Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's new film based on a rags-to-riches tale of an Indian slum boy, has already become one of the hits of the year. The BBC's Soutik Biswas wonders whether it is really the "masterpiece" it is made out to be.
The film has been called a Dickensian take on the city of Mumbai
Like his protagonist, a gutsy 18-year-old slum boy who is on the verge of winning 20 million rupees (about $400,000) in a popular TV quiz show, Danny Boyle has hit an unlikely jackpot with Slumdog Millionaire.
And much like Jamal, a child who nobody believes could get this far on the TV show without cheating, Boyle is being roasted by some critics for taking an easy shortcut and "using" poverty to serve up a we-are-poor-but-we-are-happy story.
After picking up four US Golden Globe awards and raking in nearly $50m at the box office in the US and Britain already, Slumdog, unquestionably, is the flavour of the season.
With its mixed cast, the much-feted and hyped film is also Boyle's paean to Mumbai (Bombay), India's edgy metropolis of extremes, and Bollywood, the world's most prolific film industry.
Some have called it a moving Dickensian take on Mumbai thanks to its portrayal of the city's stifling and colourful squalor and the people who live in it. Others have derisively called it poverty porn. One critic called Boyle's work "slum chic".
Well, yes, in the shadow of rubbish mountains, mothers get hacked to death in front of their children in religious rioting and a movie star-struck slum boy defecating under the open sky falls into a slush of excreta. Children get their eyes burnt with acid, and girls are forced into brothels by rakish young men.
Slumdog is based in Mumbai's teeming slums
On the eve of the film's release in India, NGOs invite reporters to meet the "real slumdogs". "Off the back of Slumdog Millionaire," says one invitation in my inbox, "we can offer access to the slums of Delhi and interview opportunities with the real 'slumdogs' - children who live in absolute poverty every day."
Poverty, like a lot of things, is good business in a free market. But India is also exceedingly cruel to its poor and callous towards its children, and is one of the most unequal societies in the world.
I have no issues with Boyle's cheery depiction of the resilience of slum children and the sunny side of slum life: it is part of the unchanging popular oriental stereotype of poverty equals slums equals dirty, smiling children. Been there, seen that.
In fact, Indians appear to have come to terms with Western filmmakers' depiction of the country's crushing poverty.
I remember the sets - a vast slum, what else? - of Roland Joffe's multi-million dollar City of Joy, starring Patrick Swayze, being firebombed by arsonists in the city of Calcutta in the early 1990s. They charged him with selling poverty. Joffe had to pack up his bags, leave the city and finish the film at London's Pinewood studios.
My quibble with Slumdog Millionaire lies elsewhere. The film doesn't move me.
I suspect what Boyle tries to do is a Bollywood film - the dirt-poor lost brothers, unrequited love - with dollops of gritty realism. But at the end of it all, it is a pretty callow copy of a genre which only the Indians can make with the élan it deserves.
The realism skims the surface, and in spite of some decent performances, style dominates over substance. And the film does not grip me in the way, say, the story of the life in Rio de Janeiro's favelas in the 2002 Brazilian crime drama City of God did.
Slumdog is a fast-moving visual feast, thanks to some kinetic cinematography and nifty editing. It's kitschy, but again not kitschy enough, to stand up to Bollywood. A dance sequence at a railway station looks like an aerobics master class. The soundtrack is a noisy pastiche of rap, hip hop and funk Bollywood. AR Rahman fully deserves his Globe - if the film can deserve so many - but Slumdog is obviously not his greatest soundtrack.
Boyle 'tries to do a Bollywood' film for the West
Everybody loves a good underdog. That is why Slumdog strikes a chord with audiences in these depressing times. But a clever telling of the story cannot hide the banality of it.
Slumdog proves - like many films - that globalisation has largely failed to make cultures understand each other better. Because Indian cinema is synonymous with feckless Bollywood fare to many in the West, a vast body of critically acclaimed and often, popular, work which has consistently exposed India's underbelly with more ferocity and vigour than any foreign film is routinely ignored.
Remember Satyajit Ray, India's only Oscar-winning filmmaker - derided in his own country as a pedlar of poverty - and his early work based in famished Indian villages? Remember Ritwik Ghatak's gut-wrenching portrayals of the horrors of post-partition India in the shantytowns of Calcutta? More recently, a slew of bright, young Indian filmmakers have taken on themes which expose India's many mutinies and fault lines.
The lesson from Slumdog Millionaire is: the 'Bollywood' genre firmly belongs to India and no other, and nobody can do it better.
And if you are looking for gritty realism set in the badlands of Mumbai, order a DVD of a film called Satya by Ramgopal Verma. The 1998 feature on an immigrant who is sucked into Mumbai's colourful underworld makes Slumdog look like a slick, uplifting MTV docu-drama.
Here are a selection of your comments
I absolutely endorse every word Soutik Biswas has written. And I mean every word. I too and unlike several other Indians, notably Indian film actor, Amitabh Bachchan, have no issues with anyone from the "outside" showcasing poverty in India. What though I did not like about the movie were its inconsistencies, those which Biswas mentions, which also have received due mention in serious newspapers. In that regard, the NYT review critiques it best: "In the end, what gives me reluctant pause about this bright, cheery, hard-to-resist movie is that its joyfulness feels more like a filmmaker's calculation than an honest cry from the heart about the human spirit." And that Slumdog could make it to the Oscars is to me unexpected. I believe it was the Golden Globe win that influenced its nomination. I agree with Biswas that Satya is one of the best movies on Mumbai and makes Slumdog look like 'a slick, uplifting MTV docu-drama'.
I completely agree! Slumdog Millionaire did not impress me at all. I was deeply disappointed and came out feeling like I had just watched a below average Bollywood movie. Danny Boyle seemed like he was unwilling to go far enough. The movie was certainly not gritty enough to be accurate. It seemed to present an image of India and its poverty that is palatable (however skewed) to the west. If you want to watch a worthwhile movie about issues that this one seems to address try City of God.
Abhimanyu Chandra, USA
This article is biased. I watch almost every Bollywood that comes out most of them are a waste of time. Slumdog hits it straight on a topic everyone understands. The direction, screenplay and the script makes this a masterpiece. Its a pity that you compare this movie to Ram Gopal Varma's Satya/Company somebody who copies Hollywood movies. Satyajit Ray's movies are culturally so intense for a westerner to understand that they first need to understand the culture and the context, its like an Indian trying to watch and understand Little Miss Sunshine. This article shows your bias towards western film making. I bet you like Salman Khan's and Rajnikanth's movies. LOL.
