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Slumdogs of the World Unite


We finally got to see Slumdog Millionaire last night, courtesy of a friend’s review copy. (We rarely go to first run movies any more, though I had a chance to see Slumdog on Thanksgiving, before it opened, and had to leave the party as we had a restless Noel with us.) It was one of those films that kept me awake overnight, it was so damn good. I don’t have time to offer a considered critique, and I’m trusting that many of you are ahead of us and have already seen it. In short, it just seemed to me an absolute marvel of movie-making, the kind of film that restores one’s faith in the transformative potential of the silver screen. All the more so for the reasons you may have heard: no famous actors, lots of foreign language, and a seemingly anti-climactic subject matter. Indeed, how was this movie ever pitched in Hollywood? “Uneducated slum kid enters Indian edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Gets all the questions right. Movie explains how.”


Don’t believe the stills: Slumdog Millionaire is dramatic as hell

Fortunately, director Danny Boyle was more than up to the task. Not everything he’s made over the years has resonated with public or critics (who remembers Millions?), but between Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, he’s now made two movies for the ages. (Both, not so coincidentally, and I’m obviously sticking up for my work here, were based on novels. So was the Beach, an excellent movie if not quite in the same category.) And I find Boyle’s ability to coax such magical performances out of untrained actors (teenage Londoner Dev Patel as Jamal, plus the little kids who play the younger versions of Jamal, his brother Salim, and Jamal’s eternal love interest Latika) as inspiring as his cinematography and his pacing. For this, I’m sure that Indian co-director Loveleen Tandan deserves equal credit.

So, not a review, not a critique, perhaps just a lengthy “twitter.” I’m trying to post less here, more often. Still, I see that the UK’s Daily Telegraph and Guardian both predict that Slumdog Millionaire will clean up at Sunday’s Oscars. I do hope so. For all that some of my friends have been equally moved by Milk, especially Sean Penn’s performance, Slumdog has made it without a single marquee name. Unfortunately, a row has broken out over payments to the child actors, born and raised and still living in the Mumbai slums, who played the younger versions of Jamal, Salim and Lakita. Life has a horrible habit of imitating art.

If there’s an additional irony to Slumdog’s Oscar status it’s that the movie is carrying two of the three nominations for Best Song, yet neither of them is M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” the double use of which (once in original single fashion, the other in infectious DFA remix) further enlivened the movie for me. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the best film of the last two years made use of the best song of the last two years. Come to that, didn’t Trainspotting make a hit out of Underworld’s “Born Slippy”? Danny Boyle, take a bow.

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10 Comment(s)

  1. jaffo

    20 February, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    While I agree that it’s a great film I am starting to find it a little annoying that very little credit is being given to the book it’s based on. The book is called Q & A and has been out for a couple of years at least, it’s excellent and well worth a read.

    Check out Frost-Nixon next Fletch, brilliant film.

  2. 20 February, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Jaffo,

    Well, as I point out, as a writer I want to assert that the movie started out as a novel. Unlike Trainspotting and the BEach, however, I’m not aware that Q&A became a cultural milestone as a book before it was made into a movie. If it helps counter your complaint however, I’ve just gone to my Mid-Hudson Library database, and there are no less than FOURTEEN holds on the three copies that exist throughout the system. I guess that has to be seen as encouraging. It’s also sitting at #541 in Amazon.com’s book charts at this moment… I wouldn’t complain if that were me. I’ll try and get to the book asap.

    Cheers
    Tony

  3. baby jebus

    20 February, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Danny Boyle has said that he didn’t even know that it was based on a reasonably well-known novel, and that he only read the script because it was written by Simon ‘Full Monty’ Beaufoy. The movie of Trainspotting, excellent though it was, bore very little resemblance to the book and most of the credit, at least for the neat structure, has to go to the screenwriter, John Hodge.
    Personally if a movie, any movie, isn’t shit, I assume it’s a fluke, if not a miracle. It has to be the most worthless, bureaucratic, uncreative form of storytelling- did you read the recent New Yorker piece by Tad Friendly [sic] about film marketing?

