Slum ka Kutta, Na India ka Na UK Ka
Posted January 14, 2009on:
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.