Thursday, February 26, 2009

Slumdog Millionare Should not Have Won the Oscar?

Netizens have received the Slumdog Millionaire’s achievements with mixed feelings. Opinions are divided almost 50/50 between those who feel the film deserved the accolades it received and those who feel it didn’t. Now the print media has begun reflecting the views of those who believe that the film got more attention than it deserved.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, so am not in a position to talk about its merits. But the logic that informs the negative responses deserves to be looked into. Take a look at this excerpt from the
link I have given at the bottom of the page.

Other than Slumdog, I have seen only one film out of the other four nominated. But I've read about all of them. The one that I saw is The Reader. The subject is far more intellectually challenging, emotionally moving and morally disturbing than Slumdog can ever hope to be. - - - -
But look at the themes of the other movies that were nominated this year. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the love story of a man who is born as an extreme geriatric and keeps getting younger and dies as a newborn. Only for a brief period of time are the man and his beloved around the same compatible age. Of course it's an impossible concept and completely unbelievable, but it's a high concept. Milk is about the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States; Frost/Nixon about the first interview disgraced US President Richard Nixon gave, to has-been TV journalist David Frost. For both of them, it is a chance for redemption, for a somewhat sane life. These are all big themes. I am not doubting Slumdog's quality as a film in any way. Danny Boyle is one of the most talented directors around. But comparing Slumdog to The Reader is almost impossible. It's like comparing A Christmas Carol to Great Expectations.
Scrooge won, little Pip lost. But that's the way it has been with the Oscars

Interesting, isn’t it? But the reference to “a high Concept” and “big themes”, and the purportedly reductive comparison of Slumdog Millionaire to A Christmas Carol betray the grip on the author of certain notions of canonicity and high culture.

If the problem cited is with the execution of the film, I have no arguments against it. But that’s not the case. He writes: I am not doubting Slumdog's quality as a film in any way. Danny Boyle is one of the most talented directors around,. So that’s not the issue. The issue is the theme of the movie. It’s a problem with the size and height of the theme.

Now, who is to decide how to hierarchize the quality and importance of themes? True, the reverse development of Benjamin Button is strange, curious, interesting and daring. The predicament of a gay public figure in Milk and the intense moral drama of Frost/Nixon are sensitive, challenging and intellectually appealing themes.

What about the theme of Slumdog Millionaire? Is it trivial? A social problem best swept under the red carpet of the Oscar venue?

On two scores, the comparison to Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol is appropriate. 1. In Victorian England, the novel revived a new interest in the spirit of Christmas which was being reduced to a mere bash by those who enjoyed the fruits of the Industrial Revolution. 2. Though a fantasy tale, it was a emphatic censure of the social evils thrown up by the Industrial Revolution. In a fabular style, The Christmas Carol poses the question to the conscience of Victorian England turning a blind eye to huge marginalisation of human beings. And the question is one that is hugely relevant today, in these days of a corporate friendly mode of development across the globe. And the question Scrooge puts to the ghost is “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer Scrooge gets is “Yes. You are.”

Well, Slum Dog poses the same question. Is that question any less relevant than how challenged people or gays or the privileged deal with their life situations?

Is the issue of sixty percent of a city’s people living in slums something that can be dismissed on account of its lack of intellectual appeal? In what sense is it not a high or big theme?

Or is it that, by Hollywood standards, it is a low budget film?

What/who decides the height and size of a theme?

Aren’t we Indians angry because the film defamiliarizes the ugly reality of the underdogs of our society? Because it causes the film to fall off from the eyes of us, the twenty first century Scrooges?


  1. I think Slumdog got lucky this year with no other 'strong' contenders. When Gandhi won the oscar, ET was among the nominees.

  2. We have no reason to be angry when stark reality is shown in pictures.
    I have seen tbis film, its not that great stuff but now a days films are all sinking low in standards of story, acting stars but technically they are superb compared to old days, but ultimately its the story and narration which counts.

    The boy is living in slum in his childhood, there are temporary latrines and when Amitabh comes in eager to see him the boy dives into shit on which he was doing it, and get an autograph from Amithabh as others gave way to the stinking kid.
    Well this is the nasty part of film one would oppose. But its also stark reality. I have been to Mumbai and Chembur and I happened to land in hip deep in such shit (mud and filthy) when I was coming by side of a chawl , but one sikh helped me by pulling out and removing my pants chaddy etc and gave me precious water to clean. I was a stranger to him a Mallu just landed Mumbai in search of a job, not knowing Hindi English much. So this thing I personnelly experienced? HOw can I oppose that? I have seen ladies shiting sitting on railway tracks covering face but down below all you could see, but such things have not shown in this movie. Yes its stark reality I have seen for long periods.

    Another scenes SIvsena attacks slums and the boys mother is killed when she tries to protect (Mumbai Riots) its also true really happened and continue to happen in Gujarath etc and whenever a communal riot starts poor people and slum living are suffered like this
    Yes its happening
    These scenes are not shown for sake of portraying India bad, but the boy says how he could answer questions like
    Who acted in film Dewar?
    What Lord Ram wear in his left hand?

    The film also portry goons making children blind by pouring acid? Isnt it happening in India? Yes
    You admit that

    Child prostitution? Yes its real

    Why you complain baba, among all these situations the protogonist boy keeps his ambition works and finally becomes a millionaire.

    Your should admit this is better than Tare Zamin par, Kancheewaram etc.
    Who are blogging against this movie? Why
    Amithabh he lost opportunity to act as person who ask questions and the role went to Anil Kapoor and he got fame, its Amithabh jealous

    Priyadarshan who cant even copy a Katha pArayumpol blames this film, ha ha biggest joke of year.