You're right. I just saw this movie, and it's ridiculously overrated. Bollywood made hundreds of movies like SM in the 80s and 90s. Some of them were even better than SM. Satya, as this article points out, is far more superior. As far as the recognition goes, I'm glad that AR Rehman received a nomination for his music in the movie, but he's created much better music before.
Vineet Doshi, India
Its ridiculous how narrow minded the article is. Its true that every country has its own underbelly and good areas but to say that only the good things about the country should reach the cinema, just shows the arrogance in the set ways and the unwillingness to change just because it would expose the bad side of the country. Even in Hollywood movies are made about the poorest of the poorest of the ghettos with miserable life along with movies about the brighter side of the country. I just find it hypocritical and ridiculous some of the criticism this masterpiece of a movie is getting from quarters in India.
I agree with this review. Yes, there is a gritty life in the slums and 'chawls' (tenements) in Mumbai. And Dharavi is probably the largest slum in Asia ( no one wishes to compete in this contest, I think), but the film becomes unreal with the improbable series of mishaps these children endure. It is as though- the children suffer every calamity that can arise in these unfortunate slums. There is a big gap in my understanding as to how Jamal became so fluent and proficient in English. Most child 'guides' pick up some amount of English from visitors- but this! wow!
Devalina Sen, USA
I kind of agree with Soutik. 'Pather Panchali' or 'Do Beegha Zameen' or 'Meghe Dhaka Tara' are any day more powerful and more honest movies about India and its struggles compared to SDM.
We, of the USA, just love the rags-to-riches stories. And of course the happily-ever-after ones too. Good, bad, or indifferent it's just the way it goes.
Katherine Hegemann, USA
The movie shows it as it is. Its not hype/ contrived to make the poor and the impoverished look more pathetic/ worse if they could. Boyle's took a gamble on making a film about a book that was gritty to start with and has made a movie that has the same tone. He wasn't trying to be like Ray/ Verma. As you can see, I liked the film for what it is and not for what it isn't/ cannot be.
Nice review. I'm always sceptical of films with this amount of hype. My hunches tell me it's a so-so flick with an appealing plot because it pimps on poverty. Haven't decided yet whether or not I'll see it. But I really appreciated your point that there are other films that address extreme economic cultures that are hardly recognised.
As someone who actually grew up watching quite a few Bollywood and Kollywood movies, I think Slumdog is a fantastic combination of East and West. The plot by itself is not all that unique - it's not very different from something an Indian or Chinese writer might come up with. But the way that story was brought to life on the screen was astonishingly good, and touched me in a way which almost no films - whether from Hollywood or Bollywood - ever have.
John Lee, Malaysia
I couldn't agree more with article. The film also left me empty. The cuts were too quick, I never got to know the characters, plot was so improbable and the dance scene during the credits was lame.
Have you ever wondered why Bollywood movies are such hits among India's poor? Do you think the poor want to pay hard-earned money to watch the misery they experience everyday vividly on a big screen with special sound effects? I predict Slumdog will be a great hit with India's poor, because it is story they would like to hear, like so many stories India invents that make them smile, and, yes, even sing. And what is wrong with that? Danny Boyle understands something you don't. Those gut-wrenchingly realistic depictions of the poor, they are for the intellectuals. They do little for the poor, certainly less than Slumdog. Next time please talk to the slum-dwellers about Slumdog and let us know what they say - and then ask them about Oscar-winning Satyajit Ray's movies.
I agree with the review. As much as I liked the movie, I don't think that it deserves an Oscar. Much better and more deserving movies have come out of Bollywood than Slumdog Millionaire. I believe this movie managed to get so many nominations because of its association with the 'right' producers.
I end up at Bollywood movies because of friends. Mostly little content and lots of fanfare. This was an excellent movie. Now I know why it is not a Bollywood movie!
Mubashir , USA
I WOULD order a DVD of Satya, which remains my absolute favourite Mumbai mafia movie, a classic unsurpassed even by its own director's other Mumbai mafia fare, if I could only find a subtitled copy. My boyfriend would love this movie and it would underscore the point I have tried to make time and again, that Bollywood, like Hollywood has room for all kinds of eclectic fare and occasionally the grittiest, ugliest, unlikeliest slumdog gems touch a chord with a populace that has been generally bred to enjoy a cinema of escapism. So where are the good, remastered, legibly subtitled prints of Indian film classics, cult and otherwise? Where can I get a copy of English August, or Manthan or Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro? Or Satya?
I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire immensely. Its a gripping story of a young man who succeeds despite all the odds while retaining his humanity. In conversations with relatives in India, I was surprised at their negative their reaction, especially, about the portrayal of poverty. Well, acceptance poverty of poverty is something to be ashamed of but I don't expect India's growing middle class will develop a conscience to address this shameful fact. Poverty has been endemic to India and if Indians don't world the West to depict poverty then they should do something about it. In any case the movie may not be a fine vintage port, it is effervescent and enjoyable just the same.
Raja Panwar, Canada
I agree with every word that is written in this article.
Sudhi Upadhyaya, USA
Why is it an essential for film critics to seemingly prove their own cleverness with articles like this when, surely, they should be discussing the entertainment value of films. This movie is certainly NOT a Kurosawa masterpiece or another Seventh Seal, but does it actually claim to be anything other than an adaption of a rather jolly novel (Q & A) ? I think not. Having lived in Bombay for some years I recognised most of the sets and agree that the portraits of life within the slums and the murky mafia-like are not full of "gritty realism", but saying this ignores the premise of the story - and it is in the story that this film scores so well. At heart, Slumdog Millionaire is a fast-paced, FUN film telling an ageless tale of young love, with some rather neat plot twists. I don't see it as a copy of a Bollywood movie at all, although there is the occasional tip of the hat to that genre: but then, I'm not trying to prove how smart I am or even to make a quasi-political point. Let's not lose sight of the one essential element of any movie - is it enjoyable? SM is certainly that, and although it may not stand the test of time, just as many super-popular movies of the past now look positively quaint, I would suggest that it is a worthwhile effort which deserves its popularity. Certainly, many people I know have watched it more than just the once, and reading the above article has decided me to do the same. I get the impression that critics like Soutik Biswas have lost the ability to just plain enjoy movies, and I feel sad for them.
