Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Movie Log: Slumdog Millionaire

It's been in my Netflix queue for a long time, and Slumdog Millionaire finally arrived late last week, so The Wife and I saw it last night.

And my God it's a melodramatic movie. I was reminded of Dickens at least a dozen times, and it's very rare that a modern movie reminds me of him even once. It's also frenetic and a bit dizzying, since it's shot mostly with hand-held cameras in narrow places -- and often at high speed, as well.

Everyone who has any interest has probably seen it by now, but, just in case, it's set in India (mostly in Bombay/Mumbai), over the last fifteen years or so. A young man, Jamal, is on the local version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, despite having grown up in the slums and now working as a "chai wallah" in a call center. (Every single character is astonishingly classist, which is another touch reminiscent of the 19th century; being poor is a fatal moral failing.) And he's winning really big, so of course he must be cheating -- no poor kid could possibly know anything! -- and so he's kidnapped and tortured overnight, unashamedly, by the police to reveal his methods.

The cops eventually cut Jamal down, shove him in a chair, and let him sit there do-eyed between the flashbacks, which explain how he learned the answers to the questions. (The movie implies -- though I believe inadvertently -- that Jamal knows essentially nothing else but these few facts.)

We're barely five minutes in, and the movie already has its thumb so heavily on the scales that the other balance has hit the ceiling. I haven't even gotten to the part where a rampaging Hindu mob kills Muslim Jamal's mother in front of him when he's about five. Nor the point where a local gangster/Fagin tries to put out the eyes of Jamal's brother Salim, to make him a better beggar. And so on, and so on.

Crowds in India have rioted over the horrible picture this movie paints of their country -- which is deeply ironic, given that there's a murderous riot early in Slumdog -- and I certainly can't blame them. If there was a worldwide hit movie directed by some random foreigner that depicted the USA as blackly and rabble-rousingly as Slumdog does for India, I might very well have been out there hurling trashcans at plate-glass windows myself.

I can see why Slumdog was popular, but it's a horribly obvious and manipulative movie, and physically hard to watch (due to both the shaky camerawork and the horrible things happening on screen). I didn't hate it, but I didn't really enjoy it, either. And I imagine it will be deeply embarrassing to all Indians for as long as it's remembered.

Listening to: Richard Thompson - Small Town Romance (Live)
via FoxyTunes

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