  4. Lisa Childers

    24 February, 2009 at 12:36 am

    Hey tony,

    I like to read your music blog in my free time and noticed you had some stuff about movies. I saw all the movies that were nominated, a hobby I usually love to indulge in. The last nomination I saw was Frost/Nixon and it was fantastic. Not what I expected and completely took my breath away. Having said that, I was still cheering on Milk and Slumdog. I could not decide which I enjoyed better.

    I wanted to unlock some of my useless movie trivia and indulge you. Danny Boyle did not sell this movie to Hollywood. When he made the Beach he vowed never to use Hollywood in the mainstream sense again, although I believe their dispute was won by him and last night made up for it. Why? Because he and his team of Brits tend to make actors. Ewan McGregor for starters in Shallow Grave. Next up was Trainspotting with Ewan and it was a solid success. So Boyle came over here to make the Beach then all fell apart because he wanted McGregor for the lead. He was told to use Leonardo DeCaprio because he would be a bigger box office draw. McGregor was not as well known then and that was the dispute more or less. Boyle likes to use his own team of movie folks.
    Another great actor he made was Cillian Murphy. He was in 28 Days Later as his first acting role and then Sunshine. Murphy has since gone to Hollywood, to do Red Eye and the Scare Crow in Batman. 28 Days was a solid box office success and considered a classic zombie film by none other than George Ramero. I found it equally as good as Night of the LIving Dead.

    Anyway, what does this have to do with Slumdog? Well it is not considered Hollywood in the pure sense and Boyle learned a lesson of control. Warner Independent label, that was about to go belly up, the distributor that bought it, almost sent it straight to video. But it slipped through and was released.

    Slumdog is new to American audience eyes and if it was not for major American shows like Lost and Heroes, it would have never been successful. American audience is getting used to subtitles. That was a problem with Warner Independent. Apparently Boyle told them there was not many subtitles in it.
    But the story is not new to the country of India and you need to understand that they were not protesting the movie, but the word Slumdog itself. That is insulting, but the movie is classic Bollywood story telling. I am really into Bollywood and the music right now. The kids also were not paid, neither are American kids to some degree. They were paid in a trust fund, a law that was set up so the adults don’t get it and squander it (see Shirley Temple). They get it when they are 18. Now were they paid fairly? I don’t know. The producers also built a school in the slums for the kids in the area where it was filmed.
    Boyle basically ripped off the Bollywood tale of boy meets girl and overcomes all odds. He also stole from classic Bollywood movies. Casey and I just watched a romantic comedy on Saturday called “Om Shanti Om.” It was about 3 hours long-short in Bollywood standards and the two characters die half-way through. Casey was perplexed since there was still more than an hour to go, but never fear, they are Hindu and were reincarnated!
    Anyway, many of the actors in Slumdog are very famous Bollywood people. The “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” spokesman and also the police chief I have seen in Bollywood movies. The person who was initially asked to play the “Millionaire” roll was Shahrukh Khan (aka King Kahn). I told you about him at Keith’s birthday celebration. I wish he was in it. I love him and so does most of the world. I believe he is also the announcer for the real India “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” show. Here is a YouTube post of a very famous Shahrukh Kahn dance number. The composer is Rahman (who also did Slumdog), also very famous in India and also the person singing is a Bollywood favorite Sukhwinder Singh. Sorry gals, but Kahn lip-syncs all of his songs, but boy does he look good when he dances! you may need to cut and paste it….
    YouTube – chaiya chaiya (Dil Se) with subtitles

    The Bollywood theme is not going away. Hollywood has tapped into it and is making Bollywood musicals. Mira Nair is coming out with a Johnny Depp film based on the book Shantarim. It is about an Australian bank robber who lives in the slums of Mumbai. He opens up a clinic and also becomes a Bollywood producer. Apparently we will see Depp sing and dance to a Bollywood song.

  5. 24 February, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Lisa

    Thanks so much for sharing so much! That’s great that you were inspired to write… and knowing you as I do, I bow to you as our local Queen of Bollywood!

