Posts Tagged ‘Slumdog Millionaire’

It has been a special year for India. At competitive international events, where all these years, India was nowhere in the race.

First it was the Olympics. Where, we have forgotten how to win a hockey medal for years. And where other than hockey, India was not even in the consideration for any medals.

And where in 2008, out of nowhere, India picked up not one, not two, but THREE medals! It was quite unbelievable. For sports like shooting or boxing or wrestling were never considered to be India’s forte. It is one thing to be in consideration once ina while, at the Asian Games or at the Commonwealth Games. But at the Olympics, we were not even in consideration. And then, to come from nowhere, and pick up three medals was quite awesome.

Likewise now, at the Oscars (whatever Amitabh Bacchan might think of these, the Oscars are truly a global recognition in the world of cinema, and they reign supreme in stature), our best hope used to be that one Oscar for the best foreign film. And the country would be going gaga over a Lagaan making it to the final round.

And then, from nowhere, we had this international film with an India theme, Slumdog Millionaire. And in which many Indian artists had a role to play. And no less than 3 of them were annointed as winners at the Oscars earlier today. A R Rahman, Gulzar and Resul. With Rahman getting TWO Oscards in fact.

And if that was not enough, in the documentary film section, there was another Indian winner for the film, Smile Pinki.

So it was a great day for India.

India has come of age and there will be many more winners to follow these few now. Cheers! Jai Ho…

Slumdog Millionaire, although an India focused story, released in India much after it’s international release.

By this time, it had already won Golden Globe awards. It had already become one of the high grossers of the year. And it had already been nominated for 10 Oscars.

Given this backdrop, when I walked into the cinema hall to see it yesterday, I carried with me, a helluva lot of expectations. And I was sure that the expectations will be belied. They usually are, when they hype is so much.

So here’s my take on the film.

Yes, certainly a nice story, well depicted. An underdog’s tale is an age old formula milked by many a filmmaker, and the audience always laps it up. As it did this one. Born is abject poverty, in Mumbai slums, can life get worse? Yes, it did. When the mother dies in the communal riots, their ‘slum house’ is burnt down, and all that the two brothers have, are each other. That they remain cool and calm, and not cry their guts out in self-pity, is perhaps an indicator of life in the trenches, in poverty of that kind. Which is something that perhaps, more fortunate people like us, may never identify with. A typical Ekta Kapoor soap opera would have dragged the scene of a mother dying in this manner, over 4 episodes at least, with white clothes galore, and tons of glycerine used in tears, and sharp close ups of ladies with teary eyes and what not.

In SDM, life carries on. Beyond crying for mom, there is a life to live. There is survival at stake. The same ‘selfish’ survival attitude is seen at least on couple of other occasions. Once, when the brothers after trying hard to get their third musketeer girlfriend to join them inside a running train, don’t manage it. They don’t dramatize and come back to the scene of risk again. They feel bad, but they move on (well, the ‘hero’ returns later.. that’s different). Likewise, the elder brother, gets a break to move into the higher echelons of the crime world, and better prosperity, and chooses to move on. If his brother does not come, or is languishing somewhere, too bad. Each one’s to fend for himself, in this ‘real world’ that many of us don’t have a clue about.

Nor is there over dramatization of the communal feel. That their mother died at the hands of another community’s rioters was accepted by the kids as an incidental happening. In today’s terror spewn world, I suspect that the Gen Y feels quite like that. Or close to that. Like we Gen-Xers might have thought about Cancer. That it’s tough. But it happens. And we can’t help it. And we must move on. Does Gen Y feel like that, about terrorism? I wonder…

The story shows how events leave an indelible mark. In the film, these marks come back by sheer coincidence, as answers to the millionaire contest questions. The larger understanding that I take, is that events that have left a mark, shape your destiny for sure. In one or another way.

When I used to see young kids coming out at traffic signals in Mumbai, and selling interesting bits, and I could see a perfect sales person in them, I had admired their enterprise and their amazing survival instincts. In fact, I had dedicated a post to them, many months back!!

Those same survival instincts are shown to the fore here. Hanging on for dear life on top of running trains. Taking on local hoodlums, standing across of them, with a revolver in hand, and realizing that they will never forgive, even going ahead and killing them. Finding a way to sell wares in trains, becoming an impromptu guide for the Taj Mahal on the view of a dollar bill, and such other incidents, showcase the same fearlessness, from the characters. And I am sure these exist in abundance, in any street kid of their type, found in ample numbers on the streets of Mumbai.

