Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If Slumdog Millionaire Was Unfair To Mumbai


Crazy Sam's Bloginess: Slumdog Millionaire

Yes I saw Slumdog Millionaire. A good movie, but highly overrated. Although it had a Bollywood feel to it, I enjoyed a lot because unlike the usual Bollywood movies, it didn't overdramatize situations and had a punch of raw feel to it. An Oscar material? I don't think so. But then if all the hype helps in getting global recognition for few Indian talents, who am I to compain! But Slumdog Millionaire changed the way I think about myself. Whenever I grumble about my not-happening life, I should remind myself to thank God that I wasn't chosen to be born in those slums, and that I'm not one among those numerous unfortunate boys whose eyesight is taken away with red-hot spoons or whose limbs are cut off so that their masters can get more money.

But this post wants to talk about an entirely different topic. Recently, the director Priyadarshan was bashing Slumdog Millionaire as a mediocre trashy film. Although I do not agree to his views at all, I couldn't help relating his thoughts to what I once wrote about the movie Dostana. (I know! I need to move on, but this is the last attempt. So please bear with me!)

Priyadarshan's remarks about Slumdog Millionaire are put in quotes and my take regarding Dostana is explained after each quote.

"The West loves to see us as a wasteland, filled with horror stories of exploitation and degradation. But is that all there’s to our beautiful city of Mumbai?"
The Indians love to see a homosexual man as limp wristed foppish flamboyant weirdo who walks and talks like a woman having extraordinary penchant in fashion or dying of AIDS. But is that all there's to portray about gays?

"It should have been made by Mani Ratnam. Then you’d have seen what he would have done with Mumbai."
Dostana should have been made by some female director, like Reema Kagti (of Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. fame) or Parvati Balagopalan (of Rules: Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula fame). Then you'd have seen what they would have done with homosexuality and gays.

Priyadarshan is surprised that Mumbai is celebrating a film that shows only the city’s underbelly. "Why are we taking this treatment? Just because a white man has made Slumdog Millionaire, we’re so happy with it?"
And I was surprised about many Indian gays taking pride in getting homosexuality featured through Dostana. Just because homosexuality became the core-theme in a bollywood flick, why were many gays celebrating a film that only enforces every conceivable gay stereotype!

The angry director wonders why there isn’t a single shot in Slumdog Millionaire that shows the more aesthetic side of Mumbai?
And the angrier I wondered why there wasn't a single shot in Dostana that shows the more usual behaviour of gays?

Crazy Sam's Bloginess: Slumdog Millionaire

If you feel Slumdog Millionaire makes Westerners think about India as "a wasteland filled with horror stories of exploitation and degradation", I say Dostana was equally destructive towards gays. I was then told that Dostana should not be taken as a documentary and it was just a fiction, so chill! Then why now are we not having the same attitude towards Slumdog Millionaire? At least Danny Boyle didn't exaggerate unlike many of our Indian directors do.

Crazy Sam's Bloginess: Slumdog Millionaire

Rant: Anyways, since I brought up Priyadarshan to this discussion.. Man! He is just butchering all those beautiful Malayalam movies that we Keralites cherish in our hearts. His latest offering Billu Barber is just another remake of yet another Malayalam movie, Katha Parayumbol (translation: When Story Is Told). Although I haven't seen Billu Barber (Why should I?), I'm definitely sure that it will once again not be a match to the original. I was moved to tears seeing Mammooty's efficacious acting in the climax scene of Katha Parayumbol and here I guess going by the standards, Shah Rukh Khan must have got yet another wonderful opportunity to ham!

And to the Westerners.. Let not Slumdog Millionaire scare you from visiting India, especially Mumbai. What shown in the movie is one reality. But now, why don't we try to see Mumbai through the eyes of an eight-year-old to get a different perspective!

The following video is available in HD (press HQ button to enable) which means, you can put it full-screen (press Full-Screen button) without losing much clarity!
This song is from the film, Taare Zameen Par (translation: Stars On Earth) and you can find it's beautiful lyrics and translation at here.

Check out these related posts too!
Taare Zameen Par
Mambo Italiano

  • Anonymous February 17, 2009 at 5:00 PM

    Oh dear...

    Well, "Straight Ek Tedhi Medhi Love Story" should cheer you up this March.