J Bradshaw, Egypt
I completely agree with Soutik Biswas. This is one movie which in reality has evoked the least interest in Indians and unfortunately happens to be the movie chosen for so many awards by people who haven't experienced the reality of India. "Poverty porn" defines it. Poverty + Emotion (riots) + struggle for love + Win of an underdog = A perfect combination to win the Awards.
Boyle's camera does not reach the face of the India of today. He misses the two main aspects of the country- the progress as well as the rampant consumerism. He seems have wilfully restricted his film to either gaze lewdly at the navel or condescendingly at the dirty underbelly; both of which sell well in the west. I hope he does not win.
R Mukherjee, Canada
When I first saw this film my first thought was - it is a 90 minute music video. I agree - only Bollywood can do this genre the best. This is a western attempt at a Bollywood film. Also it gained acceptance here as it fits all the oriental expectations of the western mind. It is not like Satyajit Ray's "The Middleman" which is the depiction of real people living with poverty which does not fit the western idea of the reality of the Indian Subcontinent (or any other less developed area of the world to say the least). Please watch The Middleman or the Big City by Satyajit Ray.
Saeed Khan, USA
I feel the movie is all about love and determination. I don't see how one can compare that to Satya, a gangster movie set in Mumbai. Soutik Biswas clearly lost the plot.
Anil Pogula, India
They have ruined a good book.. the book is far better than this movie. The movie concentrates on the poor the corrupt and makes fun of the poor as in question master. I just wish others could read the book and then decide if this movie is worth all the hype????
Jennifer D Gallagher, Scotland
This is the most horrible review I have ever read. I was looking forward to reading some objective criticism towards Slumdog; however, the article fails to provide any basis for the author not being moved. The only offense made towards the movie was that the director was not Indian and only an Indian can accurately portray India supposedly.
Danny Boyle is a great entertainer and he has marketed his movie brilliantly to the world. But honestly, I couldn't agree more with Soutik Biswas. Slumdog is an ordinary film that is doing very well because its a feel-good story and it simultaneously shocks the western senses with scenes of the starkest poverty and filth.
Aanand Krishnan , USA
The author of this article can't stand that his country is being rightfully criticized for not providing the basic human necessities to its population. The film shows an accurate view of the slums in India.
Juan Perez, USA
I get the sense that some are over-analysing what is simply a feel-good film. It is odd to feel aggrieved that the western eye seems to favour a film which straddles cultures rather than the classics the author mentions which are seated firmly in one culture. Criticising the closing dance routine just shows how desperately the author has missed the point.
Robert Adams, UK
Though I was initially taken by the hype surrounding the movie, I was left very disappointed. The acting was passable, the cinematography was good, the plot was silly and the subject matter was skimmed over. It doesn't matter if this movie wins any awards or not, I think down the road people will realize that it is shallow and extremely contrived.
Asad Rizvi, Germany
I wish people who see this movie can take some lesson back, living in developed economies you get all the basic things at your hands and especially the big super markets who wastes so much of food is mind boggling. I have personally experienced the life of some teenage lived in slums of Pakistan, who are willing to achieve something in life but no resources to fund those.
Ajmal, United Kingdom
Slumdog is an awesome movie, forget about east-west divide, one must go and watch out..
I agree with the author. Even though I am an Indian, this film totally failed to move me. Two reasons: The "who wants to be a millionaire format" - I totally despise the show for its bright blue lights. Second, the story itself- I felt nothing special about this movie.
Dr Sami Sandu, USA
If anything at all this review carefully corroborates the fact that Indians are the first to bring anything remotely Indian down. This notion extends to every sphere of Indian life.
This is a really disappointing article to read and whilst I understand where the article is coming from it clearly misses the point. For the 'low' budget it was produced on it truly is a masterpiece. The camera shots are clever, experimental and enthralling to view, especially through the initial 'slum' chase scenes. Much of it reminds me of 'City of God' and it's lesser known brother 'City of Men.' Neither of those films were slated due to a 'easy' slum-based narrative, in-fact to the contrary City of God sits at number 17 in the all-time top Imdb films. The fantastic lighting and colour correction producing bright golds, blues and reds gives a great feeling of warmth and despair at the appropriate moments. Never have I seen a film that utilises so many great techniques and shots interleaved with such a tantalising narrative, since maybe the likes of 'Brick.'
Jack Jones, UK
Glad I found someone with a similar opinion as mine. All the folks that I talk to rave about this movie. Criticizing this movie has become like criticizing Obama. No one wants to hear it. I feel that the movie tries to package the more than well trodden Hindi movie masala themes into a more western friendly style. The good part about the movie is that it does this well. Also it does the story telling in a somewhat novel way. I also feel that it tries to provide realism in a very superficial way. Exhibit 1: The protagonist speaks Hindi all through the childhood (this part was realistic) but starts to speak middle class/upper middle class stylish English when he grows up (stylish in the Indian context). How did he learn the language so well? I think the casting could have been better. Also Rehman's music is highly overrated in this movie. This certainly is not the best music Rehman has given (I know the GG award was comparing this music with nominees in this category). I have loved many of Rehman's compositions and follow his work carefully. Glad that someone has given more technical thought and insightful comments than the usual "shows in India in bad light" argument. Good work Soutik!
Minu Kumar, United States
Thanks for the article...I completely agree that it fails to move like "City of God"...its not Rahman's best track....and true that "'Bollywood' genre firmly belongs to India"....
The real questions now are: were the actors paid a fair fee for their acting? Were they represented by good managers? Or just taken advantage of like any other slum dweller?
The reason Indians don't like this movie is simply because the people from the Indian subcontinent - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, have a tendency to "sweep their problems under the rug" and let them stay hidden there, pretending that those social problems don't exist. Those who are criticising this movie are ashamed, angered and frustrated and are in fact helpless in front of the social problems portrayed in the movie.
Omar Mukhtar, Airdrie, Canada
Mr Biswas is right. In fact, every little sub-theme in Slumdog Millionaire has been handled in a popular Bollywood movie, before. As far as the script goes, I see no innovation. It's a good movie, but in parts feels like a cheap Bollywood imitation.