The learnings on the street, the daily survival grind against enemies known and unknown, prepares the hero well. At the crunch time, in the Millionaire contest, when the celebrity anchor pretends to assist him out of sympathy, the hero knows. Whether to trust or not! That judgement has come out of the hard grind on the survival mills.

In terms of the cast, first the desi ‘stars’. Irfan Khan, the wonderful talent that he is, has not much to do. And he does that well 🙂 Likewise, another great, underrated talent, Saurabh Shukla, the pot bellied cop, is decent in the small role that he has. Anil Kapoor is the one ‘miss’ in the film. He just does not get the role as the anchor of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He is too subdued, too casual. I think the show, at least from what we have seen of it, in its Indian versions, has a lot of drama, a lot of poise, and where the anchor is the real star. His pauses, his sudden outbursts, his loud emphasis on the word, “Millionaire’ (Karodpati in India) are what make the show, the show. Anil Kapoor, in spite of having such excellent reference points to see in Amitabh Bacchan and Shah Rukh Khan as anchors, does not deliver well. Freida Pinto, for all the acclaim that she is getting, again has a small role. Madhur Mittal, as Salim, is again not a powerful portrayal. He is okay. Could have done a lot better. And which leaves Dev Patel as the protagonist. He does a sincere job, conveys the innocence as well as the street smartness, the fear as well as his love, equally well. Still, from an Oscar nominated film, I cannot even mention Dev Patel and Tom Hanks together, in the same sentence. Dev Patel’s is a good debut performance, and one can see hope of a great actor emerging. Period. Golden Globe worthy?? I wonder.. !

All in all, all these make for a fascinating story, and an enjoyable 2.5 hours in the seat.

But…

Yeah, there is always a ‘but’!

But…

  • The expectations that I carried were more than a good story, well rendered. I was looking for exceptional scenes, exceptional acting, inspirational ideas. I did not really see them.
  • I was looking for some incredible music compositions for warranting 3 Oscar nominations for A R Rahman. Well, there was good music, but I have obviously heard so much better stuff from A R Rahman.
  • I was looking for material justifying TEN Oscar nominations. No, I really did not find that here.
  • Acting of Anil Kapoor, Madhur Mittal has clear flaws. Dev Patel’s is also a good debut, but that’s it. I presume Danny Boyle might have also set out to make a ‘good movie’ and may not have had any pretensions of the kind of fame that the film has ultimately got. If he had any clue that he was working with Oscar-level material, he would have gone for a better actor than Anil Kapoor, or at least take few more takes from him, till he got it right!
  • Some of the characters could have been developed a bit more. We see the pain in Freida’s eyes at the end. But we do not get much of a glimpse into her mind. Anil Kapoor’s character has his sense of jealousy with respect to a chai-wala going on to win so much, in his game. He is sarcastic, and even goes to the point of misleading him. Why does he do that? Why is he carrying such a strong feeling against the hero? That’s left to our imagination. Wish some of these could have been developed a wee bit.

So why did the film receive the extent of acclaim that it has done? My takes are:

  • That it was probably a very ordinary year for Hollywood, otherwise. Maybe there was no exceptional cinema (or not much, anyway) that came out this year. And so, one likes the few that make the basic cut. And Slumdog did that. For example, if I glance over some previous Best Film winning movies, I cannot see Slumdog having much of a chance, as a comparable film also, against the likes of Million Dollar Baby, Chicago, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Titanic, The Last Emperor, Gandhi, etc.
  • That western audiences have about had it, with the sci-fi, fantasy bits, pedalled about, for long, as good cinema. I have never been fascinated by the utter make believe in the name of science fiction. And I have questioned whether writers have completely run out of story ideas that come from real life, the kind that we can identify with, and understand? Well, Slumdog offers that kind of a story, and perhaps people want those back now!
  • That India remains the flavor of the day. Where earlier, the snake charmers and the elephants are what the western world knew India as, today, with the increasing relevance of India in the global economy, there is a curiosity in the western world, about “what the real India is like”? And surely, it could not have become as good as a western country (‘it has not’!) in terms of lifestyle and all that jazz. So what is that real India like? Danny Boyle gives it to them, and the curiosity of the western audience ensures large success.

All this of course, is my speculation, as I try to understand the success of Slumdog Millionaire, and specifically, the EXTENT of success, what with 10 Oscar nominations and all that!

