Daipayan Halder

Why I loved Slumdog

Posted in Uncategorized by daipayanhalder on February 20, 2009

I borrowed the DVD of Slumdog Millionaire from a friend for a late Friday night watch, not knowing what to expect. My friends had seen it, my colleagues had seen it and even my parents had caught a matinee show in a Kolkata theatre. Some liked it, some trashed it, but then that’s with most movies.

Slumdog though had generated a national debate by the time I pushed the play button on my DVD player. The venerable Mr Bachchan had panned it, NGOs had taken serious offence and half the country seemed offended by a foreigner calling a slum dweller a slumdog. I just had to see the film.

Three hours later, I was a happy man. Slumdog is not just entertainment, it’s an experience. On the film’s cinematic merits this is what I have to say without sounding academic: If movies are supposed to be paisa wasool, this film is. If movies are supoosed to appeal to the finer senses, this film did. Slumdog is a marriage of a Mira Nair with an Anaeez Bazmi. My apologies to both. But I think that best decribes the essence of the film. It’s Deewar meeting Salaam Bombay. It’s pure masala with an arthouse touch.

All that gobbledygook about Slumdog being poverty porn was, well, gobbledygook. Selling Indian poverty to the West is an old grouse. But it never made any sense to me. If you have shit in your backyard, how can you stop your neighbours from complaining. I have a serious problem with a film like Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom that showed India as a land of snake-charmers and senile sadhus. India had ceased to be that long back.

But Slumdog shows what Bombay is.

I remember when I shifted from Delhi to Bombay, looking down from the plane I saw a sea of shanties. The Arabian sea came to view later. Why deny it then. It is as much Bombay as the Queen’s necklace.

But there was so much more to Slumdog than showcasing shanties. Slumdog celebrates life. It doesn’t glorify poverty like a Dickens. Though sriptwriter Simon Beaufoy apparently told the director he felt the “shadow of Dickens” as he worked.

It doesn’t try to find the meaning of life in a Bombay slum like a Shantaram. It looks at the life of a slumdweller, three actually, and shows it like it is, warts and all.

Yes, there’s the beggar mafia dropping hot oil on the eyes to make you go blind so that you can beg better, yes a girl in a shanti may end up being raped and sold several times over, yes there’s murder and mayhem in Mumbai’s mean streets. But there’s no looking down upon, there’s no white man’s burden and there’s no sermonising. And there’s hope. Dollops of it.

A little filmy yes, but isn’t that needed? Both in films and in life? There’s hope for the slumdog that he will get an Amitabh Bachchan autograph even if he is covered in filth. And there’s hope for Jamal in the game of luck and life. Jai Ho!

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