Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oscars never went to a good film, so do not be surprised if Slumdog Millionaire garners a few

Slumdog Millionaire is objectionable because it a bad film qua film. There is not one riveting moment in the film. The shots of Mumbai and Dharavi are not even of the picture postcard variety. The main characters in the film do not come alive. The English spoken by the Indian characters in the film is of a stilted kind, and it shows director Danny Boyle to detect the many, vibrant ways in which English is spoken by Indians. Dev Patel retains his British accent, Anil Japoor is loud and affected but not natural. The same goes with Frieda Pinto and Irfan Khan.
The problem with Slumdog Millionaire is not that it shows squalor and poverty in Dharavi. Hindi commercial cinema has shown it much more effectively than Boyle can ever hope to do. Rabindra Dharmadhikari's Chakra showed Dharavi in its most humane aspect without sanitising the dehumanising conditions. Raj Kapoor's Boot Polish had a greater emotional impact than what Boyle could achieve through his trashy scenes of the children drenched in rain. And Mahesh Manjrekar's Vaastav showed the grimy reality of how criminals call the shots in Mumbai's lower middle class areas.
What Boyle basically needs is a bit of apprenticeship with directors like Abbas-Mastan who know how to tell a story.
There is no music to speak of in the film, and people are getting back to the soundtrack of the film available on CDs to relish the score provided by A.R.Rahman. And the consensus is that Rahman's score for Slumdog Millionaire is not his best. He has done better song compositions earlier.
Why then is there so much buzz around Slumdog Millionaire. Perhaps the answers are to be found in sociology and economics rather than in film aesthetics.
Boyle won his cinematic spurs with Trainpsotting based on Irvin Welsh's cult novel of the down-and-outs in Edinburgh. He might have thought that he could try and do the same in Dharavi in Mumbai. It is now clear that it is beyond Boyle's capacity.
It is surprising. As an Irish Catholic, Boyle should have been able to empathise much better with the Indian social ethos. He seems to have slipped into the general stereotyping that Americans and Englishmen reduce countries from Asia into. This is a film made in bad faith in spite of Boyle's protestations about good faith.
Slumdog Millionaire is an aesthetically dishonest film.
The Oscars never went to good films, and it should not come as a surprise if Slumdog Millionaire wins a few.

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