Slumdog: Eh.

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slumdog millionaire posterI am about to tell you something that may get me kicked out of the club:

I didn't love Slumdog Millionaire.

It won 8 Oscars. It's an indie hard luck story. It's directed by Danny Boyle, the genius behind Trainspotting. Everybody has been raving about it for months. So yes, my expectations were pretty high when Mark and I finally went to see it last night. And I can't say that they were dashed; it's not by any stretch a bad movie, it's just not that good a movie, either.

First, things I liked about it: The music is incredible--those two Oscars were certainly deserved. The cinematography is very,very good (it's done by Anthony Dod Mantle, who was the director of photography on that extremely problematic Lars von Trier film Dogville, which also had really interesting cinematography). And I really liked the lead, Dev Patel. Also, the dance scene during the credits kicked ass.

But the story just didn't work. The concept is great--a "slumdog" is being questioned about possibly having cheated while winning a million or more on a game show and we learn through his memories why he knew the answers and how he was there in the first place. I definitely could have gone there with them. However, the film honestly seemed to be intentionally making everything trite and formulaic. The major plot accelerator, Jamal's (Patel) search for his long-lost love, Latika (Freida Pinto), left me cold. The relationship that should have been the most interesting, between Jamal and his brother, Salim, didn't really work either, and the portrayal got worse as they got older, with the adult Salim (Madhur Mittal) coming off as more laughable than anything else.

More than anything, as I watched the film, I was struck by how it seemed to be played to an American audience. Very little about it struck me as authentically Indian. It wasn't so much that it seemed exploitative (though it did, and you can read more about that in this Washington Post article), as it was that it seemed like Indian actors and scenery had just been injected into an American plot. I'd thought I was going to the theater to see something new, or at least slightly different, than your average American movie, but at the end of this film, I just felt like I was watching something I'd seen a million times before.

7 Comments

I concur. I wrote a review with similar gripes. Definitely the most over-rated movie of the year. Not terrible, but I don't understand the love train. The storytelling aspect of a good movie (characters, motivation, plot) is lacking, and I didn't buy the love story at all.

I actually really loved the movie. Having lived in India over 8 years I could see the resemblance of the younger characters. The review of the movie from the Indian side has been on the negative note as they all seem to say that it is so unreal and does not portray the India they live in, but on the contrary I think it precisely describes India and how things are done there and how much poverty there is there. Although the dance scene at the end I thought was too much the rest of the movie my husband and I really loved, although we did not go to the movies but preferred to watch it at home!

I didn't like it either.

I felt like the structure of it was very Edward Gorey's "The Gashleycrumb Tinies" ("B is for Basil assaulted by bears"). But then the suffering in it was pretty terrible and I found that offensive. The cutesy structure with the serious filling.

And unoriginal? Yes. My partner accused me of not like movies about suffering or of being overly PC, but there are movies about the suffering of POC that I enjoy and think are original (e.g. the business of fancydancing). This was not one of them.

I don't think you ought to feel bad about not liking it. Lots of people thought the movie was boring, especially because of the weird "foyer moments" of all the flash forwards to the police station.

It's interesting because the reason I haven't seen this film is, like you said, because the plot sounded sort of standard and uninteresting. It reeks of being the white person version of Bollywood.

@jenny Does anyone watch Bollywood movies for the original, inspired plotlines? "Indian actors and scenery had just been injected into an American plot" actually describes most of the ones I've seen.

Since you're reading one book per week you may want to check out Q & A by Vikas Swarup, which the movie is based on. I read the book and haven't seen the movie yet but I can already tell the book is better. There is nothing about him searching for a long lost anything in the book! Just him talking to a woman (a lawyer) about how he came to the answers - it is excellent! As usual with films-they usually don't live up to the book.

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