Feb 9, 2009

Slumdog, Briefly

So much for writing more this year. It is what it is. The hoopla and excitement surrounding Slumdog Millionaire's Oscar hope has made conversations about the film more interesting, and more frustrating. I have held that it's just a film, and it's average: there are some fun moments, but what's the big deal about this film, particularly in the midst of such a good year in just American and British film?

I think one of my issues is that there is hardly any artistic rhyme or reason to the non-American or British films that make it to the regular film categories in the Oscars. Frankly, the Oscars are a marketing tool to get more people to buy the DVD (or for smaller films, to see them in wider release once the nominations come out). That's all this is about: it's a scheme by the producers and distributors. The choice of "Lagaan" as the first Indian directed movie to make the big leagues for best picture was smart: this is all about the distribution rights, not who makes the film (i.e. it's somewhat irrelevant (and not on other levels) that Danny Boyle is the director of "Slumdog"). It's all about the money, and this blatant exploitation just to get the dollars really bitters me to the whole possibility of cinema to be transformative. It's like "Crash" all over again.

I think my issues stem from the fact that the film opens up a number of social issues: poverty, the abuse of orphaned children, prostitution, corruption, Hindu-Muslim violence, but it uses most of these things as a backdrop to a love story. It's the typical Bollywood set-up, really (think "Dil Se" or any million other films). And it's not that they raise these issues, but that the movie kind of glosses over them. It's just another hook to hang the "feel good" sentiment on: commodifying people, hardship, and things that are not so easily resolved in real life. People argue "it's just a film!" but I guess I don't feel like we can just absolve the film and its creators of responsibility when it feels like they are using these elements to show how it's somehow different from the thousand other films made in India and around the world. If the film is to be an escape, so be it: but then make the love story more believable, and stop using people's suffering as your prop: then I won't care so much. But the reason this film shot up is because it kind of absolves middle class/rich, and/or white people of their guilt for fostering some of the problems that the film uses as backdrop. When you have "Milk" and "Che" out this year, what is "Slumdog" but proof that this system is nothing but jacked up.

I guess it's like when people get upset about progressive political messages getting into mainstream radio. "Keep it separated!" they yell (and really, how much of it gets through anymore?). It's not a selling point nowadays to be socially conscious and/or radical in our mass culture of escapism, but if it were, maybe those songs would be on the radio more (ala 60s?).


Anonymous said...

The thing is, I honestly really liked this movie way more than that "Crash" bullshit. However, I totally see your point, man. And the movie cleaned up at the Oscars last night which just reeked of Academy exoticism/fetishism.


Rage said...

Yeah - it's difficult. I feel like they've so white-washed such a significant cultural element from India: cinema that folks all over eastern countries like Russia and the Central Asian states recognize. Mainstream Indian cinema is not my cup of tea, but it's definitely cultural output that has its own quirky originality, but this film is skimming from that to get its own accolades: kind of like Madonna yelling Om Shanti over a house beat on one of her albums. I don't mind folks taking elements and making them their own (George Harrison) but I can't stand this: seems very opportunistic. And if the film was so great, why didn't any of the actors get nominations?

giles said...

i still haven't seen this film, but there are so many criticisms from every direction, that i honestly don't know if i can ever watch it and not have those things echoing in my ears the whole time.

i feel you tho about the way it brings up serious issues as simple backdrop to a love story - i would guess like the way miss saigon uses war as just another detail in a story about love - the only thing that matters. gag

but at the same time, if white people want to love this movie so much, it would be nice if they wouldn't simply attribute it to danny boyle's genius and actually realize that there were brown people involved.

Rage said...

Giles - yeah, exactly. I mean Trainspotting was awesome. Just because you slept on that, doesn't mean the man should get all the accolades for this film with the brown folk being treated like props.