Monday, January 26, 2009

of rights and wrongs

Well I was wrong as The Dark Knight didn't get a best film nod and Slumdog.. did. But the hype over Slumdog.. is quite puzzling. I first heard of the film last summer before TIFF gave it a slot. Back then it was very difficult to find the book Q&A in North America but I managed to get it via some good sources in Delhi. Now I hear the book is selling very well in Delhi bookstores and closer to home even Costco is carrying the novel albeit with the title of the movie. Back in December only one theater in the city was showing the movie but now the movie has opened wider with almost all the big multiplexes playing the title. All of this makes for some interesting conversations with friends and family about the movie. Some have loved the movie but others have questioned the film's choices about portraying India in a negative light. Most negative comments I have heard so far have to do with the film's choices of including elements that the original story didn't contain like the boy covered in shit or the Hindu-Muslim riots that killed Jamal's mother. In the novel, the main character was an orphan who was named Ram Mohammed Thomas by the priest who found him in order to ensure that whatever religion the boy was born in would be covered. The name ofcourse was inspired by the 1977 Bollywood film Amar Akbar Anthony with a title that ensured that the main characters were listed in order of the religious hierarchy in India. But Slumdog.. made the main character a Muslim and instead brought the religious divide into focus. I have a feeling that if the movie was going to be shot in 2009 then surely an element of terrorism would have crept into the screenplay. While I do think that the screenplay does a very good job of balancing the past and present, unfortunately the major changes in the story appear contrived to ensure that only certain elements of India are shown.

There was an interesting observation I came across from a film fan who said that all the previous Indian films to have been nominated for an Oscar dealt with either poverty or villages -- Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay (1988) & Lagaan (2001). While Slumdog.. is not an Indian film, it certainly carries on the tradition of poverty in riding to its fame. All these four films are completely different yet the common thread of poverty does stick out.

Overall, I still think Slumdog.. is an entertaining film with all of its problems attributed to either the screenplay or the weak acting. Accomplished actors like Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan are given bit parts and not allowed to shine, while Dev Patel is quite weak in the main role. The real gems in the film are all the technical aspects such as cinematography, editing and the music. A.R Rahman's music is very good but then again he has scored amazing tracks for more than a decade in India.

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