Slumdog Humdog

Unless you’ve been test running on Virgin Galactica over the last 2 months, you’ve probably heard of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Every now and then, a Movie comes around that the entire World takes notice off, what’s surprising in this case is how completely polarized (Except for the British) the audience’s views are on it.


The West absolutely loves it, whether it’s cause of ‘Danny Boyle’, the fact that it fits an image of India that’s most convenient or whether they are genuinely moved by the story of Jamal, I guess we will never know. I was watching the BAFTA’S on the BBC the other day and the anchor made no bones hiding her favourite choice, the film they were rooting for and how other contenders such as ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ stood out ‘only’ for their technical brilliance. The film has a big fan following in the U.S as, primarily fuelled by a large NRI population , many of them who left India many years ago. When they catch up with with their American friends, they are probably asked, “So is it really like that?”. And they turn around with a knowing smile, “Yes, every minute detail”.

In truth, they’ve probably never been inside a slum.

The story of the movie’s rise though is remarkable. Set only for a DVD release after the film’s original studio backer, Warner Independent shut down, the Movie was picked up by Fox Searchlight as some of the senior execs thought it had a similar feel to the previous year’s ‘Juno’. Infact, if reports are to be believed a week after it’s release the response to the film was still lukewarm, it really picking up steam only after word went around.

In such cases, the Movie generally stands out on grounds of pure quality.

Why then has the Indian media not taken to the movie well? Why for instance has Arindham Choudhary massacred it in his review.

Let’s collate the criticism. Some of it reads as follows:

1. How come it only shows the murkiest sides of Mumbai? How come there isn’t a single shot of Marine Drive?

(The Marine Drive bit is a little funny, if there is a writ about every movie depicting Mumbai necessarily having visuals of Marine Drive than I probably missed it.)

2. How come any of the Social work around Mumbai hasn’t been displayed?
(I don’t remember any movies about New York’s underbelly showing its drug/violence rehabilitators)

3. How come Jamal has a British accent?

Fair point though. But I guess you co-relate his accent only if you’ve seen one of his ‘many’ interviews.

About 2 weeks ago, I had a chance to watch the film. As with any film which the entire World has gone ga-ga about you’re a little overawed even before watching it, this could have 2 possible effects. You pretend to love it regardless or well you pretend to hate it regardless. More so, by then you’ve heard so much about the film that expectation begins to weigh it down.

Personally, I liked the movie, the first time I saw it on DVD and moreso the second time I saw it in the Theatre. Some superb sequences like the chase sequence depicting Hindu, Muslim violence another great one when Jamal and his mates escape from the beggar Mafiosi. Wonderfully edited, Great Music, a feeling of upliftment as I walked out of the Theatre. What more could I want?

One thing that stood out for me though, is that there is no doubt, no doubt whatsoever that the film has been made tailor-made for the Western audience. Whether, this is because this is a Westerner’s view of India or a conscious choice is a separate debate. It stands out for me though that Jamal had to have worked at a ‘Call Centre’ (more so a call centre which indulged in terrible service), surely India has lawyers, doctors, Investment Bankers, Consultants…but he had to have worked in a Call Center. He had to have worked part-time at the Taj Mahal, his Mom had to have been killed in a Hindu-Muslim riot, there had to have been cricket involved, not to mention an appearance/ reference to the the Big B.(He blogged about it as well, but let’s leave that aside). The funny thing is that if you speak to an American with a cursory knowledge of India, there’s a good chance that he will name at least 3 of these 4 things. It’s like an Indian making a movie on the U.S with an Afro-American fighting a drug-battle, interning at the Statue of Liberty while enjoying his baseball…oh yes he also probably worked nights at McDonalds.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing really. Hell, if an Indian could make such a great movie about the U.S, he might well win as much acclaim. The deeper problem is the relating of the Movie to what ‘Mumbai’ stands for and in some cases what ‘India’ stands for. Isn’t someone allowed to set a plot on a city without actually taking on the responsibility of showcasing it completely? For instance, haven’t there been so many movies which only showcase the drugs and violence of New York?

