Thursday, January 29, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

At the beginning of this film we are given a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? style question. The poor, uneducated hero keeps getting the quiz questions right because: A) he is lucky B) he is a genius C) he cheated D) it is written.

That last answer, "it is written,"
which we find at the end of the film was the correct one, is a phrase from The Quran, indicating that something is the will of Allah. Given that the hero's name (Jamal) is obviously Muslim, I find myself wondering whether this final answer indicates that the filmmakers are: A) commenting on religio-ethnic tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India today, B) seriously trying to portray the plight of the poor, C) conveying a deep subtext about freedom, chance, and fate, or D) just trying to be cute.

I suspect the correct answer is (D), they are just trying to be cute. And this movie is indeed extremely cute. You just want to reach out and pinch its plump little cheeks. Kitchykitchykoo!

I notice, though, on Wikipedia that some Indians are taking it way more seriously, and not in a nice way.

Actually, I liked it for what it was: A traditional tale of how the hero wins fame, fortune, and love, and rescues the heroine from the clutches of the villain. I even like the audacity with which they piled one coincidence on another as, in flashbacks as Jamal is under police torture, they explain how he happened to know the answers to the questions.

Still, the coincidental nature of these events affects the nature of the tale. To the extent that this is how the hero succeeds, the story of his success is not an account of how he achieves something. I was put in mind of the Medieval tale, Dick Whittington and His Cat, about a poor boy who eventually becomes the Lord Mayor of London as a result of a series of events that follow upon his taking in a cat. In a hierarchical world like that of the Middle Ages, we can imagine upward mobility, but mainly as a result of random events, and not so much as the object of successful, purposive action.

To a certain extent, this film conveys that sort of world view. Still, it is jolly good fun. So is the tale of Dick Whittington (if you're a kid).


Ann said...

Interesting review. I hadn't known about the Indians who were mad about the name and depictions of poverty. My cynical mind wonders if they are just trying to scoop a bit of the action out of deep pockets? I thought the visual look and feel of the film, and the music was new and interesting somehow.

Lester Hunt said...

I interpret this as evidence that India is going PC. In other words, they are Westernizing even faster than we had thought. My message to them: as an inmate in an American university, I've been where you guys are going, and I can tell you it's no fun at all. Please don't imitate everything we do. Some of it is very stupid.

Will S. said...

I've heard Indians and others from the subcontinent, here in Canada, bitching about it, too. I suspect that P.C. has spread from the 'desis' to their friends and relatives back home, alas.