Well, some people struggle for success, others have success thrust down their throats 🙂

Sorry, I am being uncharitable. At least I can say that Slumdog Millionaire was lucky to be in the right place at the right time!! JAI HO… !!

What an incredible achievement for an Indian Music composer… to have three Oscar nominations?!  Surely, stuff that dreams are made of! Whatever Amitabh Bacchan may think of them, or dismiss them away, it is an undeniable fact that the Oscars remain the benchmark for global acknowledgment of creative work in the industry, and having three shots at getting an Oscar is clearly an awesome achievement.

A R Rahman or Allah Rakha Rahman is the toast of the town today. And deservedly so too.

I have tracked his career and his works ever since the time he got the R D Barman award for being the best new music talent, at the hands of Asha Bhonsle, in 1995.

To me, there is huge symbolism in that award. The award was instituted after R D Barman passed away in 1994, and A R Rahman was the first recipient of this new award. To me, it symbolizes a passing of the mantle from one creative genius to the next. I am an unadulterated fan of R D Barman. My blog address of rdfan.wordpress.com is not RDFan for any other reason! Coming from that position, for me to acknowledge that A R Rahman is a worthy successor to Panchamda (as R D was called) is very significant. And as I am writing this, I notice the amazing similarity in their names. First initial, middle initial, 6-lettered-lastname, with “man” at the end! Wow! Isn’t that wonderful?

The R D Barman award for new music talent has been awarded in years after 1995 as well, and there are great names who have received the same. But the first one in 1995, was truly the real passing on, of the mantle of creative genius, and Rahman carries it well, on his able shoulders.

Slumdog Millionaire to me, is certainly NOT his best work. Perhaps simply because he was not NEEDED to create something extraordinary. A western film based in modern-day Indian metro, and not exactly on a musical theme, demands only so much, and leaves only that much room for a music composer. And of course, A R Rahman ensures that he handles that competently. And the world applauds. He does it well, mind you. A R Rahman delivers for the target audience. He is a dream marketeer’s man. He delivers music for the script, and for the audience. ‘Jai Ho’ for example, is the perfect mix of a Bollywood-ish appeal, but with the right feet stomping beats, that a western audience can also appreciate. And which is why, it’s worked well. I suspect that this song might have come as an after-thought! In order to get his money’s worth from A R Rahman’s engagement, and to put a little pep into the movie, even if it comes in at the very end, with the closing titles, Danny Boyle might have seen it to be worth the while. And certainly, it works well with the audiences. Who wait up to see the entire song, before making their way out of the cinema hall.

Coming back to A R Rahman, as I state earlier, Slumdog Millionaire, for which he is getting and will get the most international fame, is certainly not his best work. He was not stretched enough. But the beauty of the genius is in being able to transport himself to the era and the demands of the script, and coming up with exciting compositions, from there on.

Take the case of Jodha Akbar. A period film. Songs like Khwaja mere Khwaja, Azeem o shaan Shehenshah, and Jashn-e-Bahara took you into that era.

Or consider the other Ashutosh Gowariker film, Lagaan. Based in 19th century Indian village theme, the setting was perfectly depicted in his numbers, Radha Kaise Na Jale, O Rey Chhori, Mitwa or Baar Baar Ha Bolon Yaar Ha.

Another favorite A R Rahman movie of mine is Rang De Basanti. In terms of completeness, this one has everything! I would probably rank this movie as my best A R Rahman movie, as it has several songs, and each one is a classic composition. The tunes are so hummable and memorable, they haunt you and stay with you, long after you have listened to them. Pathshala, Ek Onkar, Khalbali Hai Khalbali, Khoon Chala Khoon Chala, Luka Chuppi, Rang De Basanti, Roobaroo Roshani, Tu Bin Bataye are all such fantastic pieces. Simply typing their names here, gives me the goosebumps..!

There are many, many more that I can list and continue to list. Rangeela, Dil Se, Taal, Saathiya, Swades, Roja, Guru, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Taare Zameen Par, etc. Each of these have some amazing work of Rahman’s.

There are some filmmakers who will only work with Rahman. And interestingly, they are among my list of respected filmmakers. Aamir Khan, Ashutose Gowariker, Mani Ratnam and Rakesh Omprakash Mehra are the names that I refer to. In fact, the latest offering from Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, after his incredible Rang De Basanti, viz. Dilli-6, is in final stages of completion, and due to release in few weeks. With A R Rahman at the helm of music affairs, of course. I am so eagerly looking forward to the music and to the film.

