Macchars don’t wear sweaters

Slum ka Kutta, Na India ka Na UK Ka

Posted on: January 14, 2009

Luckily for me, I hadn’t really gotten in on the Slumdog hype toooo much when i saw the movie, which might have saved my thoughts from being colored tooo much. (Till the time i saw the movie, my impression was that it revolved around a character with dark shades, a slum dweller who had suddenly come into a lot of money, which is where the movie began. That seemed intriguing.)

Even so, I had to swim against the thought influencing tide of an overwhelmingly positive reception of the movie by Ebert. But my immediate personal and honest reaction to the movie remains – I did not like it, not did it feel as an instinctively satisfying metaphor of the shades and gross contradictions of Indian life.

A few things particularly struck me. The dialogue in the movie was exceptionally sparse, and created an impression of a certain disconnect, or a void. There was no spontaneity in the conversations (maybe partly because of the rather awkward coming together of English and Hindi), that would infuse life in the characters, and lend them some humanity which would give you a chance to relate to and sympathize with the characters. The utterances are almost at their bare minimum, just enough to carry the plot further, “oh, look who we have here”, “let us go, or i shall shoot”, and sometimes they just seem to be absolutely pointless deviation from movie “you will be the second person who went from a slum dweller to a millionaire, the first being me”.

The plot also seems to be equally sparse, devoid of nuances, with a blatantly idealistic and uni dimensional portrayal of characters and situations (noble lead lady who is steadfast in her love for the lead man; epitome of nobility young man, who looks the part, and manages to remain untouched by the degradation of his situation, is exceptionally knowledgeable, suavely witty and puppy eyed; mislead brother hero who ultimately comes around sacrifices himself (and goes out in style) for his noble brother; the protagonist knows all the answers of course; baddies in the background, who disappear before you can blink your eyes; and a plot which arranges for a happiness loaded, alls well with the world, feel good, grand meeting at the end which would put a “dil hai ki maanta nahi”esque girl-walks-out-of-bad-marriage-to-meet-hero-who-is-waiting-at-the-train-station-while-goodie-goodie-sidekicks-cheer-on finale to shame) and seems very contrived in parts (blind kid knows about Benjamin Franklin). I realise, the plot is a metaphor of the excesses of Bollywood – one of the brush strokes that are supposed to complete the portrayal of India.

The initial parts of the movie, or the parts which revolved around the slum kids might still have had some semblance of authenticity, but the adult slumdog was a particular annoyance. Him, and the female lead were too obviously not Indian (eyebrows too even, a manner which too obviously betrayed a good breeding). What was even more annoying was the distracted, disconnected air that surrounded the protagonist. He was obviously not there, and not even where the flashback went. He exuded the impression of being a distant observer rather than a participant. He seemed to set feet on the ground momentarily when he smiled coolly retorted to Anil Kapoor’s witticisims, but it was never long before he took off again.

One could say that the uni dimensional plot merely served as a metaphor, while the true intention was to travel through the different aspects, stratum, complexities and contradictions of life in India. It certainly seemed to have all the elements – the slum, the media boom, the police brutality, and of course, the call center (how could a western film maker miss that). But for me, the movie never really seemed to get under the skin of life in India, and I couldn’t relate to the situations, or find myself sympathize or get involved in the lives of the characters, and their ecstasies, their miseries, their desires (they seemed to have none).  An immensely better metaphor on life in india, its absurdities, and how different stratum of society merge into each other (college students in elite universities with their airy ideals, the annals of power, the starkness of life in a village, the commonplaceness even of rape when youre powerless, the shameless excercise of power by lower level policewalahs) was the movie “Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi”, even though it was more interested in the upper levels of society.

slumdog felt like a sneeze that never came.

18 Responses to "Slum ka Kutta, Na India ka Na UK Ka"

Insightful and honest. Media hype certainly has a snowball effect and after Ebert and co have uttered, the herd instinct will take over. There is a writer hiding inside you but lazy bum that you are I fear he may remain in hiding unless something or somebody drags you out of your slumber.

