Friday, January 16, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire
Directors: Danny Boyle , Loveleen Tandan
(co-director: India)
Writers:Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Vikas Swarup (novel)
Via The story of the life of an impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik, who becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?", wins, and is then suspected of cheating. full summary.

I finally got to see "Slumdog Millionaire", a few weeks back but did not have a chance to put up this "Not A Review". I was curious to see this film as it has been garnering good reviews and an astonishing 135/145 reviewers on rotten tomatoes loved it giving it a 93% "freshness" rating. But that was not my only reason to want to see this movie. It literally came out of left field, making an unexpected run at and winning the 4 Golden Globes that it was nominated for.

I had some idea about the movie, but I had not read any detailed reviews. I enjoyed the movie, but I have seen other movies too this past year that I loved too.. Man on Wire, The Edge of Heaven, The Secret of the Grain, WALL-E , The Visitor and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. There are many more that I have to see. But I digress.

I can think of a number of reasons why this movie has struck a chord with viewers and critics alike, despite being in Hindi (30% of the movie?). Perhaps it is the story of an underdog, and that most of us love to root for one. I think the director, Danny Boyle has done an excellent job of adapting this story in to a movie, it helps that almost everyone knows the show "Who wants to be a millionaire", and the underlying themes transcend cultural and other differences, perhaps also explains it's success.

I do think that the first half of the movie was the stronger one in the sense that it had more of an impact on me, as it dealt with the harsh and very real and at times harrowing lives of these street kids (themes that have been handled well in other movies). The acting by the children playing Jamal, Salim and Latika was amazing, and that extends to the adults playing these and other roles too (The cast has been nominated for ensemble cast - SAG awards)
I think it was hard to work across the language barriers which Boyle did well, but it is perhaps harder to maintain a sense of continuity for the characters when they are played by 3 different actors spanning the different stages of their lives. And I think that came across really well for me.
Other than the obvious known names of Irfan Khan and Anil Kapoor most were not professional actors and it is a credit to the director that he manages to extract these great performances. One other thing that I liked was how the life experiences of Jamal are tied to his knowing the answers on the quiz show and the flashbacks do a wonderful job of setting up the character's evolution to a person that he is. I thought Anil Kapoor's performance was really good too, he does a good job playing the slick and seemingly friendly and jovial game show host while barely being able to contain himself with his not so subtle put downs of the "chai wallah".

I thought Dev Patel (he is British) gives a very strong performance as Jamal. Coming back to the second half of the movie, it was not as strong as the first half, I thought parts of it were a bit contrived or shall we say melodramatic, but I did not go in expecting anything "arthouse" like either. The the use of "D: It has been written" was a nice touch and we all know the desi/Indian thing about fate.

Did the depiction of life in Mumbai bother any of you who may know the city and be familiar with it? It did not bother me, I think movies do have some obligation to depict reality. And (I have not read the book this is based on) the director captures the grinding, stark poverty that is almost inescapable for anyone who lives in Bombay. I found the depiction of the rancid, seedy underbelly of the city to be very real. I think it was a fair portrayal.

I was reading an interview someplace with the director and he mentioned how frenetic the shooting pace was, and also often they did not get permissions to shoot till the last moment and at times none at all. And one could get the sense of how the city could close itself upon you.

I thought the movie in a lot of ways was tragic and funny, the changes of a rapidly globalizing India were well captured. The movie was also in essence a fairy tale on some levels, yet the themes of poverty, religious strife, exploitation and abandonment the characters experience are very real.

It reminded me to some extent of "The Pool" and like Chris Smith, I have to say Danny Boyle has captured the ethos of India and that in life anything is possible, perhaps it needs to be written but it would not happen without some pluck and verve and a dash of luck.

A couple of closing notes....

'Slumdog Millionaire' Hailed and Slammed in India

and the film, which opens in India next week (January 23), was just slammed by 66-year-old Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan on his blog (via The India Times): "If Slumdog Millionaire projects India as Third World dirty underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations."

For a completely contrary view.. Boyle is a poverty pimp with an Avid.

Credits - I see a lot of movies and I don't often see this. No one left the theater till the credits had finished rolling. Maybe the song and dance routine during the credits had something to do with that too.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A New Year..Back To My Reading
To anyone still reading this space, a very happy new year to you and your loved ones. Not a believer in new year resolutions and all that, but as 2009 began one of the things I did want to get back to was reading. While I do catch up on news and politics on the web and the newspaper, reading a book is one of the things that I truly enjoy.
The last few months of 2008 were pretty distracting what with a pivotal election and the iphone, which I used to follow the election and politics as often as I could during my waking hours. Took me away from the reading time I had on the train.
Now things are a bit quieter, and it is time to get back to reading. I was not sure what I would start reading though. These were the choices (as seen in the picture below)....

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt

These are all very good books. My pick to read was "The Great War For Civilisation" by Robert Fisk. This is an author signed copy from my friend Dan. It is a huge book about 700 pages. I am on page 60 now. And I am already hooked. I hope to be able to post small synopsis of each chapter as I finish it. The Publisher's Weekly got it right I think. Here is what they have to say..

Fisk, who has lived in and reported on the Middle East since 1976, first for the (London) Times and now for the Independent, possesses deep knowledge of the broader history of the region, which allows him to discuss the Armenian genocide 90 years ago, the 2002 destruction of Jenin, and the battlefields of Iraq with equal aplomb. But it is his stunning capacity for visceral description—he has seen, or tracked down firsthand accounts of, all the major events of the past 25 years—that makes this volume unique. Some of the chapters contain detailed accounts of torture and murder, which more squeamish readers may be inclined to skip, but such scenes are not gratuitous. They are designed to drive home Fisk's belief that "war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death." Though Fisk's political stances may sometimes be controversial, no one can deny that this volume is a stunning achievement.

So how about you folks? What are you reading? Any new year resolutions?