Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fuck the Millionaires, It's All About the Slums, Dawg (Film Review) by Alison Ross


Fuck the Millionaries, It's All About The Slums, Dawg
by Alison Ross

Oh how I love bourgeois ostentation! If it weren't so unnerving, it would be frightfully amusing.

Take, for example, the recent smashing film, Slumdog Millionaire, which has been universally hailed in the west but somewhat panned in India, where the movie is set. One of the movie's most vociferous Indian critics, Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, brashly objects to the movie's portrayal of India as a poverty-ridden slum.

Of course, his objection is preposterous on two levels: on the first level, his objection is inane because the movie does not merely portray poverty - it portrays many angles to India's multi-faceted persona. On the second level his assertion is ludicrous because the poverty shown in the film is very realistically presented and as such, quite emotionally evocative. It's as though Bachchan wants to sweep
India's vast poverty problems under the proverbial rug - a distressingly smug attitude.

What Bachchan is remiss in realizing is that director Danny Boyle's hyper-realistic approach toward presenting India's pervasive poverty is a brutally compassionate one, one that potentially kindles audience's innately humanitarian drive. It not only elucidates the poverty issues in India, but it illuminates the scourge of poverty in general.

In his blog, Bachchan wrote that if the movie shows India as a "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."

Bachchan is in excruciating denial, clearly. Of course we know that a "murky underbelly" exists everywhere, even in the richest countries. And if the existence of such an seamy underside causes pain and disgust, then we know that Boyle is right on target in his poverty portrayal! We should be OUTRAGED at such pathetic conditions, and heartened by the pathos displayed in Boyle's film.

Furthermore, Bachchan displays a patently haughty stance toward poverty just by hinting that it creates a "murky underbelly" - as though it's peoples' own faults they are poor, and as though nationalists and patriots should ignore such problems in order to feel pride in their country. Forget that patriotism in itself is a blatantly bloated notion; Bachchan's attitude is just the height of narcissistic repudiation of the impoverished.

I find Bachachan's objection to Slumdog Millionaire on these grounds to be unbearably repulsive. His WORDS stir in me disgust and pain. It's as though he wants India to be presented in the most glowingly favorable light, inhumane conditions be damned. I for one was profoundly moved by Boyle's unrelentingly humanitarian portrayal of poverty, and by the movie's message that to be rich in love trumps being wealthy monetarily. The protagonist, who started out poor in life and stands to gain much affluence by the end of the game show (and his impoverished background, ironically, is what enables him to thrive on the show), ultimately cultivates a blissful apathy toward wealth. He wins the girl, and that's all that matters.

Slumdog Millionaire has so many delicious dimensions. Indeed, the way that the movie interweaves the game show questions and answers with the contestant's actual life experiences is nothing short of staggeringly brilliant, from a creative perspective but also from a technical standpoint, given how adroitly the movie splices the game show scenes with flashbacks to the contestant's life.

Some other critics are objecting to Slumdog Millonaire predicated on the fact that it was not directed by an native of India, but rather by a Brit. Again, these objections are absurdly baseless on a couple of levels. Firstly, the movie is an HOMAGE to the Bollywood style, and so doesn't that serve as a flattering gesture toward Indian filmmakers? Secondly (and more significantly), the movie has all the touches of a Bollywood film, and in no way betrays its director's continental dwelling.

Indeed, I had no clue who directed the film before I saw it, and was stunned upon learning at the end that the same person who did the sickeningly shallow Trainspotting made the much more substantial Slumdog Millionaire. I loathed Trainspotting and likely NEVER would have seen Slumdog Millionaire had I previously known the name of the director. I am terribly glad I went in so blindly, as Slumdog has evolved into one my favorite films of all times.

So the objections about the non-Bollywood heritage of the filmmaker as well as its "dubious" portrayal of Indian poverty are, in my mind, just ways to pettily disparage and debunk a movie that has surpassed all expectations as far as critical and commercial success.

The truth of the matter is, Slumdog excitingly excels in multiple realms: its brashly truthful portrayal of poverty resonates with our compassionate cores; its flashy persona pleasingly suffuses our sensory faculties; its cinematic style celebrates the quaint idiosyncrasies of Bollywood filmmaking; its representaton of India revels in that country's charismatic culture; and, finally, the movie's acting is phenomenal, among the kids and adults alike.

So what if the director of Slumdog Millionaire is British and not Indian? And more power to the film for displaying poverty in such a shockingly realistic light!

Shame on you, Mr. Bachchan, for leveling such a superficial, supercillious critique against one of the most fiercely heartfelt films made in a very long time.

1 comment:

dj scribbles said...

hey, i LIKED trainspotting.

great cat attack on bachchan for whining about the poverty shown in the film. its REALITY and people need to be made aware. especially us peeps in the west.

they recently announced in the news, that one of the child actors in the film - had his house torn down. i saw the video on YT - and he was crying. i felt like my heart was ripped out. the people who made the film need to do something, something more! dollars, especially british pounds, go a long way in third world countries.