How will it perform at our own box office ? My guess is that that our own masses are not going to digest it that easily.

i agree…i seriously believe had it not been abt slums n poor, hungry india along with a Western director, there wud be no golden globe for it. It’s really driving me crazy!

Hv u read the book? pls read it…it’s excellent! the movie does not do justice to it….

i also agree its that combination that got it all the attention. the west thinking that they had finally hit the nail on the head. well they havent, i dont think the movie even comes near to the nuances of indian life.

i havent read the book. in fact, i didnt even know it was based on a book until very recently. i rarely read these days :). not sure if ill ever get around to it. its against blog morals not to leave a link back to your blog btw!

the word ‘disconnect’ is quite prominent from your review. Have you never come across any scrap of reality under the civilised rouguish cover? I would say I sympathised and overlooked the few details of language and it’s use. The movie was not meant to be cohesive, the story idea is about memory and some rare moments of luck. It is fantastical in nature and by that I mean, purely on the millionaire thing. However, I enjoyed it completely, and you can visit my blogpost for details.


rougish* and its* are misspelt

one could say the air of disconnect was part of the psychedelic impressionistic nature of the movie. but i wouldnt consider it even a good impressionistic work. it just didnt capture the “spirit” of india (for me) – the subtle nuanced, almost subconscious something which captures the “essence” of a culture. every culture has a different essence, made up of nuances of language (perhaps the most important), its contradictions, its humor, its preoccupations etc.

i think its virtually impossible to capture the essence of a culture, without actually having been born there, or having lived there for a long long time. some do a good job of capturing (many commercial bollywood movies), some do a divine job of it [old world india in satyajit ray’s movies, malgudi days, matrambhoomi to seething satire on rural india, hazaron khwaishen aisi (according to me)].

boyle’s movie just didnt do a good job of capturing this “essence”, notwithstanding other complaints other people might have [india being portrayed as too poverty ridden (which it is)].

devoid of the essence, the movie is nothing more than a story. and the story is obviously no good.

A camel is a camel because it’s a camel and not an elephant. We have to see what is there and not what is not there. Whether it has something and not why does’nt it have everything. We need not set such exorbitant yardstick like why does it not capture the Divine Everything Essence India.

First ,forgive. For not being Indian made. Second, for same reason, surprise. The loo bit is absolutely disgusting and totally British in flavour.

A better title would be “Glorification of Bollywood.”

i don’t agree with what’s said above, for i see a lot of those abstract nuances Pankaj finds missing in the movie. A movie like this was made about India, an Indian Muslim from the slums, about gangsterish lifestyle, or nearly that, and lot of other things.
About the British humor, I doubt if it’s that too. I have been watching some British cinema and I tend to think they’re more understated in their style. However, not wishing to stretch my imagination over a scene I so willingly fell in splits over~Again, I’d just say think of the director’s vision concentrated in a part of India. We need not always have our own parameters met while reading or watching something. We need to understand there are few things out there which everyone may not be lucky to find. For instance, my own stay in Mumbai, have come across a lot of those numbing moments of meeting kids on trains in the evenings and hear them talk. I don’t think Danny was far from the truth.

Many days past my second viewing——the first made a strong impression—– let me summarise what I felt it had:

*Life. Bollywood movies tend to lack vitality. They are pretencious and preachy like Taare Zamin Par. This one I found bursting with energy from the word go. It has power.

*Non judgemental. Human beings evolve yardsticks which are relative. To steal may be the right thing.

*It evokes sympathy and compassion, verging on admiration towards our own kind. Gandhi might have stuck a chord with the three characters.

*It strikes a chord. I feel and hope it is a seminal event so far as Indian cinema is concerned.

*The movie has been described as Dickensian—-a world driven by survival needs.

