Thursday, February, 5, 09

Yet Again

by theradishpress

I keep thinking about Slumdog Millionaire, trying to understand my dislike for the film. It started out as an inability to see the magnificence that had been thrust upon the film, and now I simply do not like it. I am tired of thinking about it and talking about it and trying to place words to my feelings. I decided writing about it once more should help clear the air.

I have been conversing with different people while reading about the awards piling on and both praise and annoyance over this movie. Without having seen it Sadiqeh observed that in her experience white folk often enjoy movies about people of color they can relate to or where there is some sort of triumph over hardship; in other words yet another opportunity to pity.

While watching Slumdog I could not help but feel a colonial gaze over the entire thing. After all, the director, at least the one who is getting all the praise and taking all the credit, is Danny Boyle. The co-director, Loveleen Tandan has, with much protest from onlookers, not been nominated for the same awards Boyle has. That’s ok, too many women have received Oscars for directing anyway.

A friend passed on what I found to be an insightful observation of the film’s colonial lense, while also talking about enjoying the production:

The author talks specifically about the imagery of a young Jamal covered in shit as reminiscent of comparisons made by whites of darker peoples’ skin to feces. She also mentions the use of the word “dog” in the title (the booked upon which it is based is titled Q & A) as being questioned due to the fact that dog was a term used by the English in reference to Indians. This author has also helped put into words or clarify for me some of my aversion to the film, that there is no context for the disturbing things viewers see, except that it all takes place in India. The child beggars and prostitutes, the evil adults, the rioting, the cheating, it all is part of the slum country where anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps – or in this case, the shoes the poor kid has to steal from Taj Mahal tourists! – and win millions just to show his love, not prove it.

I am reminded of my lack of interest in Kiterunner. I have never read nor seen the movie, and the main reason was that I did not trust the fact that the majority of people who praised it were white. I could not help but feel that this meant there must be something off about the story, or something to make “them” feel sorry for “us.” (And now that I know about a certain incident in the story I have no intention of ever reading or seeing it.)

I could not help but wonder how much praise Slumdog would receive if the director were Indian. But I guess who knows Indians better than the Brits!

All this aside, I have a problem with rags to riches stories. I find them ridiculous and providers of false hope. And in this case this Indian boy gains his new riches because of colonization through media. If it were not for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire he would still be serving tea.

And despite my political and social observations, I still remain clueless as to how this film is deserving of a best picture nomination, and not just from the Oscars. What is so brilliant about it? Yes, the cinematography is good, the music is great, the sets design, and costumes, but really? This is one of the top five? I would not say that the editing is anything worth raving about. Let’s just be honest and admit that when a movie makes this much money it has to get recognition. Titanic, anyone! Forrest Gump. Hell, Return of the Kingis not the best LOTR movie, but they had to give one of them Best Picture at the Oscars after three years and millions upon millions of dollars. Or maybe the Oscars folks feared some sort of Elfish riot from crazed fans.

Even if this film were brilliant in terms of production I still cannot get passed the colonial lense through which it is told. I admit to enjoying the dancing at the end, but even that seems random and insulting. Is this supposed to be some sort of shout out to Bollywood movies? Is this supposed to remind us that this is an Indian film, or take my attention away from the fact that Danny Boyle is behind the camera?

If this movie wins Best Picture it will be yet another reminder for me of why I hate the Oscars and as far as I am concerned can join the craptastic wins given to The English Patient, Crash, and others listed above.


  1. [possible spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film]

    I was more annoyed with the fact that in the opening sequence half the shots were done with the camera on it’s side, as if we needed reminding that this wasn’t a big studio production. Hey DB, just so you know, you can still be artistic and level your tripod.

    As a whitey who watched this movie, I don’t think that the few things I did like about the film were because I could relate to the people of color in it. After all, I don’t recall any software developers being portrayed in the entire thing. And I’ve also never been to India. The extent of what I was able to relate to the characters in the film were that they eat tasty food and value their families.

    I don’t disagree with your points about the way Boyle depicted the story, but what were his alternatives? First of all, “Q&A” is a boring title. Slumdog Millionaire is much more exciting as far as titles go. When the goal of making a movie is to get it seen, you can’t ignore the huge percentage of people who make first judgments(i.e. whether to see it) about a movie simply by hearing the title alone.

    Secondly, lack of context for disturbing things is one of the movies failures. But I don’t think the movie was trying to say that anyone could pull themselves up by hustling. The characters didn’t “make it” by hustling, they simply got by. One of them even winds up dead from it. The only person to “pull them self up” did it by getting lucky. By inane coincidence, he’d known all the answers to raw trivia questions. And if you know anything about gameshows, he made someone else (networks) much richer in the process. And sure the country is depicted as a slum, but they also show the great amount of development over time and how industry has taken over. Albeit, if only to make the slums that still exist right in the same neighborhoods seem that much more insignificant. May not be the best context that could have been used, but at least it’s something.

    Finally, the dancing. As much as it may seem insulting to you, and i don’t know it may very well be insulting, I can’t ignore one monumental thing about this part of the film. Everybody in the entire theater stayed through the credits. No one moved. No one even stood up. We were simply captivated. And I’ve even seen bollywood dancing before. This movie wasn’t made for Indian people to have a retrospective on the poorest in their society. It was made to appeal to US and other foreign audiences. You may be right that the first impact it has on it’s biggest audience, Americans, is that it conjures feelings of pity for Indian People. But again, examine the alternatives. Indifference? Ignorance? Isn’t being pulled one step closer to that part of the REAL WORLD we live in at least better than the days before most people saw this movie and got to ignore that it even existed?

    I don’t think I enjoyed that I got to pity the people depicted in the movie, but that may be because I’m insensitive. I also realize that it’s hard to play devil’s advocate to your post without coming off as a little bit racist, but hell, I’m rooting for Gran Torino anyway.


    Comment by scrums — Thursday, February, 19, 09 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

  2. And just to add a few more things I forgot, I guess I am rooting for Milk too since I don’t think Gran Torino was nominated =[
    Great performances all around.

    Was Into the Wild this past year? Yea that one rocked. Emile Hirsch is definitely on the way up. Let’s just forget Speed Racer ever happended yes?

    I saw Dark Knight @ Imax and when I left, I think I had a little bit of wee wee on me. There should definitely be some kind of award for that.

    Comment by scrums — Thursday, February, 19, 09 @ 3:39 pm | Reply

  3. The camera tilting did get old, but not as old as John Woo’s need for slow-mo, so I was okay for the most part.
    I had not thought of them “just getting by” and I think that is a good point, however even Boyle referred to it as a “rags to riches” tale, which does have a somewhat different meaning than pulling one’s self up from their boot straps. No matter what, I have a hard time enjoying those sorts of tales. The Pursuit of Happyness, for example, despite being a true story was so painful for me to watch, it was as if Horatio Alger rose from the dead to consult on the screenplay.
    Great way to frame the disturbing images, they really were out of context a lot and I found them to be without explanation. I could not decide if it was that all adults are evil or that this evilness is a result of a corrupt world/society/culture.
    I stayed through the whole dance number too, it was, without denial, entertaining, but I think that is why I have a problem with it. It was as if the number was thrown in there to give the viewers, that is Western viewers, something familiar. After all, this is a movie about India, bring on the dancing!
    Sadly Into the Wild was totally shafted, and so was Eddie Vedder, for the soundtrack.

    Comment by theradishpress — Wednesday, February, 25, 09 @ 2:00 am | Reply

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