    As I admitted in the post, it wasn’t a particularly well though-out or edited one: more of a “twitter.” I just wanted to share my emotional response to the movie while it was still fresh. Had I left it to sit for a few days as I do with many other posts I may have realized that my notion of how the movie was pitched to Hollywood was in fact hypothetical given that it was an independent movie, but subconsciously I was just trying to get at the fact that it was never going to be an easy sell. (Which explains why, even when it was made, it almost went straight o DVD.) I’m with Jebus for the most part: I’m not a big fan of Hollywood and am embarrassed by the amount of money spent on crass “entertainment” in a world with so many greater issues to concern ourselves with. All the more reason I get excited when movies like Slumdog Millionaire come along. I hope to see Milk and Frost/Nixon over the next week or so and hope they prove similarly inspiring.

    Your YouTube link didn’t work. Can you copy and paste the URL from the YouTube page? It would be fun to see it.

    All best

    Tony

  6. Lisa Childers

    24 February, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Hey Tony,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOOlgbfFy3k&feature=related

    If you don’t get it, just go to YouTube and type in-chaiya chaiya (dil Se) with subtitles. It is very popular and was also a song used in the movie, Inside Man by Spike Lee (great movie too). But the original is from the movie Dil Se about a female suicide bomber, complete with song, dance, romance and tragedy. Usually all rolled into one. I was also thinking last night that Hollywood has tried (unsuccessfully) to break into the Bollywood market and failed. So far they have been snubbed as being inauthentic. I find that hilarious since they basically ripped off old Hollywood. Talk about stealing from each other. Slumdog was successful also because people want to escape right now. During the depression lipstick sold like hot cakes. It made women (and maybe some men), feel good. Now, movie ticket sales are up, people want to go out and escape in a communal like environment. Cheap way to escape. NetFlix is up by nearly 50 percent and home games are up too. You may also want to visit Myspace and look up Olli and his Bollywood Orchestra. They do a good version of The Forest by The Cure.

  7. 25 February, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Thanks Lilsa

    I’m watching it now, yes it’s great. INcidentally I would point you, me and anyone else interested to this piece I found in the Times online that gives a it more history and substance to the drama surrounding Slumdog Millionaire, its association with its various distributors and those own companies’ association with Hollywood in general.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/movies/awardsseason/24bagg.html?_r=2&8dpc

  8. baby jebus

    26 February, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    That NY TImes piece is excellent, thanks. Interestingly, Slumdog was a shoe-in for profit in Britain, taking almost half its budget in the first week and led with an extensive press campaign.

  9. Riot Nrrrd™

    1 March, 2009 at 2:56 am

    Hi Tony,

    I snuck over from the Pub to read this, couldn’t agree with you more.

    I am eternally fascinated by the fact that most movies rely on “big stars” when I have seen so many films with “nobodies” that do a fantastic job (admittedly this works best in ensemble films, but still). In the end I care about the acting and the story, not whether it’s Brad or Angelina or Kate or Leo or … (I will admit that Kate & Leo did a good job in “Revolutionary Road”)

    One of the funniest things to me has been to see how animated films (whether trad or computer animation) have turned into “Star vehicles” in this decade. You can’t even see the person, why does it matter who is behind the voice? Putting their well-known names on the marquee is all fine and dandy but I don’t get that practice at all. The ultimate example of how ridiculous that phenomenon is was when “A Shark’s Tale” came out and they took the characters (fish) and anthropomorphised them by making them resemble the actors giving the voice-overs (most notably Will Smith).

    Anyway, well-said and I was glad to see “Slumdog Millionaire” get the Oscar, though I’m curious what the other BP nominees were like. (I haven’t seen “Curious Case Of Benjamin Button”, “Milk” or “The Reader”; I refuse to see “Frost/Nixon” as I lived through it “live” already, thanks)

  10. 21 December, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Have you seen Paheli yet? I think you would like it. If you do not already know, Paheli means “The Riddle”. It is a short fairy tale that was released a few years ago. It is one of my favorite films. Click here if you’d like to check out my site. Cheers!

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