Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Even though I'd requisitioned a few cans of Guinness for St. Patrick's Day, I instead ventured out with another skeptical friend to see Slumdog Millionaire & to find out what the fuss is about. Everyone I know who has seen this Academy Award winner has raved about it. We saw it at the Sundance Kabuki in Japantown, which is a pretty fancy venue. You get an assigned seat, & you're allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages to bring into the auditorium. The ticket-taker insisted on carding me, which at my advanced age is something of a treat.

The movie itself turned out to be 100% Hollywood. The hero is honest, plucky & good-looking, & love is the ultimate reward...along with fame & money. I did think that the part where the young Jamal becomes a fake tour guide at the Taj Mahal was kind of funny, & the Bollywood dance during the final credits was cute. Otherwise, it was so predictable that I was almost surprised that there were no surprises. I kept thinking of Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay, a vastly superior movie which covers some of the same ground but is much more uncompromising in its depiction of street children. Salaam Bombay also has an excellent soundtrack including street songs & jazz-inflected music by L. Subramaniam.


Immanuel Gilen said...

It's certainly a Hollywood story (hence all the Oscars), but that's what I found so great: how you can tell such a (indeed) predictable love story so winningly.

I'm not convinced Boyle wanted to make a realistic portrait of street children. My experience of the movie was much more like a colorful fairy tale romance, and in viewing the movie that way, the predictability of the plot didn't bother me one bit.

I'll be looking out for Salaam Bombay, though; I have wanted to delve into Indian cinema for a while, and that movie might just be a good starting point.

Unfortunately, I got carded too yesterday, resulting in my ejection from a Mission bar and having to bribe someone to buy a six-pack of Guinness for me from the corner store. It was a new personal low.

Axel Feldheim said...

Tsk tsk. How pernicious of you. There was a drunk driving checkpoint set up in my neighborhood, so there were lots of ways one could get in trouble last night.

Regarding Slumdog, I guess I'm not much interested in Hollywood storytelling these days, so it didn't work for me.

Regarding Indian cinema, I think first of the art films of Satyajit Ray from the 50s & 60s. I don't know if these movies still work, but I recall them being powerful & beautiful. I also think they are admirable for their refusal to romanticize poverty.

The Opera Tattler said...

Satyajit Ray is one of my favorite filmmakers.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks for seconding my recommendation, Tattler!

sfmike said...

They hate Satyajit Ray in India since he was a European-style art house filmmaker, which is not the Indian style of filmmaking at all. I'm also a total fan of his films and can't watch the last two installments of the Apu Trilogy without falling apart.

For a well-done, traditional Bollywood film, complete with the entire cast bursting into song and dance every twenty minutes or so, check out "Lagaan." It's wonderful and if you understand the rules of cricket, it's probably even better.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks for the Lagaan recommendation. I'm afraid I don't much about cricket, though.

Ray movies are certainly artsy, so I am not surprised that they would have a small audience, even in their own country.

The Opera Tattler said...

Satyajit Ray is certainly distinct from the Hindi film industry, especially given that his films are mostly in Bengali.

Lagaan is quite amusing, though. My favorite movie of that type is either Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or Don.

Jagger said...

I think it's important for some users here to distinguish between Hindi cinema ("Bollywood") and Bengali cinema.

Satyajit Ray's so-called "European" style of filmmaking is very common in Bengali cinema, where Ray is highly regarded, alongside other great Bengali independent filmmakers such as Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen.

On the other hand, Hindi cinema has a more "Hollywood" style of filmmaking, in that it's a mainstream movie industry that mainly caters for the masses, hence the name "Bollywood". Most Hindi films are usually musicals as well, whereas most Bengali films are not musicals.

In other words, what we have here are two very different styles of Indian filmmaking, neither of which is anymore "Indian" than the other. I think Slumdog Millionaire falls within that middle-ground between both styles of filmmaking.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thank you for your clarifying comments, Jagger. Myself, I've never seen a Bollywood musical, so my experience of Indian cinema really is limited to Ray & Nair.