Feeling Good

One of the benefits of online communication with friends is that you get introduced to brilliant material once in a while:
Slumdog Millionaire is the type of film that depicts the horror of slum residents washing and drying their clothes right next to speeding trains as a kaleidoscopic, ethnic, patchwork mosaic; the scenes leading up to Jamal's mother's murder are an idyllic tableau of women doing their wash, exoticized and idealized. Boyle's visual style is all bombast and ego, zooming racks and aerial shots that minimize an audience's need to confront the realities of life in a third world ghetto. When all else fails, here comes more of the slo-mo, retard tingle attached to a long look at beautiful inamorata Latika (Frieda Pinto). Paired unhappily with dogme95 Anthony Dod Mantle's trademark ugly cinematography, the result is this jigsaw monster of a movie that seems to recognize the hideousness of its subject before forcing itself to plaster on a jester's smirk--the visual equivalent of a nice pat on the head. No doubt someone's already formulated the argument that it's just a harmless allegory of one illiterate urchin's predestined rise (Boyle reprises his own repugnant Millions in that sense), but a closing credits sequence that hijacks Bollywood's musical extravaganza with the entire cast of extras suggests otherwise. The cruellest irony of Slumdog Millionaire is that, like (wait for it) the also- impossibly-popular and instantly-dated Juno, it's an archconservative message that causes liberals to feel inordinately pleased with themselves.
PS. Congrats to AR Rahman. I am happy for him.

19 comments:

Sudhir said...

Yeah, Rahman won. Jai Ho was hardly deserving of an Oscar though. Rahman also, -smirk-, said, "Elaa pugazhum iraivanukkae...", didn't he, the religious virtuoso?
Hmm, I reckon he said it to point how similar Jai Ho is to Azhagiya Thamizh Magan's (Yeah, the wonderful Vijay film) Ellaa Pugazhum Iraivan Iraivanukkae... The opening lines, especially.
But yes, before somebody bites, I'm also happy for Rahman. :-"

rama said...

Dogs missed her...
http://www.articlesbase.com/movies-articles/interview-with-loveleen-tandan-704392.html

Sudhir said...

As for the review, when I read 'Brilliant material', thought you were being sarcastic until I read the first few lines of the review. It's well-written, yes. But isn't it the same old 'India is heavily stereotyped' and 'Westerners love only such Indian films' criticism, in better writing? Pardon my ignorance, I know the quality is not worthy of comparison... but couldn't 'Cidade de Deus' be handed a similar label?

Suresh said...

No, Suhdir. I think you should read the review again. It's not the "usual" criticism. I don't want to quote more from the review to tell you why.

It's more or less my opinion written really well. Maybe that's why I thought it was brilliant -- because I almost completely agree with him.

The problem with SM is not necessarily that they show poverty and exploitation but the way it is all presented as a canvas for something that subverts the human suffering embedded in it. You cannot draw a parallel to City of God in that sense. It's for the same reason that I like Salaam Bombay and Split Wide Open even though they deal with poverty, child abuse and most of all, Bombay's slums (the latter being one of my all time favourites).

The review also hits the movie for being a poorly expressed art form -- cinema in this case. One that seems to have an agenda beyond making a 'good' movie; a rather overt agenda in that. This movie fits into everything I mentioned in the post I wrote back in August.

In one of the first few episodes of the TV Documentary series Long Way Down Ewan McGregor would say, "I want to soak in as much Africa as possible." It's the same kind of ethnocentric condescension and eroticization that saturates the movie. Danny Boyle makes it even more obvious in his interviews. "There's so much of India that I wanted show and I couldn't." WTF? It's not a recreation park in which the audience may ride as many as possible before the day is over. But that's exactly the kind of treatment his narrative and his characters receive. They don't have time to settle down anywhere, "they to have see more places and experience more things." There are pockets to pick, people to shoot, and, of course, money to make. Learn from these kids "real kids," don't just be sitting there in Dharavi. Get on a train and visit the Taj. There's plentiful bounty that will springboard you to the class of exploiters who are exploiting you right now. You'll even learn to speak English with a British accent in the process. "There's hope."

The forced characterization of India (or Congo, China, Vitenam or whichever country you choose) as the untamed wilderness for the characters to perform circus acts -- sometimes quite literally -- is all too common in movies like these. The landscape changes but the escapades don't. It's a series of quick pick nicks in which morsels and morsels of some "ethnic cuisine" are shoved down the throat. The power to aesthetize everything, by modern cinema especially, even makes it seem flavourful. But it's all deep fried drivel that's just hard to digest, and you feel constipated when it does.

"You (Mumbai) dwarf even this guy!" Thank goodness Boyle said that, or people would have been under the impression that an Oscar is above everything and everyone in the world, least of all Mumbai.

That this movie has bagged so many awards only makes you hate it even more.