I am not sure what Soutik Biswas is trying to say here. Why is he along with a lot of people trying to deride a good & well made film? When you compare this movie with the junk fantasy that rolls out of Bollywood every day, this movie deserves a mention. I am originally from Bombay and can relate to many of the things depicted in the movie. I agree with Soutik that Satya was a well made movie but what is the point of comparing Satya with this movie. That is like trying to compare chalk and cheese.
SB , USA
Finally, someone who shares my views on the movie. Well written commentary. I agree completely with the author, good movie, not great. And the cheesy dance number at the end did not impress me one bit either. Being Indian, I've watched so many Bollywood movies with much more grandiose settings and choreography.
From early into the film, I realised this wasn't an "Indian" film. The Hindi was stunted and even the police, with their 2 (unrepeatable) words of the language, were unconvincing; some of the main the actors were clearly British-based Asians and the look and feel of the film was alien ¿ not that I like Bollywood; give me Ray any day. I did think that the film had an energy and power that was exceptional despite the abhorring sweat and grime and the sordid violence; it was exceptionally clever. The bath tub did little for me; few new Indian houses have them, though I suppose they come with nouveau riche decadence and some aspects of modern living. So, if one concedes it isn't Indian, who is the film for? That question will only be answered by its reception in India and elsewhere. I, probably, wouldn't probably see it again. It was exhausting.
Deedee Sen, UK
I'm not sure the critic, Soutik Biswas expected from this movie. I personally found the movie to be a canvas of colour. And movement. And heart. If elements from this movie do not move you, then there are few things that will. It's more likely that the critic is carrying forth a baggage from the past - maybe movies that he viewed at an impressionable age, which left a mark on his psyche. While Ray and Ghatak's portrayal of reality was dramatic yet tasteful, the film Slumdog Millionaire was not just about poverty. It was about hope, love and perseverance. The overwhelming majority of human beings who have reviewed this movie have heaped praises on it. I get the strange feeling that maybe our esteemed critic has lost touch with the masses (or elite for that matter of fact)?
The author is really stupid. Danny Boyle is not trying to bring Bollywood genre to the west. Bollywood movies are just trash and contain same story every time. The nonsense songs cover almost 30 mins of the whole movie. Slumdog Millionaire is just an honest portrayal of India and doesn't has too much dramas as usual Bollywood movie has. I guess Bollywood director should learn from western director like Danny Boyle and stop making the singing-dancing-stupid story movie.
A missed opportunity, this article that is not the film. I'm not disagreeing with your argument that either that no one can do the 'Bollywood' genre better than India. If James Cameron for example, made a film about life in Britain I'm sure British journalists would criticise it and point to better films made in Britain by British directors. However this type of response tends to come from those who have closed their minds long before they entered the cinema. Indeed I'm sure you could virtually have written this piece beforehand. Again I stress I'm not trying to deny that Slumdog is inferior to some films in the 'Bollywood' genre although I will say I find the assertion that it (the Bollywood genre) "belongs to India and no other" at best bordering on xenophobic. However despite it's limitations the film offers a real opportunity to tackle the ignorance by giving strong Indian films a basis on which to be promoted and drawn into mainstream British public knowledge. I recognise you attempted to do this to a degree by highlighting a few films and directors, however since the people most likely to be willing to give these films a try, are also those who really liked Slumdog, it is unlikely many will take up your tip (or indeed bother to read that far into your article). If your goal actually is to tackle this ignorance rather than a sneering and patronising moan about "western filmmakers'" ignorance, then maybe you could write an article which lists and discusses a few "Bollywood" films that you recommend for people interested in exploring the genre. If you lose the hostile tone, I feel many, myself included, would be appreciate such an article.
David Heil, England
I am utterly confused by Soutik Biswas' critique of Slumdog Millionaire, the first film I have enjoyed for a long time. I am not even sure we watched the same movie! To describe the movie as a 'cheery depiction of the resilience of slum children and the sunny side of slum life' is shallow. I missed any sunny-side. I saw conflict for limited resources, desperation and shocking abuse. The relationships that are depicted within the movie are hacked out of squalor, poverty impacts and resonates through every scene. So there is grit, and harsh 'realities', but that isn't the whole story....nor should it be. The romance that is woven into this fabric is optimistic, certainly, but one could never describe it as a 'we-are-poor-but-we-are-happy story'. I don't believe for one moment that Boyle was trying to 'do' Bollywood, certainly not trying to do it better than the Indians. I see it's influence, of course, but I also saw Trainspotting in there. The mix of genre works well. It offers light and shade, which facilitates the telling of the tale. Slumdog is not a documentary, it's a love story. Perhaps Biswas would prefer that all love stories were set against the backdrop of suburban Paris and starred Hugh Grant.
J Tilsley, UK
I totally agree with this opinion of the movie. When I watched it with my American friends in Los Angeles, I was disappointed in the way my beautiful city was portrayed. Even though there is a lot of truth in the movie, it is sad that the director chose to focus on only the downsides of Mumbai when it is essentially a city of action, hope and dynamism. The "West" seems to be appreciating the movie simply because it is a depiction of the underdog from the point of view of one of them. I read somewhere that somebody said if this exact same movie was made by an Indian director, it would not have received half as much of the appreciation in the West as it is now. It is a sad situation, but true. And yes, compared to a true Bollywood movie, this is only a one star.
Shaista Bharwani, India
Some people just want to pick holes to go against the grain. Nothing depicted in the movie was false was it?? Just because it wasn't used as an advertisement for modern India doesn't mean that this film is any less a piece of fantastic film-making. Bollywood is successful in India, it has not been hugely attractive to other cultures. A film like this can merge the boundary between Western and Eastern film-making. This gentlemen should appreciate that this film makes India look beautiful, lively, interesting and has brought Indian actors, locations and issues into the very forefront of Western media. Or would he prefer we weren't interested?
Danny Boyle's movie is a testament to the humanity of the characters in the movie and to the many who live in the slums. I am puzzled why Indians (and I am one who lives in the US) are so upset that poverty is on display in the movie when it is on display nearly everywhere in India. This movie was well done piece of entertainment with a wide appeal and Bollywood movies with all their song and dance are a genre that has only limited appeal. Any attention brought to the poor that can help others see them as human beings too, is important.
