sympathize with their predicament.

 

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the Slumdog movie, for starters. But there’s nothing, absolutely nothing great either! An average story, with hardly any plot! Music that doesn’t even come close to any of A.R. Rahman’s better efforts. Cinematography that primarily revolves around some ‘slum’ shots and some ‘train’ shots… Acting is probably the only one above average component in the movie…but calling it great, is a stretch as well!

 

For this ‘original’, ‘realistic’, ‘unique’ and ‘special’ depiction (of an extremely typical ‘Rags-To-Riches’ story format) – why is the movie stuck with those extremely stereo-typical India portrayals? Taj Mahal, Railways, Call Centers, and Slums – this theme doesn’t look that original and imaginative.

 

There is so much hype; to the point where it is getting long standing ovations?! Is the hype coming out of the doom and gloom that majority of the world finds itself today, following the 2008 Financial Crisis? Is the situation so bad, that such a movie can ‘uplift’ the mood of so many people? ‘Look at the misery around the world, and you are thankful for what you have’ – didn’t some philosopher say something like that?

 

Or has India suddenly become the flavor of the season? Or, are the rest of the movies (I haven’t watched any of the contenders) from 2008 so bad, that the juries of prestigious awards are stuck with this one?

 

Well…just as those aliens, we would probably never no! J 

 

 

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  1. Dhananjay Nene said, on January 30, 2009 at 5:03 am

    I agree it is not a “great” movie. But to understand its strength one has to go back generations to understand a profession called story tellers. These “professionals” found in lots of parts of the world basically had a few stories and they moved from village to village telling them with optional music and dance eg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhavai . Slumdog is one which took one story and told it well in a manner which is quite simply portrayed. Not having any great story, sets, glamour, landscapes, effects or scifi, it just focuses on the “telling” part of it which moves people despite / because of its simplicity.

    To state an analogy, knowing its something many of us will relate to – its like a piece of software you just might be aware of (🙂 ) called twitter.

  2. Neeran said, on January 30, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I just saw the movie (in Hindi). I agree that there doesn’t appear to be anything extra-special in the movie, to warrant the extraordinary attention and awards! But here’s my speculation on why it’s doing so well:

    I think we’re used to such storylines in Bollywood, whereas it’s a bit of a novelty for the Oscar audience. And it must be a great curiosity to see a familiar setting (the game show) juxtaposed against a very unfamiliar background (Mumbai, slum/gang life).

    The direction is very good… all the kids have done a great job, and I credit the director for that. There are very few ‘established’ actors in the movie, and yet you don’t notice any hamming or amateurish stuff.

    And finally, I think the storytelling is done in an interesting fashion, with three streams — the police interrogation, the flashbacks, and the game show itself.

  3. Shashank Jogi said, on January 30, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    I liked the movie. Its nice, the acting is not bad, the storyline is interesting and the narration flows. The music is good, though Rehman has done better earlier.

    But Golden Globe and Oscars? I am not sure why. Maybe I missed out on something, but I did not find anything special that I would recommend it for the Oscars.

  4. narayan said, on January 30, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    i saw the movie a couple of months ago so my comments may not have a fresh top-of-the-head feel to them (which is what i think i hear from critics in india).

    i think there’s a simple reason why the indian reaction to slumdog has been so different from reactions from elsewhere: having grown up as a member of the middle-class in a suburb of bombay, i’d developed an instinct to avoid / look through / dismiss many of the things that this movie put front and center. i came out feeling quite uncomfortable because the movie made me acutely aware of the stuff that i’m sure was going on in my peripheral vision all along. (to give you one example, i was reminded of the one time i’d seen the inside of a police station when our bicycle was stolen. i happened to be there when a little kid — he couldn’t have been a day over 12 — was being “questioned” by a cop for what i suspect was some petty theft. i’ll never forget the sight of this big burly cop slap the poor kid across the face and almost knock him off his feet. i’d suppressed that memory quite effectively until i saw this movie.)

    truth be told, this movie featured the lives of people in bombay whose stories are told rarely in the movies, certainly not the way that it is on display here. i think western audiences respond to the irrepressible spirit and boundless energy that people like them in more fortunate circumstances seem to lose. and they leave feeling uplifted. meanwhile, indians focus on the depiction of poverty, brutality, and squalour in our biggest city. and we leave feeling dejected.

    i think if you follow this train of thought, you may well come to the conclusion that indians and non-indians are watching two entirely different movies.

