Friday, January 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Maybe its written, Jai Ho!

In 1999, there was a project known as the Hole in the Wall by Prof Sugata Mitra who led a group of scientists from NIIT to study a slum in the Kalkaji area in Delhi. They made a hole in the wall and publicly assembled a computer and installed it. After some time, they found that the children living in the slum had started using the computer. How did they learn to use a computer even though they did not have knowledge about one? It is because we all have this innate ability in us to pick up something new.

It was also around this time that the quiz show hosted by Amitabh Bachchan, Kaun Banega Crorepati, became very popular and Major Charles Ingram was accused of cheating in a British quiz show.I decided to write a fiction on these real life experiences as life was the best teacher.
- Vikas Swarup

Well, Vikas Swarup, currently India's deputy high commissioner in South Africa, has then written 'Q & A' and it was translated into 34 languages and now adpated into Slumdog Millionaire.

Slumdog Millionaire is quite a entertainment with fleeting images and Isai Puyal's propelling music. The editing is crisp, in line with the speed of the narrative. Needless to say, the story doesnt go a layer deep and nor was that David Boyle's intention. No broody intention, that looks to be his style.

The movie is celebration of not just the triumph of the human spirit, but a celebration of the human experience. For all the horror we see as part of Jamal's childhood, we dont wince after a while as by then we know that is his unorthodox education and that all that experiance would shape his worldview and his streetsmartness.

The theme also, in all subtlety, tells knowledge is not the preserve of the educated elite and that even a 'slumdog' can possess the wisdom to win a quiz show. This is a modern version of the Cinderella story set up in India, with its rapidly changing socio-cultural contemporary realities. The burgeoning populations, the subsequent fight for survival and the wide socio-economic disparities. All those who are bothered about India's 'image' in view of ghastly poverty shown in the film should note one point. That, Jamal Malik, who was orphaned due to the communal riots and who is literally living in shit didnt grew up into a Jihadi! He, instead, made his living as a Chaiwallah and was longing for his love. Is that not good enough? Think about setting this plot in the Pakistans, Indonesias of the world and we know they dont fit. The history -Taj, modern realtity - Mumbai call centre nurturing personnel with British accent, economic progress - 'India is the centre of the world' dialogue of Salim, cultural openness to the world - an indian version of 'Who wants to be a Millionaire', the riots and the squalor of the continent's largest slum all make for a heady mix, scene after scene, with the music and the photography, in a narrative that is throttling at breakneck speed. Not even the Rio of the 'City of God' would have been good enough as the backdrop. It is the amazing diversity (or disparity) and the hope for success and opportunity that Mumbai offers, for this film's plot, and that makes this tale of human experiance find world-wide resonance.

AR Rahman's music completely drives the movie right from the 'O Saya..' in the beginning till the 'Jay Ho..' in the climax. They sound like the ultimate anthems of human experiance. I have little doubt he will have a double dhamaka at the Oscars next month.
The movie is technically brilliant with the sound, the texture and the plot with intermittent flashbacks cleverly written. The original novel looks well-suited to be made into this film with the quiz show serving as a convenient instrument to drive the narration.

Well, will the movie get a Best Picture Oscar? Indians despite enjoying the film, wouldnt be sure. This does not have an intensity of a 'Crash' nor is this atleast 'City of God'. This is not reflective cinema. This is pure entertainment. However, the west may just like this outsider perspective of India and may actually see some hope in this movie. After all, this is Obama's era. And the Oscar committe, having already snubbed Clint Eastwood's 'Gran Torino', may well be willing to be swayed by this razzle-dazzle in this year of depression. May be, it's written!


Mag said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Murali said...

One of the unique story based interesting/gripping movie i have seen in recent times. My picky views below so that someone could give more of the director's
It showed little polshed/upscaleness about the protoganist Jamal the chaiwallah because of the sophistication of the ideas he was using like composed talk over the show, cool appearance to the love of his life when he finds her again. It doesnt look so straightword that the life teaches things like composure,
uniform thinking for everyone especially in developing countries. Salim's character showed the fight for survival. Life has its own vagaries which it
bestows differently and uniquely to each and every person. So the probability of a slum guy getting this level of composure is little unbelievable.

As the story itself is unravelled to be a unbelievable story for the Inspector, it makes some sense that this kid might be special. But the director didnt emphasize special about the protoganist'main attributes. It feels Jamal should have been characterized at more depth. And one more thing the slang of the language could take more hitting to describe a slum than the actual environs. I would give more points to the screenplay than for Danny.

Amar said...

Valid point. I guess this the body language/sophistication could have been more downscaled had the director been Indian. But then we would have again insisted to have this made in Hindi!

The lead actor very much sounded and acted like a British actor. Having said that,we should also consider that Jamal didnt exactly grow up completely in the slum. After he escapes at a very young age, he did get street-smart to survive - cheating foreigners and mingling with the call-center folks. This could have made him feel more at ease with the world, with his new found decent life and confidence.

Anyway, i think the script-writer struck to the original novel Q&A in terms of charaterization of Jamal (except that the name has been changed from Ram Mohammad Thomas). Indian english writing in itself creates a little away-from-realistic world. That could have been a reason too for Jamal's characterization which wouuld appeal more to western sensibilities.

sachin said...

It was kind of OK movie for me. After watching the much hyped SDM, I felt the movie was never made for Indian audience, Its for people living in developed countries, who spend hours discussing about their last night sleeplessness because of a pillow. Not for us who have seen slums so many times in our lives. For them this movie is a kind of wonder, how people can live in such a place and how they survive and full marks to Danny Boyle for his work. Rehman was at his best, his music gives a great start to the movie.

Salil said...

Hey Amar, nice to see your blog again...

After reading your blog and all comments, leaving all valid and invalid points aside, I would like to say 'Jai Ho!'

I don't understand screen play or script writing etc. I enjoy movie. I liked this movie. It is different. Different then regular Yash Raj/Ramgopal/Karan Johar movies. I started this movie at 1:00am and I could not stop in between. It was so interesting.

I don't think this movie is NOT for Indian audience. We (Indian audience) liked this movie. We have appreciated the work. And so, we are admiring in this blog as well.

A.R is the best! I don't say Aamir Khaan is the perfectionist, A.R. is. A.R. has always given good music. (He was hit in Mangal Pandey as well ;-) )

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