What a dull review. Being on a BBC website, I had assumed a contrarian review to redress the balance of the breathless, overheated affirmations would be more thoughtful, more creative, and more interesting than the rather predictable "the natives do it better" routine. It's déjà vu from when critics slammed Miss Saigon for not using Vietnamese actors or when Spike Lee groused about Eastwood not finding any African-Americans on Iwo Jima. It is a bankrupt criticism in 2009. There is far too much overlap, mixing, and mashing-up going on to try to find "pure" expressions. After all, what is a Bollywood musical but an Indian take on Hollywood musicals? I mean, think about it... they call their industry BollyWOOD. Your argument against Boyle's film could just as easily be made against the Bombay film industry, could it not? Maybe you could say that Indians can't "do" Americans musicals with the same "elan" as Americans. I suspect you don't do this because you see the patent absurdity, and frankly, elitism, of the statement. Because beneath such a statement is a hint of exclusiveness; that "non-natives" should NOT attempt to make art in another genre. This article feels like space filler. It feels like 1980s criticism.
David Fulton, USA
I completely agree with the views of the author. I was very excited to see Slumdog Millionaire after hearing so many praises but I was thoroughly disappointed with the movie. Not to say that this is a bad movie. Just to make it clear that I have absolutely no problem with the filth and poverty shown in the Mumbai. I have lived in Mumbai all my life and I acknowledge that a lot of what is shown does exist. But from point of view of good cinema, I do not think it is great. It is slick, well edited but I fail to understand the hype and craze it has generated. It just does not have enough meat/substance. There are much better movies about the dark underbelly of Mumbai made by the Indian film industry. Satya is a great example and there are many more. And come on please give me break about Jai Ho. The song is shot in an almost juvenile fashion. Indian Cinema has much more to offer. I agree that most westerns think that a song and dance sequence is frivolous but it has power to tell stories and move you in many ways. And Slumdog Millionaire does nothing of this sort. A word for A R Rahman. That guy deserves the highest accolades possible. He is simply a genius but lets be clear this is not his best work by far. One more recommendation, just listen to the soundtrack of Dil Se. That is A R Rahman at his best!
Ameya Hate, India
I am Indian immigrant living in USA. I love my country as much as i love my self. the movie Slumdog reflects the reality or the dark side of the coin. Every country has its own challenges. India is still young developing country free from just 60 years as compared to US which free from last 200 years. Poverty and child labour is big challenge for country like India. The movie reflects only the one sided picture of the country which could be misguiding for foreign person who is watching Indian based movie for first time.
Nilesh Chaudhary, USA
I disagree 100% with your review. The film shows completely realistic snippets of slum life. I am a born and bred Mumbaikar and nowhere did I see a bias towards peddling poverty or potemkin-izing slum life. I bet you cannot give specific examples from movie scenes to bolster your arguments - because there aren't any.
Andy M, USA
I'm very confused by why this film has been getting all the accolades it has. I failed to notice anything remarkable/ outstanding about the film, apart from the fact that it's the story of an underdog (and who doesn't love an underdog winning?). Regarding the tapestry of the film... I believe it's a travesty that an English filmmaker has shown Mumbai to be little other than a filthy mega metropolis inhabited by child and women abusers, and petty criminals. Way to reinforce 'poor, third world country' stereotypes, Danny Boyle! I guess a film about India's economic might and emerging presence on the world stage just wouldn't have sold as many tickets.
Guru S, USA
Even though I agree with the general viewpoint of this article, I totally disagree about the quality of films made by Bollywood. This industry is dominated by people with zero talent, devoid of any intellectual content and is refuses to confront any reality. It is prolific but backwards and shameful in every other respect.
I have seen the film. Mumbai, like many other mega cities in the developing and developed world, has its share of slums and then some. I used to live not far from where the slum scenes were filmed. The locale is genuine but the story is a fairy tale and must be seen as such. A couple of scenes, although possible in the slums, are in bad taste. For instance, the scene where the young slumdog falls into human excreta and then runs up to his idol, and the scene where a child is blinded with acid. I was shocked and repelled by such realism. I agree, Satyajit Ray should have received as much recognition as Alfred Hitchcock. Both were masters of evoking realism and shock by merely using diverse light conditions and swift movement of the black & white camera. This is where the real skill lies.
You say that your quibble is not with the film's depiction of poverty, yet you end this piece suggesting films that show the true reality of India. That is inconsistent. It is clear that the film's depiction of poverty is what restrains you from being moved by this film. I understand your sensitivity and concern for the conditions in India, but I believe it is unfair to charge every director with the responsibility to create a film that is oriented toward social action. And social action is implicit in this piece, is it not? Should we be judging films on their ability to mobilize the viewing body toward action? Will showing people the "real" conditions move them to action? (these are integral questions which seem to not have been asked prior to the writing of this article) I believe there are those who upon seeing the true conditions will do nothing. It frustrates me to no end but it is unfair to take those frustrations out on people we deem insensitive or ignorant! Which you seem to have done with Mr. Boyle here. Furthermore, I do not believe this film eschews the conditions in India. The images speak for themselves, and they are powerful. In fact there are those who believe the film will not do so well in India because it is too "real". Too real for India, not real enough for the west. I think Mr. Boyle has somehow found a balance. "Everybody loves a good underdog. That is why Slumdog strikes a chord with audiences in these depressing times." This is quite the simplification. For a more thorough examination of why this film moves people follow this link. http://rednow.com/film/feature/slumdog-millionaire-as-sacer-ludus
John R, US
I seem to be in an absolute minority of people who did not like it. No, let me rephrase that. Not 'did not like it'. I am utterly confused by Slumdog Millionaire. A part of me wants to rejoice in the feeling of the triumph of the small man and in the spirit of hope that this movie appears to engender; you know, that "if the office tea boy can surmount such incredible odds, so can I" kind of feeling. The movie is slickly made; the story is told through seamless exploration of flashback. The casting, particularly of the small children in their respective roles, is fabulous. The score by AR Rahman is unremarkable, but not bad. On the other hand, a large part of me is repulsed by the crass, tasteless portrayal of the indigent underbelly of the city - a sure-fire formula for some foreign movie awards, as well as for captivating the Western audience, which has always been drawn towards displays of poverty and squalor in third world countries. That sentiment is amply echoed in the dialog when the American couple, being shocked at seeing the young boy beaten, hurriedly hands him a hundred dollar bill - the panacea to all the travails of his young life - indicating that this is what real America is. Ironic, that the director did not quite realize how accurate this portrayal was - the typical American response of solving 'issues' by throwing money at them! There are some inexplicable time-leaps in the movie, that leave the audience nonplussed as to how the slum-dwelling brothers suddenly learnt to communicate in English so well and how Salim managed to get hold of a gun (particularly since Mumbai is no Texas!). And I wonder how Mr Bachchan and Mr Khan - the real-life hosts of the WWTBAM show - have taken this portrayal of the show host as a sleazy, reprehensible douchebag.