  • Hish February 18, 2009 at 4:16 AM

    I love that song you posted (and its music video, too!), it seems to portray an aspect of the so-called 'third world' that's not often featured :) Yea, there's poverty, exploitation, and degradation in less developed nations, but there are also things that are special and unique for their people. Being in the USA, I notice that a lot of Americans worry about diseases, dirt, hygiene, etc when it comes to the less developed nations; they are valid concerns, but they have to learn how to appreciate that which the people of these countries have come to appreciate too...

    And I like that you point out the hypocrisy of someone complaining about a one-sided portrayal of something when it comes to them, but when it's another group of people (a minority, even) no one raises a fuss about a biased portrayal. Institutions (and the people within) the mass media have done a lot to increase the exposure of the LGBT community, but haven't done enough to promote a more nuanced, realistic view towards them...

    Sorry for the long comment :P

  • Derric February 19, 2009 at 9:29 AM

    Well said & the comparison too much man.
    Yes but i do agree, most of the English Movies with Indian element have been portraying India & Indians in the negative aspects alone, but please people India is very much colourful & vibraiant with rich cultural heritage, a mixture of traditions & modernization. To have a small glimse in to the vibrant India i would recoment a movie "Jab We Met" ( I am not sure if Sam will agree with me, but to me it was beautiful).

    And to my fellow country men, there are many comunities among us and everyone would like them to be portrayed as who we are, without any sterotype characters. Yes stereotypes might sell you stories but you are hurting the sentiments of many. I have never been able to understand why communites like Sardars's are being made fun of. Sardars are people with strong mind, courage and a huge heart. Instead of making jokes on then try relating to their true life.

    Its time film fraternity learn their value and depict the true sosoiety which we now live in. Get true stores, i was actually pleased by the Tamil Nadu state goverment move to issue ration cards for Transsexuals. Our society is changing so keep up

  • freethinker February 19, 2009 at 11:04 AM

    Derric, acceptance of transsexuals does not equal acceptance of homosexuals, and the government issuing ration cards is not an indicator of change in social attitudes, which range from pity to hatred.

    Slumdog Millionaire was another tired old hero narrative, where the hero defies all odds to win the girl along with fame and fortune. It was cheesy that he had to get all the answers right and win the competition. The story would've been better if only the central conflict, that of love, was resolved.

  • freethinker February 19, 2009 at 11:05 AM

    Love the blog. Loved your post on Valentine's Day.

  • Anonymous February 19, 2009 at 2:45 PM

    hollywood directors have a hobby to
    show the poor india........!

  • Crazy Sam February 19, 2009 at 4:21 PM

    Unsung: I read the synopsis of "Straight Ek Tedhi Medhi Love Story". It should be interesting although the protagonist has too much confusing on and offs in his love life. But the movie will be presenting them in a humorous way, I believe. And Parvathi Balagopalan is directing this. Thanks Usung for the heads up!

    Hish: You don't have to apologize at all, coz I love reading long comments! :-D

    You absolutely got the essence of what I was trying to convey. We can't blame the US people because the news channels and media there mostly try to show India as an under-developed poverty-stricken nation (and I don't deny the fact there is under development and poverty in our country), just like our media always portray Pakistan as a terrorist country ( and I don't deny the fact that Pakistan breeds terrorism.)

    One thing I understood from all this is we cannot 100 percent believe media. Nowadays I think the primary intention of media is not about enlightening the masses, but to completely exploit the fear and stereotypes that people carry with them so that they can get more attention.

    Derric: Glad to see that at last I got a comment from you. Yes, stereotyping can hurt the sentiments of those who are targeted at. I think it will take a lot of courage and beneficence for someone to break away from the stereotypes and show an entirely different perspective to the masses.

    Freethinker: Thank you dude. I was quite unsure about how well the V-Day post would be received. Comments like yours give me relief that I didn't totally screw it up. :-D

    Slumdog Millionaire could have been a-similar-story-already-told-before for Indians, but at the same time it might have been something absolutely new and refreshing for the West. That could explain all the hype surrounding it.