*A parody of Bollywood, specially the concluding number—-the railway platform is a powerful metaphor—-the trasvestite like gyrations which have seemed so funny in movies acquire life to express the realities, absurdities and power of the new India which seems to be emerging and shaping

well, i haven’t seen the movie yet so i can’t say if i agree/disagree with you, but this is a very well-written review of it. of course it has the typical pankaj-touch of cynicism in it, with some very opinionated comments on the subject, but really, nice piece of writing.
the entire media-hype and “marhabaa’s” dedicated to a british movie has put me off completely. i know what to expect, a movie on indian poverty and slummishness captured by a brit. great!
worst thing is, awards have been generously bestowed in india onto this movie for no reason whatsoever! it a movie written, directed, produced and publicized by a british team. the only thing indian about it is A R Rehmaan.

Oh and this is one of my favourite topics these days. Don’t mind if I add my twopence.

The film, I found, was ok. Certainly not what had been propagated by the western media and the awards industries: it has received all the major awards, even BAFTA; I don’t mean the Oscars as I don’t count them for if Titanic can win 11, anything can. But the indicator that I use for judging films; how much I think of it after I’ve seen the film and in what manner; increasingly morphs this into a fly in my soup. It’s annoying, it’s obscene and I want to return it and get my money back. And to my consternation, everyone loves the fly in the soup, relishes it, and even asks for second helpings. Lord, I’m not worthy. This is going to be long, so stick around.

Pankaj has got quite a few bits spot on. The plot is sparse, the characters false, and the film is excessively Bollywood. The usual laments: it isn’t real, it doesn’t capture the ‘essence of our culture’… There is no essence of our culture. We are a disparate people brought together by economic and political needs. The whole concept of India is to bring a large landmass together to fecilitate its plunder (at least of its resources) and get a large army to plunder even more land (in colonial times). There is no such thing as the ‘essence’ of India. There is no culture of ‘India’. India is not a nation state in the European sense, and Marxist historians who continue to speak of collective consciousness, will be at a loss to find what is that collects us? The answer is “Money Charlie! And don’t you forget it.” We are not one people, we are many people, even among ourselves… But let me not digress.

It’s true it isn’t real. You aren’t scarred with the image of a blue coloured Lord Ram (they’re always blue aren’t they? When they’re supposed to be black) because of the riots, and the fact that he has the bow in his right hand is inconsequential. You can’t pass off as tourist guides and get hundred dollar tips and have a blind beggar from the slums tell you it’s Benjamin Franklin on the note. You can’t get a Colt .45 so easily (most of the ‘gangsterish’ people prefer ‘tamanchas’, because a) They’re cheap, costing about 400-600 Rs b) They’re difficult to trace.

Some talk of disconnect. Disconnect from whom? From our destinies or from the destinies of the starving millions? Or how about those who say that that the post Godhra riots were justified? Those who kill their daughters because they’ve decided to marry their lovers? How about those who sympathise with the LTTE? Or the government employees who put the ring on low and never answer any calls, drinking tea in their offices? How about those who don’t even feel they’re part of India (rightly so) and want their freedom and dignity back? Those who simply want a job, a family and a slice of bourgeois happiness? Of course there is disconnect, but how can there not be?

Life: the film had life because of the director. Those were live crowds, real slums, real people. Everything else notwithstanding.

And our ‘masses’ love it. I don’t mean actual slum dwellers. By masses I mean the educated unwashed, the 90% unemployable graduates, who croon over Ghajini. So is it Indian?

Yes it is Indian. It isn’t real though, it’s a fantasy. It has a hopeless romantic and it ends happily and it’s well made. Unlike the current bollywood crop who keep searching for formulas, but fail to implement them properly, this one took a routine formula: slum to millionaire, idealistic love story, heroic sacrifice: but did it well. The film was well made (direction), well shot (cinematography), had actors who didn’t get the role because of being some has-been-actor’s son or daughter, and most importantly was garish. We love the garish, just look at our weddings, our political rallies, our festivals, our roads… We as a culture, are loud and obtrusive; more so where I live perhaps, but is a unifying trait. And our ‘masses’ love it. Even more surprising is that they prefer to see the (half) English version.