Kausik Datta, United States
"Everybody likes a good underdog". No statement can be correct than this one: Be it Jamaal or Barack Obama.
I really liked the review of this film by Soutik Biswas. I was so excited before watching the film. I got exotic views from so many British friends that I ran to watch the film with my partner even keeping my work aside. After watching the film we both felt that we have been cheated. I really did not like the idea of the film at all. The criticism is very appropriate.
Nandini Sen, UK
I like this well balance review and yes - I can see why Slumdog might fail to move many. But if film as a medium is meant to entertain/move/provoke us to think etc. I think two out of three isn't bad. The audience is on the edge of their seats when watching it and it does give people a jolt when they see the poverty and violence in the movie. Purely for those 2 reasons - its a brilliant work of artistic expression. I really hope Rahman wins the Oscar. The world will then (finally)take interest in his other, much more enjoyable soundtracks. Bombay Dreams has been the only representation of his work to the western world, which is quite a tragedy!
Michelle Fernandes Datey, India/USA
At last some validation for my thoughts after seeing the film! The movie is just not as great as it is made out to be. The portrayal of a British accented English speaking former slum kid spending most of his life in search of a girl he met for a few days when he seven year old is laughable. This just shows Hollywood's fetish for ¿poverty porn¿ based on third world clichés.
Sandeep Chandra, Buffalo, USA
I am amazed at the varied reactions ranging from good to bad to ugly to apt to excellent. Soutik you compare it Satya, but have you seen Aamir? One could identify more with the underbelly of Bombay in this film. I do hope there is some mechanism the financers will put into place to give the slum dwellers more opportunity and a chance to improve their lives. Both bad and good publicity only contributes to jingling cash registers. They now owe a debt to that society.
Prasad Dole, Cape Town South Africa
I completely agree with the points raised in this article. I watched the film yesterday with a friend and both of us were looking at our watches half way through the film! A complete disappointment.
Why is the assumption that Boyle is trying to imitate Bollywood? He is telling a story that the vast majority in Bollywood ignore, but in his own style - that is why he is nominated and not anyone in Bollywood. Also I don't think the point was to sell slum children as happy-go-lucky, but that people in constantly dire circumstances do whatever it takes to survive both physically and mentally. Can you imagine if these people never had a moment of joy (esp children)? The human spirit must find whatever small amount of joy it can, else the mind will wither.
J Sidhu, USA
This movie is extremely insulting to India and Indians.
I agree the critical praise this film has received is perhaps beyond the expectation of even the makers themselves, but I don't see how anyone could watch it and not feel gripped and satisfied. The pace is perfect and avoids the sense that it is a series of vignettes that it in fact is. On political level, perhaps the film should have gone one way or another- exploring the daily suffering which quite patently exists in poverty stricken regions the world over, or alternatively portrayed a fantastical world much like the traditional Bollywood epic; but this is only on reflection, well after the stewards have cleared the empty popcorn cartons. I know some Indians have criticised the "west's view of Indian poverty", which is a shame given the need for India to answer these questions and not to presume that gentrification benefits all. When all is said and done, watch the film and you will enjoy every minute.
I completely agree with Soutik Biswas's observations on the movie. I also thought the movie was very mediocre in its presentation of an otherwise great story. The script and dialogues were very erratic and something about the casting and performance left a sense lets me to believe it was a half-hearted attempt. I was disappointed
A few notable misses: 1. The film exposes our billion rupee "panhandling business" or industry , if I may say so, however Soutik makes a fleeting reference. 2. Soutik does miss on Indian accent". Dev Patel (kudos to his performance)did not have a typical Indian accent, which Dan Boyle should have had ensured, in case he was hoping for an Oscar. 3. Saurabh Shukla and Irfan Khan was at their usual best and needed a mention. Soutik conveniently forgets them. 4. Finally, what is wrong if a Caucasian wants to benefit from India's poverty when "intellectuals" like Satyajit Ray could do it and get away with it In the past, Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta have shot to fame, having successfully dealt with some of the "best kept secrets of a 2000 year old culture" namely child abuse, treatment of widows, racial discrimination, without being denigrated by the Indians. I fail to understand Soutik's vilification. Does it stem from the fact that a "firinghee" , instead of an Indian, has successfully portrayed life in 21st century Mumbai (and India) where poverty, hope, aspiration, gangs, lack of basic sanitation and technology cohabit successfully?
I am not sure that Mr Biswas makes a coherent point here. He seems to be saying, only Indians can make kitschy Indian films, and then ends on a nationalist rant where he lists Indian movies that are better then Slumdog. While I do not disagree that Slumdog is an inferior movie, in this article Mr Biswas completely fails to explain why he believes that this is the case.
Ali Hassan, Pakistan
As an Indian whose staple diet has been films - Bollywood and Hollywood, I agree with Soutik Biswas that Slumdog Millionaire just happens to be a "pure" Bollywood film made by a western director. To be honest, I cant seem to understand the 'greatness' of the Slumdog Millionaire as I and many other Indians can any day confirm that there are at least a hundred Bollywood films that are much better and more Oscar or globe' deserving.
Unlike Indian most Indian movies, Slumdog straddles the art house and Bollywood. One just has to follow the elder brother and his friends to see what a more likely outcome for a slum dweller is. The younger brother's story is just Cinderella to draw in the audience. If that gets the escapists to see the girt of the slum, even for a few moments, so be it. Ray et al for all their film craft are not seen by the multitude.
Harry Coomer, USA
The answer is simple, its a good movie not great and not a masterpiece, its not even in the top 20 movies of the year, much less best picture.
