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.