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?