‘Slumdog …’ honours shaped by recent circumstances

January 14th, 2009 - 1:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Chicago, Jan 14 (IANS) The four-for-four triumph of Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” at the Golden Globe awards is as much a result of the film’s intrinsic merit as it is shaped by a convergence of circumstances. The bizarre cocktail of the audacious terror attacks on Mumbai in the last week of November and the global economic meltdown lent the story of a poor slum boy’s quietly defiant battle against cruel odds some remarkable majesty.

On the one hand the terror attacks brought Mumbai into sharp international focus and, on the other, hundreds of millions affected by the economic meltdown were drawn to the story of an underdog soaring to unexpected heights. That the underdog comes from Mumbai, a city only recently wounded grievously, only made the move that much more intriguing.

At a time when people in many parts of the world do not know where the next bullet or suicide bomber might come from or where their next mortgage payment or meal is, the tale of Jamal, the protagonist in “Slumdog …”, running the gauntlet of a vicious slum life, brutal policemen, rioting mobs and even a scheming game show host is bound to resonate.

The film’s commercial success in the US, after facing the early prospects of becoming a ’straight to DVD’ venture, mirrors its own plot of its central character rising in the face of debilitating challenges. It is now a fait accompli that the movie will get at least some Oscar endorsement, probably for the best film or best direction, in the aftermath of its Golden Globe successes.

Of course, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which gives out the Golden Globes is known for its nonconformist choices, unlike the Oscars which generally tend to be along predictable lines honouring efforts that generally push Hollywood’s commercial juggernaut further.

“Slumdog …” is also a powerful illustration of how rich Indian themes would necessarily require Western finesse and execution to bring mainstream audiences into the theatres. Although Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding” and “The Namesake” did lower the entry barriers for Indian films, “Slumdog …” may have created a possible model for other filmmakers.

It remains to be seen whether the movie will succeed at the critical and audience levels in India where it is scheduled to be released Jan 23. Boyle may not have made the film with India as one of its crucial markets, although with all its Golden Globe triumph and Oscar buzz it is likely to have peaked curiosity in the country.

The Indian market remains unpredictable for the simple reason that the idea of life in Mumbai’s slum, no matter how uplifting eventually, is not one of the most favourite themes in India. However, the bump the film has received from the West will clearly help it in the initial days and weeks of its release.

In terms of the Golden Globes it is instructive that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did not nominate any of the performances from the movie for an award. It was the writing, music, direction and the overall film that “Slumdog …” was honoured for. The performances were generally credible but they were not splendid. The young lead pair of Dev Patel (playing Jamal) and Frieda Pinto (playing Latika) are both debutants and they just about measure up to the roles.

The only major and seasoned presence is that of Anil Kapoor, one of India’s most talented and consistently reliable star-actors. His performance as the ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ like host was characteristically impressive but not towering. Irrfan Khan, yet another exceptional talent who plays a conflicted police officer interrogating Jamal, was effortless but not scintillating.

“Slumdog …” is written by Simon Beaufoy in a manner that made the characters serve the film and not vice versa. So in a sense one could not really fault the actors for not trying to consciously stand out.

While A.R. Rahman’s score for the movie is expectedly catchy, it is not his best effort. But for Western audiences not quite aware of the man’s genius it is just as well that “Slumdog …” is opening more doors for him. The much heralded song “Jai Ho” was originally meant for Subhash Ghai’s outdated dud “Yuvvraaj” but for some reason it did not make the cut there. Written by Gulzar, it has now become the anthem here.

(Mayank Chhaya can be contacted at m@literateworld.com)

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