    Mahesh: When it is a hobby for Hollywood directors to show the poor India, it is the hobby of our Indian directors to go abroad and "portray the foreign countries as always having beautiful valleys, trees and nothing less than heaven." [link]

    We have eminent Indian Hollywood directors like M. Night Shyamalan and Shekhar Kapoor. It is their responsibility to show the world a different image about India.

  • Rolling February 21, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    yeah yeah, still wdnt change my stand on Dostana or Fashion, both of which I still maintain was NOT meant for Gays or even men but WOMEN.

    but am here to tell you to take a look at my post Unfinished Song n comment on the comments (i know thts unusual request, but when have I been cursed wth a conventional boring life?) Do also check out Mike's post on paying tax issues for Gays in Open Salon.

    warning: my post might seem sentimental to you. and Lyric didnt die. she is darned too ordinary to be dramatic.Mike's however, is very well put together n is on OS Frontpage, easy to find.

    O and great post once again.

  • Jason February 22, 2009 at 6:34 PM

    Hi Sam. Just found your blog through linking etc.

    Also, just saw Slumdog Millionaire last night and it is great to get our perspective on it and Western views of India. I'll share my reactions.

    I found the first part of the film almost too much to bare. The horrors that these kids were living through; the constant violence, small and large; the staggering poverty of the slum dwellers. This is, I know, a part of Mumbai and I also know it's only a part. But to see it shown from the inside was in retrospect great; but the gut reaction remains.

    At one point, I thought that the film was saying that the hero is the only honest man in all of India. I should revise that; in all of Mumbai. The police guy was okay after he put the electricity away, as he said. The brother did redeem himself, also.

    I thought the film was kind of a mish-mash in terms of story and progression and I must admit I kind of enjoyed the exaggerated hollywood-in-the-old-days, telenouvella, maybe Bollywood romance with the dramatic closeups, etc.

    It's a very unusual film; it is challenging to Western viewers, at least to me.

    Does it win an Oscar? Depends on how the political winds are blowing among the Academy, to be honest. Milk is a terrific film, terrifically crafted and acted, but 1) Hollywood is still skittish about gays; and 2) There's no singing, no dancing in Milk!

    If it were between Slumdog and Monsoon Wedding for a best picture award, Wedding would be my choice, no question. That is a film I have seen at least 4 times and still love.

  • Crazy Sam February 22, 2009 at 8:31 PM

    Rolling: Thanks for the compliment.

    Well.. Fashion didn't make false statements. It said it was about fashion world and it was indeed about fashion. It didn't try to make people feel that gays weren't stereotyped. And may be the usual stereotyped gays can be seen in fashion industry. Well.. that's what I felt seeing some interviews of designers. Also when I watch some designers of Bollywood speak, I've felt the stereotyped gays living in them.

    But the time has already come and gone for everyone to see a different side of homosexuality and gays. There are lot of misunderstanding regarding gays and these kinda films only enforce them even more.

    By the way, I have read your post and left a comment.

    Jason: I haven't seen Milk though I have heard some fantastic remarks about it. I'm still not sure whether the Academy is impartial towards movies on gays. Coz I too felt it was unfair when Brokeback Mountain didn't win Oscar that year. I hadn't seen Crash then, but later when I watched it, I was like WAOOW!! I was totally blown away! It definitely deserved that Oscar and Brokeback Mountain certainly didn't stand a chance to a movie like Crash which felt more powerful and emotional.

    This time I'm hoping Milk to win even though I have watched no nominees other than Slumdog Millionaire. Yeah, I too enjoyed Monsoon Wedding a lot!

  • The Vice Buddha February 26, 2009 at 6:08 AM


    Slumdg Millionaire was a really bad movie.... And i m done writing comments as to why i think so. SO I wont :|

    Whoever is perturbed by the thought, please contact me on my C box or at reach2josh@gmail.com

    People In India are so fucking obsessed with hype! Anything that shows something different(worthwhile or oherwise!), anything which is away from the 'normal', becomes the most talked about thing. People have stopped using their own brains and borrow their opinions from people who don't even know the first thing about Mumbai Slums!

    Secondly, to all those losers who are going ga ga over how the movie is about a slumdog, please check again! its about one word - 'choice'.... Jamal's, Latika's Salim's or Irfan's character's. Moreover, A. R. Rehaman is so much better is any other movie than this. And don't even deny that!

    I m so sick of this movie!

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