Why the over-reaction then? I think the problem is deeper, firstly Danny Boyle has compounded this by saying ‘It’s all because of the wonderful city of Mumbai’ in every media interaction.

Further, every member of his crew echoes it.

If it is then about the wonderful city of Mumbai, perhaps yes it should depict it truer and in more totality. Besides the parts of Mumbai he has shown certainly aren’t ‘Wonderful’. More so, most of the things that happen in the film could have happened anywhere in India or the World and needn’t necessarily be related to Mumbai. In fact now looking back the Movie doesn’t really make an attempt to showcase the ‘spirit’ of Mumbai and really the script doesn’t need it to.

But perhaps, it’s also a little envy and jealousy directed at a Westerner coming over to our Mumbai, making a movie on it and walking away with the accolades. Yes, he did have an Indian ‘co-director’, a great sound track by A.R Rahman and a strong performace by the cast. I thought the little Jamals in particular were terrific. Even with all this, there is no doubt though that there will only be one person the Movie will always be related with.

With a week to go for the Oscars, I would like to make a prediction here that Slumdog’s going to win. Almost certainly, more so it will make quite a sweep. How much of all this will be remembered after the Oscars. We will have to wait and watch…I do hope his acceptance speech doesn’t contain ‘It’s all because of the Wonderful city of Mumbai’.

6 Responses to “Slumdog Humdog”
  1. Abhinav says:

    mate, that’s a fair point, in fact some of the views i expressed in my blog were pretty similar to yours. i think you’re right to an extent that the film is made for western audiences, but let’s not forget it was based on a book by vikas swarup, so you can’t lay the fault entirely at danny boyle’s door.
    also, about Jamal being played by a Brit actor – actually Boyle looked desperately for an Indian to play the role, but couldn’t find anyone – get this – couldn’t find anyone skinny enough to be from the slums. our actors are all buff, probably from middle-classes, so that says a lot.
    i hate to get too philosophical, but how possible is it to make a film that portrays ‘Mumbai’? whenever people in england ask me about india, i find it impossible to tell them what india is like. it’s toooo diverse, too fragmented, for me to say I am representative of india. my flatmate in sheffield, who is from near trichi, lives a life in rural india which i knew NOTHING about. i learnt more about india here in england than back home, through him!

    yes slum dog shows a ‘filthy’ side of india, but arent there enough and more movies set in palaces and estates, let alone in marine drive?

  2. sudhirsyal says:

    Sure buddy….Thanks for commenting.

    I think a point here though is the fact that the movie can be set anywhere in Sao Paolo, Rio or New York for that matter. Mumbai actually has very little to do with it…and hence the hoopla around Mumbai being associated with the film seems like a marketing strategy.

    If it is around Mumbai…then I think the critics have a point in stating that perhaps it should have factored in a 360 degree view.

  3. Ravi Shankar says:

    Quite an analysis that! The jealousy factor is definitely there with guys here and one of the key reasons for the negative comments.

    See if you can get this published in the TOI editorial/ Opinion or something. Worthy read for sure. 🙂

  4. Abhinav says:

    as my good friend ramnath says: if it is a documentary, your point is well taken, but its a movie, it doesn’t HAVE to do anything, as long as none of the content is defamatory.
    i don’t think it needs to be realistic, but it IS a fairly realistic representation of life in slums if nothing else, which is a bonus. let’s agree to disagree on this one!

  5. sudhirsyal says:

    Yup… I agree with you. It doesn’t have too…and maybe folks are just picking straws. But somewhere…it seems like the movie is benefiting from the Mumbai oriented positioning…and they are fuelling it.

    Actually…fu#$ it. Let’s agree to disagree… or agree to agree. 🙂 Watching Milk tonight.

  6. Mike says:

    Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

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