Every now and then life presents you with a movie to fall completely and unequivocally in Love with. It might not necessary be the finest film around -- not that there is any empirical measure -- but smitten, you adore the film despite, and even for, its flaws, loving it warts and all. It's irrational, immature, and born out of a purely personal whimsy that can never quite be explained.
Love is never about quality, about banal star-ratings and any sort of technical competence checklist. This is about a kind of cinematic experience that, for whatever reason, fills you with such unbridled joy that you long to share it, to gush over it, to grinningly tattoo it into your brain. Like all Love, you want to partake in it repeatedly, show the film off to your closest comrades, and eventually bring her home and hope your mother likes her too.
My current obsession just happens to be the world's pin-up girl, but even if they weren't slathering over Slumdog Millionaire, I would have been. Love, as said, capital L and all.
Which is why, as the film finally releases in India this Friday, I found it prudent to rush to her defence. She'll do wonderfully well by herself, of course, but it hurts me how misunderstood she is, and I felt the need to speak up.
First off, I'm all for debate. Opinion can never be wrong, every film has its share of detractors, and a cogently argued review ripping apart a masterpiece is as valid as any other, likely even more so because of the fresh perspective it offers. Some of my most frequently read critics have expressed misgivings about the film and -- obviously not making me like the film any less -- these are opinions to reflect upon.
Yet, there is a randomly double-standard of wholly unnecessary India-defending prevalent in a lot of our media, who suddenly seem to be taking an alarmingly Thackerayite stance in terms of the way India should be percieved by the West. So we have reviews across publications and blogs that seem suddenly indignant that anyone other than Mira Nair has made this film.
Instead of pointing out debate-worthy 'flaws' -- like the way the film's question-and-answer driven flashbacks spool out in conveniently chronological order, or that undeniably jarring dialogue about living on love -- a significant section of our critics have evidently decided to say that we, the people of India, do not have slums in our cities, that begging isn't an industry, and that it's absolutely preposterous to suggest that a primetime gameshow host could ever be unctuous.
Oh, come on. Not just are these uncinematic reviews needlessly politicising a film that never pretends to be more than a very energetically told fable, but they fail to see how wonderfully Slumdog balances things out. Not just is it the story of a street-urchin who becomes a millionaire, but of a pint-sized dreamer who gets to make a living in the most impossible city in the world. We are shown a ruthlessly Scarface-like ascension to power with Salim, and in Jamal we see a can-do spirit that lets him go from cooking to call-centre work and be accepted by the masses. The aforementioned talk show host is depicted as another entirely self-made man, going from rags to a high-end hotseat.
What, suddenly we aren't glorifying in our being 'a nation of a billion contradictions?' In its own roundabout way, Slumdog Millionaire also ends up making an increasingly pertinent point: that not just are we a nation of dreamers, but we're dreamers that speak English better than anyone else in the world. Heh.
Not that I suggest, for a single instant, that the English used in the film is realistic. But it's not trying to be. Sure I loved the funky subtitles and the first act being set in Hindi, but I fail to see the problem with English. If we can take a bunch of Germans speaking flawless English in Schindler's List, we really have no room to complain here. It's an English film, for heaven's sake.
My colleague Sumit Bhattacharya, for example, was among those who didn't like the film and -- I say this with no sarcasm and much respect -- his review clearly and tragically falls into the above trappings, and I'd suggest his guitar-lovin' self watch Rock On!! one more time and leave my darling movie to me.
Right now, a lot of us in India seem to be losing the point when it comes to Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle showed us junkie gutter-scum in his fantastically visceral Trainspotting, and never once did we consider Edinburgh to have been portrayed in bad light. A story needs a backdrop, and I personally doubt skyscrapers would have entirely suited Slumdog.
I do not call this an Indian film at all, but there is pride to be had in our composer's glorious triumph and our actors' powerful performances, and when I first saw Slumdog a couple of weeks ago, the experience ended in a crowd of New Yorkers standing up and raucously applauding the film, and my chest swelled. Whatever you say about this film, it is one that is about Mumbai, and it is intoxicatingly well made. Jai ho!
And if you choose to agitatedly gossip about this stunner's potential Leftist leanings and questions of origin instead of marvelling at the nape of her neck, it really is your loss.
As for you, Slumdog, sweetheart, how does Saturday night sound?
I haven't been around for a while, but am back now and a very happy O'Nine to all of ya. Do write in with your thoughts of Slumdog, but seriously, spare the pseudo-patriotism and talk cinema. Write in about that or anything else at firstname.lastname@example.org, and have a wonderful week.