January 14, 2009 2:02:41 am
DANNY Boyle has successfully sold an absolutely absurd,yet hugely entertaining dream to the West as if providing a celluloid balm to victims of the meltdown maladies. A Mumbai slumdogs rags-to-multi-millions tale already has the western press gushing over Slumdog Millionaire. A feel-good film is probably the mildest of all compliments the film has collected,in the rush to hail it a fantasy,fable or fairytale.
However,Boyle might have a tough test ahead,when his latest work releases in India on January 23. Many films with a story of the Indian down-and-under are victims of the selling Indian poverty to the West accusations,as Satyajit Ray was famously accused by Nargis for Pather Panchali.
Slumdog Millionaire,based on Vikas Swarups novel Q and A, risks being branded a peddler of Indian exotica. In this multi-layered film,the story of a slumdog,Jamal Malik,unfolds with each question posed by the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Sub-narratives that follow the questions,roughly explaining how the hero knows the answer,form the corpus of main narrative. With that,Mumbais underbelly is laid bare.
The grim life in slums,child beggary and prostitution racket,mafia,crime and communal tension in Mumbaisomething we are all too aware of,but of interest to the West are woven into the tale. Despite its fairy-tale feel and peppy numbers by A.R. Rahman,the bleak underside is too difficult to ignore.
Still,there is a strong possibility that Boyle might just charm his way into the Indian moviegoers heart. The core of the film remains a dream of hitting the jackpot overnight something that tapped popular imagination like never before in the form of Kaun Banega Crorepati and granted a second life to Indias biggest film star Amitabh Bachchan. In fact,the influences of Bachchan,the Crorepati host can be spotted in Kapoor,minus the grey shades,of course.
The basic premise of Slumdog Millionaire remains a love story,and who doesnt love that? When an adorable Dev Patel and mint-fresh Frieda Pinto dance to Rahmans tunes in the end,it to a large extent overshadows the slumdogs gritty journey. The world appears glossy,and slum-life is romanticised. This is not a feeling that Salaam Bombay,Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro or Dharavi all set in the metropoliss slum have managed to arouse. In fact,Boyle himself is taking a break from the realistic and unsettling Trainspotting or The Beach.
What works to the British filmmakers advantage is the universality of his characters. Jamals brother Salim,who betrays and torments him,also paves the way for his union with his childhood love. At work also are some very Bollywood clichés,which come handy while whipping up a delightful tale. The slumdogs story stands out as a one-in-a-million tale of the triumph of human grit even if its imaginary.
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