Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire"

Finally saw it. And I have mixed feelings that I’m having trouble sorting out. The beginning brings Robert Redford’s 1994 “Quiz Show,” about the exposure of game-show cheat Charles Vandoren, to mind. But it quickly evolves that the cheat question—Jamal, our main character, is a contestant on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”—is just a vehicle through which to tell a love story. It’s clever storytelling, it’s well done, it works. And it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of India.

I think what’s giving me mixed feelings is how appalling it is to see extreme poverty, particularly children living in that situation. I had a brief—and uncharacteristic—sense of goodwill toward Angelina Jolie. (I’m not a fan of spoiled celebrities.) If I had money and found myself confronting kids like this, I think I’d end up bringing a few home, too.

The other think that makes me squeamish is how, as a pampered American who kids herself that she is somewhat aware of the world around her—I have no idea how accurate this glimpse is. Is all of India like what they show? Or just the slums? Is this an India past, not present?

I have no idea. The realization makes me uncomfortable. Hence my mixed feelings. I’m having trouble separating my thoughts about the film from my unease.

I’m hoping to get at some issues related to both—the movie and my questions, as an American, about India—by shooting some questions to Mia Inderbitzin, who is in the film. Mia was my next door neighbor growing up. And has it happens she lives in India, and has a part in the film. I’ll be posting our email interview sometime in the near future, I hope. Meanwhile, very open to any thoughts others might have—and questions they might want to pose to Mia—about the film, about the difference between Indian film and U.S. film, or even about the recent tragedy in Mumbai, where Mia lived until recently. (She’s safely in New Delhi now.)

Oh, and if you’re going to see the film, make sure you sit through the credits. Your reward will be an old-style Bollywood dance scene featuring the cast of the film. Lots of fun.


Anonymous said...

Funny, I had some of the same squeamish, "Wow, how come I am don't know more about this stuff" feelings after seeing the movie. Western affluent guilt??

I also had mixed feelings about the storytelling though. Slam, feel sad. Slam, feel guilty. Slam, feel horrified...oh, yeah and it's a love story.

I did love the performances (especially the children!) and I loved the use of Millionaire as a storytelling point of departure.

People should go see it but I think this is another one of those too frequent instances where the buzz about a film caused me to be dissapointed in the final product.

Elizabeth said...

Western affluent guilt, for sure. But also the added pain of parenthood, I think. These things are so much harder for me to watch since having Henry.

You're right about the storytelling. It's actually very calculated. Maybe that's why the movie doesn't quite make it...it's so constructed along a pattern designed to take you down, and then up, when they sense the audience needs a break.

I thought the kid peformances were far better than the adults.

And yeah, the buzz definitely hurt, in my case. I hate hearing too much/knowing too much about a movie before I see it.

Honestly, I'm not sure I would have seen this one had the buzz not been so big...I loathe game shows.