Rahman interestingly, has also sung many songs, and amazingly well too. Both, in his films, as well as on stage. In fact, some of his stage performances have left audiences entralled, with his passion and depth of voice. And you would also recognize A R Rahman for his variations of national and religious songs like Jan-a-Gana-Man, Vande Matram and Ek Onkar. Songs that we have known from birth, presented in a different and interesting way, with passionate music.

R D Barman thrived during the period when the world was not that small. India was just another third world country. Bollywood was a lowly second cousin for Hollywood, and was not given any serious credence. And due to which reasons, R D Barman could not achieve much international acclaim. Even though, for die hard fans like me, he will remain the closest to God that we know, in music!!

A R Rahman belongs to a different world now. A world which has shrunk, which is flat, and where India commands a high degree of respect now. Where Indian culture and art are looked with curiosity, and then with awe and admiration, and where hence, Indian work is noticed. A R Rahman is in the right place at the right time.

He will reach far greater heights than R D Barman did, in his lifetime.

I am sure that he will bring home an Oscar, that Dilli-6 will be another fabulous work of his, that he will create great music and enthrall us for many years to come…

Leaving you here, with one of his classics, in the master’s own voice, in a live stage performance:

Time was when Amitabh Bacchan used to stray clear of controversy. Time was when Amitabh Bacchan had sworn himself off the media, as he did not want his words to cause any trouble, intended or unintended. When he was considered the perfect elder statesman of the industry. When the rare occasions that he opened his mouth, the most profound and mature words were heard.

But then he got introduced to blogs! And all hell broke loose…

Blogs fascinated him. To the extent that he wanted to write regularly. Wanted to vent out his true feelings. For the world to see – and which it would, on account of his stature. And when you choose to blog that regularly and express yourself thus, it is not easy then, to stay clear off controversy.

So now, the erstwhile ‘elder statesman’ regularly finds himself with his foot in his mouth. And as fans, we are hurt. The way we are hurt, when our hero, Saurav Ganguly, struggles to fend off the bouncers of a johnny-come-lately new pace bowler, and we wince. Because we cannot see one who has given us so much entertainment to be embarrassed thus. And which is exactly what Amitabh is doing to us.

Over the years, he has consistently disliked calling the Hindi film industry, “Bollywood” as he does not appreciate that reference to Hollywood. “Why should it be that way?”, he always asked.

Fine. Makes sense. And I appreciate his stand, to that point.

But when he goes ahead and slams Slumdog Millionaire for showing India in poor light, and saying that the cities of the world have their own underbelly, I am staggered.

What’s the connection?

Are you saying, Sir, that Slumdog is a success because the western world wanted to see and pity the underbelly of India? Or does the film offer something beyond that?

So, if a James Bond movie shows a drug mafia in the USA, is that the reason for it’s success? Is the movie trying to say that drug mafia exists only in the US? Should someone point out, then, that it exists in most countries in the world?

Or when a Bunty aur Babli shows an American conned into buying the Taj Mahal, should Americans jump on it, and claim that people from any country can be conned, so why show an American only??

By reacting thus, Amitabh has shown a defensiveness, that is completely uncalled for! And taken a “story” that is dramatized, too literally, beyond its screen value. It’s like the Health Minister of India, wanting to ban smoking scenes from being shown in cinema. Man, you can’t get that literal! Amitabh is trying to likewise suggest that if a western film wants to show India, it should not be allowed to show it in such poor light?! WHAT?? WHY??

To make things worse, and to add fuel to fire, after the Oscars nominations are announced, and on being asked to comment on the Slumdog nominations, Amitabh chooses to brush them aside, as those being not so important?

An earlier pre-blogging-world Amitabh Bacchan might have given the politically correct reaction, to such a query, irrespective of his personal feelings about the Oscars, by saying, for example, that “he wishes the film all the luck” or something like that.

Blogging’s changed Amitabh. For good, it appears. Oh, wait a minute.. more like, “for bad..”!

On the other hand, are the views that he is now expressing, his ‘real views’, and is he really the person that he is now openly being viewed as?? If that is so, we are saddened by the real personality of Amitabh Bacchan. Where, after all the success that he has achieved, he still has the “grapes are sour” attitude! Grow up, Amitabh… there’ s still time!