Sunday, January 4, 2009

Slumdog Salman

I spent a very low-key New Year's Eve at a movie theater watching Slumdog Millionaire, which had come highly recommended to me. Sadly, I think I may have gotten myself a little too excited to see it: while I did appreciate it as a colorful and propulsive cinematic achievement, I wasn't as emotionally affected by it as other people have been.

One of my new housemates (I mean, new-new--I just moved in yesterday) is Indian-American and I found myself discussing Slumdog Millionaire with her. "I just don't see why people say that this movie is inspiring when the happy ending is only because fortune randomly chose to favor this guy!" I said.

"Oh, but that's so India," said my housemate. She switched into an Apu-from-The-Simpsons voice (something that a lot of my Indian friends seem to relish doing in order to mock people from the old country): "Don't you see, Marissa, everything ees karma. Good theengs are coming to you eef you have thee good karma."

"I guess I'm more inspired by stories about people who get out and do things, rather than people who have good karma or luck or whatever." (I was thinking of Milk, specifically.)

"Yeah," said my housemate. "Trust me, I get sick of that whole karma thing too. But try telling that to my relatives."

I wrote a review for the IMDB in which I discuss this point at greater length, and you can read it if you like, but you know whose opinion of Slumdog Millionaire I would really like to hear? Salman Rushdie's!

So far as I know, Rushdie isn't in the habit of reviewing movies--but if I edited a magazine (and it wasn't bleeding money in this economy) I'd ask him to write an article about Slumdog Millionaire. I think it could be a very valuable pairing. Rushdie wrote one of the first Indian novels to hit it big in the West (Midnight's Children) and Slumdog Millionaire seems poised to do the same for Indian cinema.

Furthermore, Rushdie's books often feature magical realism and Slumdog Millionaire is a fairy tale. Both Midnight's Children and Slumdog Millionaire use some contrivances in order to make the protagonist's life match up with important historical events (in the case of Rushdie) or key trends and features of modern-day India (in the case of the movie). Indeed, both protagonists metaphorically represent India. Saleem Sinai was born at the moment of Indian independence, his nose is shaped like the Indian subcontinent, he is Hindu-born but Muslim-raised, etc. Jamal Malik, meanwhile, represents the way that contemporary Indians would like to see themselves: a good-hearted underdog whose street smarts and innate virtues, combined with Fortune's favor, will lead to success. The movie even takes care to point out that India's motto is "Truth alone triumphs," and that's exactly what happens in Jamal's story. Rushdie wrote his novel when India was at a low ebb, so Saleem goes from riches to rags; the opposite happens to Jamal.

Salman Rushdie is a very smart and witty man (and I speak from experience--he lectured at Vassar while I was there) who could provide a unique perspective on the movie that'll probably win Best Picture this year. So somebody get him to write about it, please! When publications like The New York Times Book Review hire famous authors to review the works of other authors, why is there nothing comparable for movie reviews?

Addendum: I just discovered that Rushdie, Umberto Eco, and Mario Vargas Llosa jokingly call each other "The Three Musketeers." If you have seen Slumdog Millionaire, you know that this is just TOO apt. This convinces me: Salman, IT IS WRITTEN that you must review this film!

6 comments:

Amit Wadkar said...

just stumbled onto your blog reading about Synechdoche NY...and then found your SM review...felt like leaving a comment...I agree with your friend...that in India it was all about karma and destiny...people used to tell you that your future is written on your forehead and you cant wipe it off...probably our culture as well as colonization(by the brits) led us to believe in this....somewhere in the last 15-20 years India has realized that you cant just sit and let life come to you....hence you can see the change in Indians throughout....agree with you that I didnt find Slumdog that good...have seen better movies also from Hindi cinema than this...also I don't believe in the destiny thing...nywayz like your Synechdoche review...

Marissa said...

Thanks for the comment, Amit. I still find it odd that this movie that otherwise talks a lot about the modernization of India still subscribes to these old notions of destiny and karma!

I just found a Vanity Fair article mentioning 10 Hindi films that influenced "Slumdog Millionaire." Have you seen/would you recommend any of them?

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2008/12/slumdog-millionaires-bollywood-ancestors.html

Amit Wadkar said...

Yeah I know its odd...will take some more time for us to leave behind all of this...but nywayz thatz India...a clash of evrything...

Yep i have seen those movies...the weird thing is in Bollywood movies we always had a cliched storyline about two brothers growing up in a slum, their mother being killed, both brothers go onto opposite paths in life...one a gangster and another a cop...the whole movie revolves around the cop trying to catch him, wooing a beautiful lady, all the melodrama, and finally the gangster brother dies at the end, and the cop lives happily ever after with the girl.I think hundreds of movies might have been made on the same....having some twists....

Slumdog is the same...same old thing in a new wrapper...with slant n hip camera angles....n the Millionaire thing....

Out of the list, Deewaar and Parinda are same as above story...

I would recommend (this is not the usual song n dance...though might have some songs...but not cheesy)

1) Salaam Bombay (Mira Nair) - not in the list but a must watch - sort of grim and depressing...but real slum life...i think it won the Cannes (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096028/)
2) Black Friday (Anurag Kashyap) - A Docu Drama about Mumbai 1993 Bomb blasts
3) Satya (Ramgopal Varma) - Sort of like Howard Roark type gangster in Mumbai :D (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0195231/)
4) Company (Ramgopal Varma) - Mumbai underworld story (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0296574/plotsummary)
5) Maqbool (Vishal Bharadwaj) - Macbeth set in Mumbai underworld (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0379370/)
6) Omkara (Vishal Bharadwaj) - Othello set in India (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0488414/)

Njoy

Jiju said...

http://greatbong.net/2008/12/29/slumdog-millionaire-the-review/

http://greatbong.net/2009/01/17/of-ray-and-boyle/

Josh said...

You got your wish. Salman didn't care for it:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090301/en_afp/entertainmentoscarsfilmindiabritainslumdog

Marissa said...

Thanks Josh. Rushdie's Guardian article from this weekend is also well worth the time, IMO:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/feb/28/salman-rushdie-novels-film-adaptations