So Slumdog Millionaire did what it was supposed to do and won most of the major Academy Awards. Although I find the Oscars to have more or less lost its relevance, I still wanted to see what all the buzz was about, so I tonight I watched the movie.

It was… good. I can see why the Academy loved it. It’s indicative of the film industry’s new interest in globalism and multiculturalism. Maybe it’s upper-class white guilt, maybe it’s sincere, but I feel like the wrong movies are being singled out. Crash, for example, is a piece of shit, a bullhorn continually screaming in your ear, whereas Babel is a beautiful, nuanced meditation on the same subject. The beauty of that film in comparison is that the filmmakers don’t tell you what the point is, they let you come to it yourself.

Slumdog Millionaire is not a piece of shit. It’s good. But something like City of God is far superior. The former tries to be riveting through creative editing (I did really like the editing style) and intense sound design. But the latter is riveting and electric throughout, in what feels like a pure and effortless manner. You are fully invested in this world from the very beginning and it’s breathless until the very end. I think my real problem with SM is that underneath the setting and the style, there’s a very conventional story with little surprise or suspense. Brothers become estranged (one becomes good, the other bad), boy devotes his life to girl and saves her, the good guys find redemption, the hero wins the contest, and they live happily ever after. I saw all of this coming.

Another thing that bothered me is that every stereotype of India was fully on display — not just stereotypes but tourist stereotypes. I’ve been to India and I know all the stories, because what we don’t experience first hand, we read about in Lonely Planet: re-filling water bottles with tap water, kids begging to make money for some abuser, purposeful disfigurement to gain sympathy, fake tour guides, stealing shoes, corrupt police, the train dumping them at the foot of the Taj Mahal for god’s sake. A few I can take but not all of them.

Maybe my microscope is too strong and narrow, given all the great things I’ve heard (the media, but also from friends whose opinions I value). I thought it was well made and had a lot of heart, but it makes me wonder what LA is looking for in the films they choose to celebrate. There seems to be some kind of, not conspiracy, but strange group mindset at work, some sort of social agenda. I’d rather they went back to simply honoring good filmmaking.

Truth be told, I’m just pissed off that The Dark Knight beat out Wall-E for Best Sound Editing. I mean COME ON!


7 Responses to “Slumdogs”

  1. That’s a good tour of the SM.. have not seen it and am now eager to see it. I had helped folks like me who depend on people visiting India. I’ve been at a Travel Conference (Educational Travel Conference in New Orleans) and every single person who I met had something good to talk about India – as their takeaway from SM. On the other hand many people who I spoke to, back home in India were not too happy and thought there were better things to India that what’s been shown in SM.

  2. First of all, don’t knock Crash. I loved that movie. The good guys were the bad guys and vice versa. That’s real.
    Slumdog was a good movie, but I agree with you about the “feel good” aspect. I’m just glad we are aware there’s some place other than America. I personally liked The Reader, and I’m glad Kate Winslett won for her part.

  3. Elorac… I agree the social aspect is real, but the narrative felt very, very fake. That’s pretty much my problem with it. I thought Crash was intense when I watched it, but after I digested it I felt like I’d been duped. It was a *message* wrapped up in a story. I felt like the filmmakers tried to force all of these, well, stereotypes of stereotypes into clever characters and impossible plot situations. To me, when storytelling is subverted by an agenda I lose all respect.

    I agree with you though that the Academy accepting the world out there is a good thing. My problem is that their desire to show their progressiveness is overwhelming their duty to honor the best work of art.

    I’m happy for Kate Winslett too. She’s incredible in everything she does.

    Mahesh… I’d be interested in reading your thoughts after you’ve seen the movie. Sorry if I gave away too much of the story!

  4. SM is a tad overrated. I saw it back in the States and liked it, but didn’t necessarily love it.

  5. I finally saw Slum Dog last night. I kept waiting for the Arundhati Roy moment with the guy behind the counter and that “thing” in his pocket. The stereotypes were plenty. But the film-making was astounding. Purely from the aspect of putting that sensory overload into a digestible piece of film made it deserving of the Oscar.

    But years on, I will always love Batman.

  6. I agree. From a purely aesthetics standpoint, it was outstanding.

    For me, Batman dragged in the second half. Heath was the best part of that movie.

    My film of the year without question is Wall-E. I feel that it will be regarded as a seminal work of filmmaking. Breathtaking to look at, unforgettable characters, and really brave in the way it told the story. The fact that Ben Burtt didn’t win a Sound Editing Oscar for bringing such emotion to those two main characters is a crime, plain and simple. But the Academy is mostly made up of actors, and if there are no live actors on screen they don’t care. So I’m not surprised.

  7. Good summation of a very good movie. I was one of the fortunates who watched SM without ANY idea what it was about. I didn’t even know it was about India until I started watching. Yer critiques are spot on.

    I too hated CRASH b/c other than the Mexican man and his daughter, I hated everyone in the movie. There wasn’t one character in the movie I liked. And what good is a drama if you can’t feel for the characters?

    I thought MILK should’ve won Best Picture. I’ve rewatched it 3 times in the last week and it’s brilliant.

    I find “rewatchablity” the mark of a truly great piece of film.

    I want to see WAL E. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

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