So, the conclusion? Well, onlyne is right, just take the movie for what it is. And in that genre; bollywoodish kitsch made by foreigners who pose with the ‘slumdogs’ for photographs, to take home with them a piece of india; it is truly wonderful. No wonder everyone outside India loves it too.

Oh and Pankaj, it is indeed a good review. You’ve got a lot of things spot on, as I said and it is well written.

Hugs, kisses and pinches on the bottom.

heh, all you need is an excuse to close your eyes, get on your soap box and frantically puke out your theories and misgivings. abe padh to le maine kya likha hai!!

1) im not being a cultural dictator when i say “essence”. what im saying is NOT “the west is corrupting our culture and we should remain true to our values and roots yada yada”. When i say “essence” it means the myriad realities of India intermingling, merging and interacting. thats why good humor is good. it captures something that makes u think – “heh, thats some nice observation”.

2) about disconnect. disconnect from whom???? WHAAAAA???? QUIT THE SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS!! all i meant was, the movie felt like a sleep walk. it seemed distant and distracted. look at the protagonist. all he does the entire movie is stumble around with a bewildered expression.

Bah, you’re still as annoying as ever and still don’t understand the intricacies of my arguments. And by the look of your post I’m going to have to write it down in points, like your MBD guide you had crammed out of to pass your 10th grade.

1) Abey dhakkan, I never implied that you were a cultural fascist, nor a traditionalist. What I had said was that India has no essence, there is no culture, no collective consciousness, so there’s no such thing to capture.

2) The disconnect that was referred to was not of your post, your point is valid: the protagonist is an imbecilic idealist, who drifts around looking for something he lost long ago. It is nostalgia which characterises him, which means he isn’t connected to his present. He’s half dead.

3) The ‘disconnect’ is what so many schmucks imply between us and the poor (but it could be with anyone). It is why some dunce politicians spend nights in some poor villagers huts. What they don’t realise is that it can’t be helped.

4) You don’t know when you receive a compliment. I had clearly stated that it is a well written review and you had got most of the points right. You just want trouble.

I hope that was simple enough for you. Perhaps I should have added a few factual errors to make it resemble your MBD guide?

Oh and my theories come from something more than sitting in the room guzzling beer, they come from actual facts which is why they’re authentic. Which is why they are good, how’s that for observation?

Keep your shirt clean and your pants dry.

abe c*** ke p*****, there is obviously something to capture. call it a reality comprising of different realities. a million vector forces, which dont add up, cant add up (as you say). the movie doesnt do even that. it just hasn’t got the nuances right.

why do you insist on pursuing unsustainable arguments, simply because you don’t want to break your delusion of being the greatest philosopher ever?

ab to haar maan le mere bhai

I’ve written a short post on the criticism and controversy surrounding the movie.

Pretty strong sentiments over just a movie (in the above comments)

And now I’m scared of your reply.. 😐

Hey I guess I’m reading this rather late in the day..but I totally agree with everything u say in this post here..

And to add an idea of my own, notice how everything revolves around Latika, the story is about the search for Latika, everything happens for Latika? I dont like the idea of men obsessed with one woman as against women in general! 😉

hmmm…..i wouldn’t say i haven’t been guilty of the same before 😉

They are gonna put me in a museum when I die.

“The guy who never watched Slumdog Millionaire in his life”

So far so good. Hope I can maintain this distinction some 80 yrs more 😉

But at least Musical talent from the country got its just recognition. Its not best of Rehman, and I don’t know much about that sound mixing oscar fellow. But the first rule towards getting recognised is to come within the radar. Rehman and other guy would not have come under the radar if the movie had not been made by firangs

In fact it makes me really glad. If Rehman’s not so great music got Oscar here, what does it tell about the true stature of his other great music eh!!!

And it seems the firang gang are still really interested in bettering the lives of the real slum child artistes. Hope its not just a short term love or mere publicity gimmick.

On the whole, without having watched the movie, for plainly such good things that seem to be coming for it, I am glad it was made.

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