01.04 slumdog - serving up some india

i'm probably one of the last people i know to watch danny boyle and loveleen tandan's slumdog millionaire. for those who haven't seen it, there are hundreds of plot summaries online so i'll spare you.. i'm calling the film a 'classic underdog fairytale'. and don't get me wrong. the film is fantastic - but it ain't pretty.

the writers and directors have very courageously heated up the underdog fairytale formulas - creatively accomplished - and served them to us with heaping spoonfuls of spice and flavour. but when in india, how can any self-respecting filmmaker not? gory and glory alike, bombay and nearby locales like agra are captured in full colour, sounds and smell and taste even - from paan puri to outhouse excrement - all of which lift off screen right into your face.

even in the fairytale comes a moment of political poignancy: some food for the brain. i loved when dev patel (playing 16-year old jamal) is asked about a $100USD bill and leaning into a flashback he says, "it was when bombay turned into mumbai". how succinctly he manages to say that it's the US's turn to have it's way with india. brilliant dialogue.

but then we taste some cheese whipped up by whirlwind romance when the doe-eyed and loveable and latika (played by gorgeous freida pinto) asks jamal what they will live on if she runs away with him. he unflinchingly answers, "love". haha! but then again, it wouldn't be a classic fairytale otherwise, would it?

and yeah and there's some chicken soup for the soul, the film has its lessons in morality. when comparing to mirelles's city of god - another vivid and gritty coming-of-age film set in a massive slum, slumdog is a lead-by-example hero-in-the-making lesson, while city of god is a downward spiral of worst-case scenarios as seen through the lens of an aspiring photographer. both resonate well with young audiences through impeccable camera work and an ear-to-the-ground. we'll come back to the ear in a second... one of the lessons we learn is that greed can lead you down very dark paths. the other? when you want something that's good for you, go after it - the right way. but the road there even when laden with the truth - can be just as thorny as cheating, lying and stealing.

lastly, i have to comment on the likability of the film, not just for viewers in the english speaking world, but for indians alike. boyle sneaked a healthy 30% of hindi dialogue (promising producers only 10%) but it makes the film feel more realistic and likeable. apart from boyle much of the cast and crew are local - ranging from unknowns from the to very famous indian actors - and like city of god, the co-director is also a local woman. i'm interested in indians' reception. overall, i think the film delivers what most viewers long for - a believable plot, good acting, and solid direction that combine for a satisfying escape from daily reality. and it does - with much eloquence and style. one thing that is lacking however is the musical genre that indians love so much. one of the reasons i liked the film so much is that there are no spontaneous breaking out into song, except for when the credits roll (very stylishly done at that).

so that takes us back to the ear.... the soundtrack is phenomenal, with legend score-master a.r. raheman delivering a fast-paced musical pulse that matches the action of the slum underworld. m.i.a.'s tracks were a little distracting to me, but well suited to the film. i liked the stripped down version of her 'paper planes'. i would have loved to hear some nitin sawhney on the score but that's just me!

i am a little surprised that the film is being released in india so late (US release was november. the indian release, late january).

i have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of tech-savvy india has already seen it anyway via bootleg or online. or perhaps - with a film goliath like bollywood in their backyards - it's possible that slumdog could just get lost in the bolly-shuffle of 2009 releases. in any case, if you're hungry for a film that will deliver, slumdog satisfies.

[update jan 11 - slumdog won three golden globes tonight! best score (a.r. raheman), best screenplay (simon beaufoy) and... best film. really great way to recognize all who were involved with the film and pump up india for their theatrical release next week... congrats are in order!]

select scene from the film... enjoy!

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