Gautam , USA
Thank you! I have been making the same point with my friends. Either way you look at it, it's a mediocre movie. Hindi cinema has so many better movie than this in last two years itself. From Hollywood's point of view, the film simply have too many factual and plausibility issues that it shouldn't even be considered for an award. They seem to be giving the movie a handicap that it does not deserve.
I for one, agree with Mr Biswas. I was struck with unwanted GG and now Oscar nominations. The movie is gritty but the dialogue and story are so amazingly clichéd (protagonist yearning for his childhood love, rescue from a brothel, two brothers face off on a construction site and the list goes on). If it was not made in English nobody would even think of nominating it for a Foreign Film Oscar because most Indian have seen these scenes over and over again in Bollywood. I have lived in Bombay and frankly poverty has never been so stylish!
Mufaddal Photographer, India
That's entertainment....and I am sorry, but I have hung out in some of the slums of Rio, and it is not all misery. I am certain the same could be said for India. Poverty is a spiritual condition ... brought on by the wont of the material....the seven deadlies contribute to this. Sorry you did not like the film, but I am certain that this will give the developed world a better feel of the poverty in India. After all, what is wrong with a film that shows hope?
Robert Husted, USA
I totally agree. Slumdog is quite overrated with its shoddy acting at times, and clichéd ending. Bollywood has made much better movies portraying poverty and the Underworld. I hope Benjamin Button wins best picture, as it truly deserves.
I recently spent a week in Mumbai, for the first time, the images in Slumdog Millionaire are eerily similar to what I saw. Mr. Boyle was only depicting what an Indian writer had put on paper, so what is the problem. I think it is unfair; probably sour grapes an Englishman can depict realism of slum life of Mumbai. The review is unfair, I enjoyed the film and the images had lasting impact on me. Why cant Indian film maker make this kind of film. Basically Bollywood is nepotism, only untalented star sons and daughters get break.
I get the feeling that its not a fact of "poverty selling", more the fact that Danny Boyle showed it as it is. The facts are facts, there are an astounding number of impoverished people in India, and hiding them from the camera lens will not do anything to help rise them out of their situation. As an Indian-American, I've had to answer to friends and tell them, yes, there are poor people and yes there is a level of religious and ethnic discord in the country; however I also mention that with economic progress, the situation is improving exponentially. In the movie, the main character even says "Bombay had become Mumbai," and showed the large amount of development that had taken place where the old slums used to be. If anything, he showed the progress that was being made, and where as a society India could improve.
I think Soutik Biswas is missing the point here - that Danny Boyle's movie and Simon Beaufoy's script are good - and that's why everyone likes the movie. It doesn't shirk the reality of Mumbai, nor does it dwell on it - it is a fairytale - but a well told one. Vikas Swarup's original idea in Q&A was also a good one, but in my view the changes in the story of the film make everything hang together better. And as for "stereotypes of ...dirty smiling children" - don't you see that children continue to be children in whatever circumstance they find themselves? Read Simon Beaufoy's essay following the Mumbai terror attacks in the Guardian.
As an Indian who has lived in Mumbai I could feel the film. A movie is meant to dramatise. The need for commercial success requires slickness. But isn't this a reality? Isn't India's middle and upper class grossly apathetic of the poor? This movie reminds us of gory realities in an entertaining way and should be mandatory viewing especially for Indian children from middle and upper classes.
Dr Archana Raheja, United Kingdom
I think this is the only 'positive' film I've seen so far on the slums in Mumbai, and makes me proud as an Indian that the film has received so much recognition. Growing up in Mumbai, you cannot help but notice the plight of the people living in these poverty-stricken areas. I loved Slumdog for showing me the light, colourful, romantic side of being a slum dweller. Soutik Biswas, unfortunately, belongs to the now more popular category of Indian journalists who believe in hiding all ugly facets of Indian society. As much as it hurts, we need to rid India of poverty and confront this issue, rather than ignore it completely.
Tina Verma, Mumbai, India
Take it easy Soutik Biswas. It is just a movie and not a social documentary which you seems to be imagining. What is wrong if the western movie makers want to depict poverty. Don't forget they also show India's palaces. They show what is novelty for them just as Indian directors show the gloss of West making movies in Switzerland, London, Miami etc. Just enjoy the movie for what it is.
Soutik Biswas makes very tendentious conclusions from a subjective starting point; that his failure to be 'moved' by Slumdog Millionaire is evidence "that globalisation has largely failed to make cultures understand each other better". Fine, Mr Biswas did not like the movie, but to conflate his own personal lack of 'being moved' with such sweeping generalisations reflects more on his own prejudices than the strengths of the movie as a piece of cinematic art, or the ability of cinema to cross cultures and be a natural cosmopolitan form. Soutik Biswas, in playing the 'culture' card displays a provincialism and insularity that is at odds with the reality of the movies origin. It is, after all, based on a novel by the Indian writer Vikas Swarup, and has been adapted by a screenwriter and director who saw the universal narrative contained in it. Is Mr Biswas saying that every film maker must live in a box of his own nominal culture? Danny Boyle's movie is shamelessly romantic and populist, but it is also a movie informed by the reality and tensions of modern day Indian society and it does not flinch from training its gaze on them in the way that the most escapist Bollywood fare does regarding some of these issues. Furthermore, Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray were both lauded around the world for their movies, so to claim that 'the West' did not recognise their work is simply wrong. (Ray was lauded in Cannes and Venice and received a lifetime achievement award from the Oscars).
I really agree with Mr Biswas. This movie is just another Bollywood movie! Mr. Rahman certainly did an excellent job in his composition of music. The story appeared to be unrealistic! I was amazed by the awards from Golden Globe.
Asish Sarkar, USA
Fantastic article...... It is exactly what my brother and I thought of the film. Wonder what the response will be like by India's public after the film's release there tomorrow.
Procheta Mallik, UK
Just could not agree more with you. You hit the nail on the head.
Mudit, United Kingdom
Not only was the film banal, but Danny Boyle shows some very weird scenarios with the character of the TV show host- that character which is cruel without purpose in the film and a very unrealistic portrait. You have the audience of this TV show who laugh at the contestant for being "just a chaiwalla"... on national TV in India?! i don't think so! DB is trying to get away with portrait of common Indians as social morons.
Agreed. This film is not any better than Satya. I guess the title of the film is very demeaning and demoralising. I wonder if Danny has even been to the slums in Bombay or Mathare (Kenya).