    btw, i’m not sure i would be so completely dismissive of the movie. the idea of using “who wants to be a millionaire?” as a framework to present a series of flashbacks was indeed quite clever, not just because it gave the writers the ability to jump from scenario to scenario without having to offer more than a slim thread that pulls them all together.

    the script dove into a treasure that was hiding in plain sight. the worldwide popularity of the show — click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_variants_in_Who_Wants_to_Be_a_Millionaire%3F to get a list of all the countries that have some version of the show — is rooted in the gradual build-up of tension and in the eventual release in the form of someone being lifted clean out of their daily existence and transported into a dreamworld. the script piggybacked on that quite nicely, i thought.

    there are other movies in this genre. for example, there was a movie a while ago that was set in the favelas of sao paulo, another that featured a young colombian woman who worked as a drug mule, etc. i usually skim their reviews but rarely go out to watch them. it is because those movies offer no relief. slumdog was different: it showed that you could rise to heroic heights even if your circumstances seem to beat you down over and over again.

    btw, here’s a tidbit i didn’t know when i started to write this comment: did you know that the show is “named after Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, a 1956 song by Cole Porter from the film High Society which emphasised the desirability of love over material possessions: “Who wants to be a millionaire? I don’t. … And I don’t ’cause all I want is you.”” it seems that the movie went to the roots of the show and, in a way, went further.

    none of this says much about the awards. there are factors that play into that that have little to do with the movie itself. but i won’t say that this movie was totally undeserving.

    let’s see what happens in a couple of weeks …

  5. Rohan Paranjpe said, on January 31, 2009 at 12:57 am

    I think the thing that made this movie great was its simplicity. At its core was a love story, but the way the movie/plot follows is very interesting. I think the writer of the novel was Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat, so although the film may have been catered towards Westerners, its story is Indian. I was a bit surprised to see it as a nomination for “Best Film”, but maybe most of the movies in 2008 weren’t that great anyway.

  6. ashok said, on January 31, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    If Slumdog was supposed to be a feel-good movie that gives you goose-bumps when the underdog triumphs over adversity, then it missed the mark…big time!
    I just happened to watch [multiple Oscar winning] Forrest Gump, which is another movie in the ‘feel good’ genre. Equally unbelievable as SDM, Forrest Gump, however, manages to deliver the goodness effectively.
    Slumdog millionaire is too dark, too negative, and too improbable for me to enjoy. The freshness and acting of the kids was about the only positive in the movie…the rest of it was all predictable and cliched. Net-net: Rubbish! (AR Rehman has done a lot of better compositions).

  7. Gaurav said, on February 12, 2009 at 4:01 am

    This movie has a combination of 3 factors that makes it oscar-worthy for american critics:
    – British director/producer – remember that any thing “British” will always sell in America : Americans love British movies, accent, actors.. you get the drift.

    – Exotic locale : There’s a lot of curiosity about India right now in United States. This movie has a panorama of Indian images, some familiar and some not-so-familiar… Exotic locale ensures that the movie pops out from the crowd of other movies.

    – It re-enforces a western audience’s beliefs about India :
    I am willing to bet – Dollars to donuts that if they made a movie based in Beijing, focused on a Chinese woman who makes it despite all the “male dominated” eastern culture issues, it will be a golden golbe/oscar winner🙂. Folks all over the world love to simplify things, and India means 3 things for an Average american – Taj Mahal, lot of poverty and Yogis/snake charmers/Gurus.. This movie cover 2 out of those 3 elements and every one loves to see things consistent with their beliefs 🙂.

  8. Rocky said, on February 24, 2009 at 1:13 am

    Thank you! I have been utterly stunned by the reaction, not to mention awards, this film has received. I thought it was good, but certainly not great. I did not buy the love plot at all. I thought the lead was simply awful. His character is supposed to have so much strength that simply does not translate. I could go on and on in great detail but at the end I just simply don’t see how one can compare this film to those such as listed in Amit’s entry. Lets be real, people are taking into account the “rags to riches” life of the making/distributing of the film itself, in addition to the fact that it is a foreign film, when giving it so much accolade. While all of this is very impressive, in the end, it must be evaluated the same as any other movie if that evaluation is to ever mean anything.

  9. Aditya said, on February 26, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    So Amit my take on this movie is that it is not an Indian movie. It is a movie made by Hollywood for that audience.

    For them it is a novel experience to watch it and let it be upto them to award it with anything they wish.

    If we portray something random and different even we would win prizes in India.

    An Indian movie made in Bollywood is never eligible for an Oscar if it is an output of Bollywood. It will always be a Foreign Film.

    So why bother?
    They made it, they saw it, they liked it and they awarded it!


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