About ARR:

ARR is one of the two music directors whose songs I've listened to for the longest time. There was also a time when I would download only his songs. I wouldn't even know what other music is coming out. So there's a closeness to him even though I don't call myself a fan. That way I was excited that he won. (I don't even download Rahman songs anymore.)

I think he conducted himself much better than Resul Pookutty did. You're not "representing" India. It's not the UN. They are not giving the award because of where you come from, but for what you made. But that's what "Indians" do all the time.

I was glad Rahman spoke in Tamil, but I was annoyed that it had to be something about "iraivan!"

On God at the Oscars:

I've never seen Bill Maher so uncomfortable on stage. He even underplayed a comment on his own documentary. It probably had to do with the fact that most of the "commie homo-loving sons of guns" could not not say something or the other about God whenever they got an award.

juvvi said...

By the way Rahman felt that he was indeed representing India at the BAFTA. Artists are artists and they normally don't rationalize what they do.

But what a beautiful thing you have written about the film da. I completely agree with you on that although I really didn't understand 'split wide open' when I saw it long back. :P

Although the condescension for 'Indians' is growing all the time in your tone. I wish you cut them some slack. After all it isn't every time someone from india receives something worthy of mention.

juvvi said...

I keep sounding more and more like an apologist. Idiot. :P

Anonymous said...

Rahman has used that like "Ella pugazhum Iraivanukke" line since day one. So no surprise there and I am sure it made his hometown people very happy. Though, the bollywoodization of Rahman has started.

Most 'Indians' felt happy with Pookutty's speech:-) But I agree, both Rahman's and Pookutty's acheivements were individual, in the sense that it was their hardwork. But it looks like even the current government wants a share in their acheivement though:-) The medias are saying, another glory for Bollywood, the nationalists are saying,another feather on India's cap:-)

On a serious note, I need a dictionary to even comprehend a lot of the stuff written on this blog. Starting to give me a complex:-)

Suresh,
Do update your video blog more. At least for the sake of hearing someone speak Tamil. It would be great if it was cooking, but even something like your travelogue would be good.

-kajan

vv said...

yes as Kajan said I too need a dictionary to read your blog.I thought may be i was the only one who was feeling this.

Suresh said...

Subhash,

One of the worst things that happened when my hard drive crashed four years ago was that it took away some of the movies I had recorded from Star Movies. Split Wide Open was one of them. I haven't been able to hunt down a copy since then. They broadcast some really good movies for a month in Star Movies (2004, January, I think). They were all Indian, English movies. Rahul Bose in that movie is one of the best acts I've seen.

I'm only surprised that Rahmain didn't pull out the "India" thing in the Oscars.

Rahman epitomizes the Indian middle class: very flaky and shallow in its politics. Praise India; sing Vande Mataram; do concerts for cancer foundation; light candles, and make filthy profits if you can. And of course, say "I chose love and I'm here" and rub it on all the spiteful slum dwellers who should stop hatin' the playa!

(I want to think that he said it out of naiveté and he didn't really mean it.)

I understand "where 'Indians' come from" but I get pissed when I think that there are serious political issues that are being glossed over to establish their glorious "Indianness."

Generally I'm not as strict about national pride and all that -- especially by artists and sports people. I mean, they are artists, they probably cannot (and don't have to) rationalize all their actions, as Kajan says. But it is important for the euphoric "Indians" to stop their autofellatio for a moment and think what it actually means for them. And sometimes it someone has to question it constantly. Being condescending is a mild, unintentional side-effect of that holy mission.

Subhash, you sound a lot like I did three years ago. I was trying to fight all my instinctive "Indian" feeling to defend whatever sullied mother India! But I was able to get rid of it gradually. I don't know if you're fighting it; if you are, you'll soon be able to minimize it too. There's some residual effect, but I don't think you're an apologist.

Kajan,

I know, he does.

National media are quite happy to homogenize everything into the national identity they construct and push forward constantly. Rahman's apolitical, elitist nationalism made it easier for them.

I'll try to post a video sometime this week.

Raj said...

I am not sure why you are being so critical of the movie's portrayal of Mumbai/India. Though I agree with your point that the movie paints a colourful picture of the suffering in some scenes it does show us a world which has rarely been shown in Indian mainstream cinema(not sure if SB and SWO can be considered mainstream movies).The reasons why he(Danny B) did so is immaterial.If these images can lead to some concrete dialogue/actions from the people who matter to improve the living conditions of the people living in these areas, that itself can be considered a good outcome of the film.Whether this will happen is another question altogether.

Anonymous said...

i was planning to see SM, so didn't read your review yet.
As expected, Sad thing about AR's Oscar is the bragging that comes with it.
not of AR's but, damil and national politicians...
already PC is planning a tax break.our CM is planning a Free pongal or Free ifthar virunthu.
some housing sites, porkali , punnaku.
--forget it.