Vishal Patel, UK
I agree with Biswas on many points especially "AR Rahman fully deserves his Globe - if the film can deserve so many - but Slumdog is obviously not his greatest soundtrack. ". Had this movie not been a English movie, I bet my life that Rehman would not have got an award at all. That shows how Golden Globe or Oscars treat real talent.
Satya Gorthy, UK
Its a film that shows the true face of India and conditions that the majority of its population live in. Its a problem that the new middle classes of India want to ignore.
Jonathan D'Souza, UK
Having recently seen Slumdog Millionaire, it strikes me as an example of the Emperor's new clothes. I probably would have enjoyed it more if not for all the hype and the fact that it was so predictable. I am easy moved by sentimentally in films, yet by the end of this film, I found I didn't have any emotional attachment to any of the characters. The first half of the film was excellent, but the second half dragged to the point I couldn't wait for the film to end. Like Titanic, this is a film where you know what's going to happen in the end and by the end you don't really care who it happens to. Also, like Titanic, it's received awards it doesn't deserve.
FS, Cornwall, England
Soutik Biswas attempts to do with this article what he accuses Danny Boyle of doing with his film. Its laden with hyperbole and irrelevance mostly for positional posturing while exploiting the easiest view a critic can assume, the 'hip to hate' view. when its good...find holes. When other hype, drag it down. For me its just a film, well made and not the 'feel good movie' we are all told it is. If the critics go overboard have a go at them not the film maker.
Scott Fitzpatrick, UK
Soutik, thanks for the article. But personally I think this writing is rather spawned from bitterness, that perhaps it has taken the work of a northern Englishman, rather than an Indian to unite both Western and Hindi audiences. Your comparison between this piece and City of God is majorly flawed, as the two films are entirely different genres. At the end of the day Danny had to compromise over certain issues, due to the fact he knew his secondary audience would have an emotional attachment to the locale. Had he hammered Mumbai in the same way as the locations used in 'City of God', there would be uproar and alienation.
Simon Peaple, UK
I saw Slumdog last night and left feeling I'd been cheated by the hype and the glowing reviews. Ten Oscar nominations!? The story is ridiculous, implausible and improbable. Mumbai looks a dreadful place, and despite the colour and the accomplished editing, acting (especially the young children) and film-making, I can't believe people live in this awful way. As a feel good film it fails - rape, murder, prostitution, racial hatred, greed, child torture, the solution to problems through death and mutilation are hardly feel good. The pantomime like dance routine at the end lifts the spirit but fails to hide the fact that the film is complete tosh. Don't believe the hype.
Interesting comments, but I take issue with the fact that you are squarely pinning the problem on Boyle. What about the screenwriter? He actually visited the slums and inhaled in all its ingredients to come up with something that he felt was authentic. I thought the script was wonderful despite the minor contrivances. Simon Beaufoy did a marvellous job with it.
I'm a journalist who has been all over the world and seen a lot of poverty. Your review is thoughtful and well-written--and I've seen the other movie references you refer to--but calling this heartfelt film "a slick, uplifting MTV docu-drama" goes too far. What you forget is that the vast majority of film goers in these precarious times aren't interested in "gut-wrenching portrayals of the horrors..." but rather a film experience that educates while it entertains. The editing in this film is excellent and keeps the watcher entertained. And the movie shows enough of the realities of the Indian slums to stick with filmgoers who will remember it afterwards. Down the road they will continue to be conscious of others' misfortunes rather than pushing what they have seen out of their minds. THAT is an accomplishment while the other movies you mention will languish in the archives of film history...
Over the years, only those Indian films that showed at least some negative facet of India have been given acclaim in the West, while other far better films have been summarily dismissed as ¿musicals'. A stunning epic like Mughal-e-Azam hardly made news, while a boring Satyajit Ray was trumpeted as an all-time great! Slumdog Millionaire is being hyped because it shows the stereotypical image of India in the West - a dirty, poor country with naked people, where the common man lives in inflated hope. I am not denying that these things exist in India, but what would you think if a string of Indian film makers made films on the USA and only focus their cameras on drug abuse, robberies, prostitution and the rough-sleeping homeless, while consistently underplaying the positives of its wealth, technology and freedom? The very use of the word Bollywood that is popular in the West has an intrinsic demeaning slant. The truth is, proper Indian films are still not recognised in the West! in the same unbiased way as mainstream Hollywood films are welcomed and cheered in India without prejudice.
Anurag Pathak, India
"But a clever telling of the story cannot hide the banality of it." Actually, it can - and does. The clever retelling of an old theme 'love conquers all' is rare and difficult. Throw in other commonplace themes like 'destiny', 'loyalty', and 'morality' and that's pretty much any great film in the history of cinema. The author is completely entitled to his opinion. But, as a student of film, I'd have to voice mine - it is ALL about the story telling. These common themes will always be explored in films, forever. But, it takes a great filmmaker to carry it off as fresh and new.
I think you've completely missed the point... No need to be a snob, Slumdog is not a threat to Bollywood! This film is all about fusion; I feel very strongly that it opens doors and builds bridges across cultures, which is never a bad thing. Art without evolution is dead. As for the music, I think it's exceptional. But perhaps, as a 22-year-old, that's a generation thing...?
Excuse me? Why do we go to the cinema?? To be entertained.....Isn't James Bond without a story line?? But it was still enjoyable....How many Europeans or Americans watch Bollywood films? Almost none....We (speaking as a European) don't have a full understanding of Bollywood, nor how good/bad the films are. Those I've seen, I've enjoyed tremendously. This film is also entertaining, enjoyable all the way through and not made to represent a comparison with Bollywood....it's a British film that makes people come out of the cinema feeling good. If we wanted to watch a documentary, we would choose a different film. Surely that's what cinema is all about...?
Heather Johnson, UK
I agree with you Soutik. Funky story-telling cannot hide banality. I guess the sensation lies in the fact that a brilliant story-teller like Boyle (Trainspotting was quite brilliant) has tried to get his hands dirty in mainstream Bollywood. That already strikes a chord in Western media, more so for focussing on poverty and slum-life which the West relishes to see devours ravishingly. And this is probably the only way for an India-linked film to enter Oscars - not only due to dearth of original story telling in mainstream Indian cinema but also the West appreciating nothing else but poverty from third world countries or French, Italian art house.
Avishek, The Netherlands