Slumming its way to accolades

Enduring love

Enduring love

Finally saw Slumdog. Here’s my two cents (potential spoilers ahead).

The movie is good, but not outstanding. The story seems contrived. As a viewer, I’d be willing to overlook the contrivance, if the format was merely a vehicle to showcase “reality”, but like the bastardized Indian food most Americans take for the real thing, this movie is not faithful to reality. Despite the horrors of their life, the protagonist retains his unblemished innocence, and his love for his childhood sweetheart endures time, absence and distance. His steadfastness is duly reciprocated – their love is their destiny. It is this that makes our hero emerge victorious – the two crore rupees is incidental (he risks all on a flippant guess).

Some corruption is inevitable with age and experience. Corruption maybe, not of one’s action, but the loss of naivete, the acceptance of everything at its face value. Those who insist on safeguarding their innocence do so at the peril of ignorance and passivity. The goodness of our protagonist (Jamal) never falters in the face of evil, and they dwell not on the motives, or any desire to eradicate once they themselves have vanquished/escaped their own personal representation of evil. The scars on their person don’t seem to penetrate their psyche. This is not a display of resilience, but a hallmark of fairytales.

What about the enduring love? There are two ways to view the unrelenting pining over a lost love. Either it’s terribly romantic and makes one yearn for a similar constant, or it’s sappy and prompts scorn for the loser. I’m not sure about the criteria to determine which is which, but in literature/movies, one feels the former, and in real life, I often feel the latter.Part of it’s dependent on the evaluation of the shared bond – in literature, the underlying assumption is that the love is the real McCoy, and in life,  “love” is often a product of convenience, some calculation, sometimes desperation (those of us approaching our thirties with no evergreens in sight). Moreover, in movies/literature, the non-consummation is created by external circumstances, the world intervened to spoil the happy walk into sunset. In life, the split is usually a product of some misalignment between the two people involved, some mix of intolerance, immaturity, impatience, selfishness etc. However, in Slumdog, there is nothing to illuminate the depth of their love, and the single-minded commitment seems misplaced.

There’s other minor stuff that doesn’t add up. Like the blind beggar kid’s knowledge of Ben Franklin of a $100 note, that too by description and not appearance. Can you imagine the beggar mafia teaching that? Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply collect the proceeds of the children’s toils? Also, what government school uses the text of the “Three Musketeers” in first grade? Jamal’s knowledge of who invented the revolver by virtue of being present at a shooting, or being shouted at by his brother about some Colt 45 seems unnatural. I use the microwave everyday. It’s a Panasonic. I use GE light bulbs. If I was truly uneducated, and only learned things by happenstance, would I know the names of the inventors or just the brands?

I don’t understand why the movie is such a hit in the US (I’ll read a few reviews to find out). Is it cause it’s their first glimpse into the slums of India? For some unflinchingly disturbing scenes, like the one with the beggar mafia, which sear the mind. Or maybe, after the sorry subprime crisis, it’s comforting to see that that despite the ignominious fall, life is still much better than in most other parts of the world. Or that Americans can still be saviors, like in the scene where the young Jamal takes the Americans to show them the real India, brings them back to their stripped Mercedes, tires and all. Some adult Indian leaps to thrash Jamal, to be stopped by the Americans who instead give him money, to the ringing words of “son, this is the real America” or such. Ah, generous Americans, saving the orphan kid from his own people! Or maybe, it’s the snappy screenplay, the colorfulness, the peppy soundtrack – all of which add spring and joy to a joyless truth.

Front Page, Hindustan Times (Jan 23, 2009)

Front Page, Hindustan Times (Jan 23, 2009)

More than the American reception, what is particularly annoying is the endless fawn fest by the Indian media. Both Hindustan Times, and Times of India sported large frontpage headlines about Oscar nominations for Slumdog. First, even this were frontpage worthy, this should have been in the “arts” section, not our national NEWS headlines. Second, we cannot claim credit for this movie simply cause it’s set in India, and has some Indian people in it. I’m not being churlish. The claiming of that as our own, which we ourselves wouldn’t have produced is opportunistic and hypocritical. We don’t encourage alternative art (cinema, theater, television etc)  yet we fete anything that receives acclaim outside. Grow a brain, and show some original thought or two. Adiga won the booker, and now White Tiger is showcased in all bookstores, and pirated copies are being peddled on traffic lights. After slumdog, CNN-IBN is suddenly doing a story on street children. Their vulnerability is suddenly newsworthy. What is ironic that while we afford entertainment such prime real estate in news, our own entertainment is mostly very bad. The indigenous stuff is full of pelvic thrusts and wannabe cool. The height of our commitment to art is Shahrukh/Aamir developing a six/eight pack for the movie “character”. Our televsion is replete with all manners of disgusting conniving characters, with all the subtlety of the chainsaw massacre series. Our art scene is often simplistic. And the fault lies not with our creative people, but us as a society, where we don’t provide alternative work with adequate publicity or reward. Even now, as a country, the avenues for reliable monetary returns remain few, concentrated around engineering, medicine, business, finance etc.


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