I was chatting in tea room, with a middle eastern coworker, and he was not happy with AR's speech as God is Great is kind of a prefix word before any incidents there.
I was trying to say that tamil meaning was not exactly same, but later realized he's upset with it...

-nathan

Suresh said...

Raj,
I think you should read what I said again (and again if you have to). Your perspective is entirely tangential to what I've spoken about.

Nathan,
He probably doesn't know that Rahman is not just a Muslim but a middle-class "Indian." (Well, he's actually a rich Indian with a middle class mentality.) He's not that obsessed about being "accurately Islamic." He's also supposed to be a Sufi. Your friend's displeasure may also have risen out of the claim to authenticity.

It's quite ironic isn't it? Rahman is already rich and Pookutty must be doing well too. And after the Oscars they're going to make more anyway. But the government has to shell money on them of all the people.

Sudhir said...

Yeah, I guess City of God wasn't quite made to please the west's imagination of Rio De Janeiro, as it was to narrate a real-life incident that took place. Makes sense. Yeah, in many ways, it was more a film than a western tourist attempting to portray 'as much of the place as possible'. Also, I don't know if you got the idea I was defending Slumdog, but I wasn't. I didn't like it one bit.
That this movie has bagged so many awards only makes you hate it even more.
I'd mentioned somewhere in an earliest post of yours that I was embarrassed that Slumdog was nominated for the Oscars. I don't think I can say worse about it.
As for us newspapers, we're all busy attempting to unravel every possible detail about Rahman's life - some of which even Rahman probably doesn't know. Any relation to the award or his music? Who cares. We want to fill our pages with Rahman and his associations, as remote as they may be. It's disgusting.
As for 'Elaa pugazhum iraivanukkae', it diminished greatly the respect I had for him. I mean, everybody knows that the 'Khwaja' guy is religious and all that, but to mention God in saint-like fashion at the Oscars... -cringes. It reminds me of Ilayaraja's lines that are perpetually played on Radio 'Kadavul illaama oru pullum asayaadhu' or something to that effect. What's with all the god-propagation, I wonder...
As for our Government, it was only expected, wasn't it? Tax waiver when Rahman brings home the prize money? It's a joke.

Ananth said...

//I was glad Rahman spoke in Tamil, but I was annoyed that it had to be something about "iraivan!"//

Annoyed? why should you get annoyed with other's belief?.

May be you can say "Ella pughazum enakke!" when you get an award :) Just kidding :).

Regards,
Ananth

Prasad Venkataramana said...

/* I've never seen Bill Maher so uncomfortable on stage. He even underplayed a comment on his own documentary. It probably had to do with the fact that most of the "commie homo-loving sons of guns" could not not say something or the other about God whenever they got an award. */

Very nice observation. To think that a member would vote for 'Milk' and also say 'God bless America' is ironical.

Anonymous said...

"They don't have time to settle down anywhere, "they to have see more places and experience more things." There are pockets to pick, people to shoot, and, of course, money to make. Learn from these kids "real kids," don't just be sitting there in Dharavi. Get on a train and visit the Taj. There's plentiful bounty that will springboard you to the class of exploiters who are exploiting you right now. You'll even learn to speak English with a British accent in the process. "There's hope.""

This is one of the sharpest reviews I've read so far. I don't know why you stopped with writing a brief one the last time.

Suresh said...

Sudhir,

I know you don't like the movie (you had said that in my previous post on the movie).

I just wanted to elaborate on why it's different from City of God (and the right wing criticism of the movie).

Prasad,

There are Americans who fit evolution within Bible. There are churches exclusively for the homosexuals. It's a country that has mastered the art of intellectual compartmentalization. I don't know, maybe India gives tight competition.

Belle1979 said...

I saw the movie en route on a flight after I was repeatedly pestered by a lot of people to see the movie. Everyone was full of praise for the movie. But on a personal level,I was disturbed to see the movie.They didn't have to portray India so badly. I don't understand why the whites always enjoy showing the dark dirty side of our country. It is a known fact that India is a developing economy with its own set of challenges. But that definitely does not mean that everyone has to expose the poverty of the slums. Why don't they show the glamour of India as well???
Suresh,

Coming to City of Joy, I think that movie cannot be in any way compared to Slumdog. City of Joy was portrayed with a sense of deep sensitivity and I am stating this with full conviction not just because I have seen the movie and liked it, but because I have been a part of that city for a long time and have really felt the joy. And this coming from a person who does not belong to West Bengal.

And finally, Jai HO... I am really lost for words here. I am only sorry that Rehman's music has not been enjoyed properly. I think there are much better songs that have been composed by Rehman. It is pathetic that this song is being played all over the world as a symbol of Bollywood music. And all because a foreigner was involved. I sincerely hope that we do get to see more better movies in the future.

Anonymous said...

Ella Pugazhum Iraivanukkae..
RADO DZIKRI YUONO PUTRA

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