    Aamir khan who was trying for oscar many times but didnt get, frustration

    Go see this movie, its a good experience, but for a Kerala guy who have seen only life in Kerala this may be shocking

  3. were looking for a job which means you are a grown up and the Sardar removed your chaddi!? :-O

  4. I haven't seen the movie completely either. So most of the notion I have on the matter is hearsay.

    But... From what little I've seen so far, and from what I gather from the basic plotline and references by friends, I gather that

    1. The movie is brilliantly excecuted.

    2. The plotline has a lot of thinly disguised 'masala' content.

    3. Hype 1 - "It doesn't deserve such accolades" - Possible. Even though the movie is made well, I don't think it's made well enough to deserve all teh oscars it got. I can believe it deserved SOME of them. About the others, I am not sure.

    4. Hype 2 - "It is insulting because it portrays an unfairly poverty struck India" - Wrong. On several counts. Firstly, we DO have an alarming percentage of people under the poverty line. Just because we, and the people we know, are well off, that doesn't change the fact. Secondly, even if the movie only focuses on one part of life, it's hypocritical to argue against that. We have had a lot of Indian films portraying poverty and the negative aspects of society. So if a westerner focuses on that, why should he be questioned? He picked a plot that needed him to show that aspect of the country, and he did it. Apparently, he did it well. I don't see a problem there.

    5. Hype 3 - "The movie was not that great. We have made better movies before. It got recognition because westerners were involved" - Sadly, I think this is probably true. From what I have heard from A.R. Rahman, he has done so much better work over the years, and he hasn't been recognized this well till now. I suspect the same is true for other artists involved as well.

    But at the end of it all, I say - The Academy Awards are essentially an American establishment. It judges movies the way they see the movies. We shouldn't be aiming for that at all. If we don't get it, it's REALLY no big deal. If we DO get it, should we celebrate? Well, actually, yeah. Why not? :D

  5. For all the discussions about whether it deserved an Oscar or not, I think it is the fast cutting and pace of the film that has taken it into a different level from a Lagaan or Black.

    Oscars anyway were not meant for cerebral films so to crib on that count is useless.

    What I liked is the'never say die' attitude that has come thru, and at least those in M'bai surely carry that in their attitudes(be he from a high-rise or from Dharavi).

  6. Where does it say that the riot potrayed Shiv Sena?? I think you need to see the film again before you post your comments.

  7. we hope this thread exists when we will see why the Oscars were given to India...

    In a year or so, you will have english movies coming to India in redubbed hindi will se massive advertising campaigns for english movies all over India. You might even start seeing engligh actors shaking a leg with Rajini...!!!!

    Its all about the money....Rahman has made better music than this, none of the actors have done any great acting in the movie....the storyline is great !!

  8. Watched slumdog. I have nothing against stark reality being re presented in celluloid. In fact I think that's what art does and should do. The way it was done in Mr.& Mrs. Iyer.

    And child beggars teem the streets of our home land. Giving arms to a beggar is one of those sure-shot short cuts to be absolved of all our since committed till then, confessed or unconfessed. Every religion tells us that. The other option is to pay the church / temple / gurudwara / mosque handsomely. But beggars take priority as they are satisfied with smaller amounts and our salvation can be bought cheap. And we carry a load of sins always with us, especially the sin of greed, of all the dishonest deals we've been in to in our insane rush to save at least one rupee more in our bank account than our next door neighbour or nearest relative.
    So children are regularly kidnapped from every state including Kerala, either to be sold to whore houses far away, or to be mutilated - tongues cut off (if the requirement is a mute) eyes burned (if the demand is for a blind) hand chopped off (if the beggar master has a fancy for the amputated) or body seared and scorched.

    And when your child escapes an attempt at kidnapping you don't report to the police because you are afraid the police (at least some of the higher officials) will be part of the underground and the mafia will wreak revenge on you. (I have two colleagues of mine who did this on two different occasions - their children - girls in this case - were taking 'entrance coaching' for which they had to travel to nearby towns and in both cases a stranger - a woman - tried to tell them that the bus they were supposed to take had had a break down and offered them a lift back home in a scorpio / qualis. Since they weren't convinced, they refused the lifts and found later that their buses did not have a breakdown. In one case the woman, when learned that the child wouldn't get in to the car, used threat to intimidate the child. When the child screamed for help,and passers-by took notice, the woman quickly got in to the vehicle which drove off in a hurry. In both cases the parents did not report to the police as they were worried the mafia would hit back.
    just last week, there was an incident in Muvattupuzha where a +2 girl, the topper in her class was abducted, gang raped and abandoned in a road near Kottayam. She is undergoing psychiatric treatment for shock. Her immediate neighbour, whose girlchild is also a student in the same school, was the one who lured this girl into the car, promising to drop her home. I don't think the case or police inquiry will reach anywhere because more important than complicated legal wrangling and further embarrassment/possible police harassment , from the the girl's parents' point of view, would be the need to hush things up and to ensure she gets a marriage proposal when she is older. A girl who's gang raped can't hope to have a decent marriage proposal.

    All said and done, I found Slumdog, a very shallow movie. in spite of its theme, the cinematic art, is conspicuously absent, what is worse, even a sincerity of intention / purpose is absent. If the oscar award committee (or do they call it the jury?) found this one of the finest movies of the year, to speak about their taste in art and their discerning capabilities, well, I would say, the less said, the better.
    And Jai Ho is one of the worst pieces Rehman has composed, (until I heard it I had thought 'Vande Matharam' was his worst). He is a great composer no doubt, who's been awarded an oscar for his worst work.

  9. KPJ, see the movie and come to your own conclusion.


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