Slumdog second thoughts

24 Feb

Slate has a really good piece on Slumdog Millionaire and the debate over whether the film romantacizes poverty, or provides a rare anti-Bollywood depiction of the “real India.”

I’ve got mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing for a film that explores some painful subjects to be packaged as a “feel-good story.” By contrast, I think of melodramatic and moralistic films such as Crash or Babel that hammer you over the head with tragedy and violence, leaving you numbed instead of inspired. On the other hand, I agree with the author of the Slate piece that the director can’t have it both ways. Are the characters in Slumdog depictions of real people in the so-called Real India (in which case, why are they so one-dimensional), or archetypes in a modern fairy tale (in which case, why should we care about their traumatic pasts and why couldn’t the film have been set in Miami instead of Mumbai?)
I’d like to give director Danny Boyle the benefit of the doubt, since I’m such a big fan of Boyle’s Trainspotting, which some critics at the time wrongly accused of romantacizing heroine use. But Boyle’s style– a realism/surrealism hybrid– suited that film’s subject matter– the consequences of drug use– perfectly. I don’t know if it’s as appropriate for telling an objective, geographically and historically-rooted story such as Slumdog.


One Response to “Slumdog second thoughts”

  1. danjlevy February 24, 2009 at 5:11 am #

    My brother Josh replies:

    I think that setting the film in India adds to the richness of the viewing experience, but I agree that the film’s storyline could very easily be transplanted to the slums of Miami, or almost anywhere else. The Indian aspect is a big part of the feel of the film, but it doesn’t have too much to do with the actual plot. Like CSI, maybe they’ll start coming out with different “Slumdog” movies that are set in different places around the world?

    The movie is so insanely unrealistic and feel-good (how can every experience in this boy’s life relate to a question on the show?) that it reminds me of “Life is Beautiful” in that respect. However, I think the director did a great job of balancing “feel good cheese,” with realism. The mother is brutally murdered. People are raped, stabbed, shot, blinded. It’s feel-good, but not sugar-coated.

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