Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Film Review : Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire is already accumulating awards and is hotly tipped for the Oscars. I enjoyed the film, though at times it is a little schmaltzy (the Guardian reviewer said that it reminded him of Max Bygraves' rendition of A Deck Of Cards !) and the theme of escape from poverty and hardship through luck and fate (as it says in the film "It is written") is a little hard to stomach for those of us committed to collective solutions to many of the problems that face us in the world, and the importance of people choosing to try and take control over their lives. Nevertheless, the depiction of a life growing up in the slums of Bombay/Mumbai and the darker corners of India's "precarious" classes is by turns illuminating, funny, harrowing and shocking - at least for us pampered Westerners. This can give a slightly uncomfortable feel at times - a feeling of being a voyeur on misery, or a suspicion, unfounded or not, of complicity in making light of truly desperate situations.

In the film, whilst the squalid conditions of the slums and the horrors of communal violence, gangsterism and child exploitation are realistically depicted, the human spirit and humour shine through. The film depicts the authorities - especially the Mumbai Police - and some of those who have "made good" in the new India in a very bad light and is firmly on the side of the underdogs, the outcasts and the exploited.

I have not read the book on which the film is based, and had not read many reviews before going to see it, so I came fresh to the film and got all kinds of nods and references which may or may not have been intended - including the novels of Charles Dickens, particularly Oliver Twist (with a far more horrific hybrid of Fagin and Mr Bumble) and Great Expectations (this Pip finally liberates his Estella), Indian "Bollywood" Epics (as would be expected - the question master in the central Who Wants To Be a Milliionaire Show in the film is a well known Bollywood star), Biblical stories from Old and New Testament (Cain and Abel, Judas)and both the feelgood films of the 1930s and the film noir of the same period - with the interogatory theme and narrative eye throughout.

The 30's echos are particularly interesting given the economic times we are living through - with the same ideas of escape and glamour, the human spirit overcoming hardship and disadvantage and moral messages that were found in some of the films of that period. This may account for some extra success due to good timing.

Great acting by all concerned, particularly Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto as the central couple, excellent cinematography and a great script. This is undemanding and beautifully shot entertainment, without as sharp a feel as Danny Boyle's previous Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. Nevertheless, it will be good that the world gets to see a glimpse of another India beyond journalistic platitudes about the recent "boom" and tourist publicity.

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