I have now joined the esteemed ranks of those who have seen Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a wonderful film – in parts.
I thought somebody described this as a feel-good film. It is anything but. The thing is, the only positive bit in this film is in the last 8 minutes and you get this sinking feeling in your stomach. So the only way out of squalor, poverty, grime and other such dark corners is a lucky streak at a gameshow. Though, you know that the film is probably telling you something at a subliminal level. That every punch life throws at you, it teaches you something. Etc. Etc.
Some spoilers here – but the general drift is that this is a kid who essentially survives on wits and luck. And he has very little of the latter till he turns 18 years old. Mother dies in riots, childhood friend turns badass gangster, childhood love is pimped, money is short. I’ve worked with street kids in Bombay, so can vouch that such stories are rather common.
Yes, this film is wonderful for your senses. The music is perfect in parts, the visuals are stunning. The slums are stark, but not heartless. There’s not a single kind adult in this film. Which is probably true in the real world. But something bothers me about this film. I don’t want to get too much into it … but poverty sells. It’s almost like everytime you see something marked as a realistic film on India, it almost always is about the poorest of the poor. Yes, that is real – but there are other realities. Not that Slumdog Millionaire has to show any reality that it doesn’t want to show – but watching the film, and more specifically, reading the hype that surrounds it, makes you think a little about why it is that the films about the poorest bits of India go down the best with the foreign critics.
No, I am not offended by it. I don’t even feel defensive. Let’s face it – most of Bombay is a slum. I completely understand if that is far more fascinating than any other part of Bombay.
What saves the film from being cheesy is the stunning performance by the kids. Sometimes the accent feels a bit off. But there’s such pathos in their eyes, that your heart breaks just a little bit sometimes. There is something so touching about the fact that little children are forced to take decisions that not even adults find easy. The premise of the film, recollections pieced together with the questions in a gameshow was fantastic. And just for that, I’d see this film.
But this is what I don’t get. This film takes all this pain to be “realistic” till the last 20 minutes, and then it flips. It suddenly wants to affirm something, and drop you into a certain la-la land. People change, they become kind, everything collapses into the formula. After pumping fists into my heart and making me feel miserable that I come from a country where we cannot ensure that all children at least get a decent meal everyday, you suddenly want to turn around and give me a Bollywood story? It doesn’t work that way. Not for me anyway. It doesn’t “feel good” then, it just feels contrived.
It’s a nice film. It just didn’t make me feel very happy. Which many of the critics promised it would make me. I just felt a little cheated.