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Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008) February 17, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.


Directed by Danny Boyle
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan
Based on Vikas Swarup’s Q & A

The Slumdog hype has seriously put me out of sorts. Not that it is a bad film that deserves a hammer of expletives but it comes out too nice and too cathartically pleasing that I find it quite annoying. Its supporters have already cemented its reputation, by all means, as this year’s best film, gaining plenty of back up from different award-giving bodies that hand out their picks for this season. It is a favorable work to generate such adulation – – I wouldn’t deny that. While a film with layers of intertextual and multicultural (a British director doing a Bollywood film for an American audience) understanding is an interesting product of our global village, what proves to be more appalling is the varying reaction of people towards the film – – the argument whether it has represented the underbelly of India without exploiting it becomes too trite considering the times we’re in – – because certainly, films are easier to analyze than people. When films are unstoppably glorifying, then that must be the end of cinema, the way Godard envisions it in Week-end.

It is a tale of hope and hopefulness, relying on a cordial narrative that is always on the lookout to tolerate our wanting to escape. It maximizes every advantage of cinematic storytelling: the main character’s quirky predicament, the game show questions that serve as the film’s structure, first to hold the story from start to finish and second to give way to a dozen of flashbacks to beg for our sympathy, the jarring cinematography that fits the somberness of its physical and emotional setting, the typical editing style of MTV babies, fast, hip, oozing with colors that dissolve into our eyes to move our tears back, the charming conclusion that rips off the glory of Bollywood, it is all too cinematic – – and that is what Boyle exploits in Slumdog Millionaire. The loopholes are very visible and he does not attempt to hide them. The material is formulaic, scene after scene of commonplace actions that are easy to relate because we are eating it everyday of our lives. Well, I apologize, that is too subjective – – I am speaking for myself, hello world, I am from the Philippines – – that’s commonplace for me, and it’s even hard to speak what’s commonplace for my fellow Filipinos.

On the periphery is the city, the dirt, the bile of consumerism, the dregs of globalization, the looming hope of comfort, the buildings that signify progress, the lines of communication outside India, the booming economy at the center of the center. Boyle recognizes those with a conscious effort to paint a portrait of Mumbai without actually seeing it, strokes that are evenly marked, surprisingly picture-perfect, and details that strike a chord, but there is an absence of gravity, lack of serious might, it is all transitory, all make-believe.

I get it, films must be entertaining, films must be hopeful, and films must be uplifting. And Slumdog Millionaire has done those. It even seems to me that, with the monstrous hype that comes along with it, its fans are pushing for a Danny Boyle monument, to canonize him, to beatify his latest work and turn it into a holy sacrament. That’s why I choose to belong in the world of movies – – everything is a matter of taste, fake, real, obscure, popular, biases on actors, writers, directors, auteur theory, harsh critics, starred reviews, inconsistencies, spectacles, awards season, the transcending influence of films – – a wealthy pastiche of meta-life. When a critic imposes his opinion, one can easily throw things at him to show vehemence, but when it is the audience who imposes, what is there to do?

The only time when all my disbelief was suspended, for reasons that are difficult to explain and yet the only metaphor I can think of is the jumping pheromones that I see leaping out of other people’s bodies and entering mine, is the sparkling end, the gaiety of moving bodies, the levitating music, the pinchbeck happiness that it carries. I have seen it many times, playing it back to feel that euphoria that all its fans share – – I understand them – – the need to create a fitting closure, a celebration of life. But it’s like walking through a pale nothingness; it only leaves a dashing afterglow, nothing more, with the terrible truth lurking behind.



1. leks - February 18, 2009

what’s wrong with it

2. Oggs Cruz - February 18, 2009

Chard is practicing contrarian criticism, hehe, which is fun to do most of the time.

3. Gwark - February 18, 2009

the film’s melodramatic… at some point, i almost felt that im watching a soap opera.

4. dodo dayao - February 20, 2009

It’s a pop film that’s more about Bollywood than India, more about pop cinema than social reality, more about make-believe than being genuine. The audience reaction to it,though, is a little overblown but not surprising – – – and i guess that’s what I tend to react to, too. I really liked Hootie & the Blowifsh – – – until they got big and everybody proclaimed them the Rolling Stones. This is in no way a great film – – -but terribly catchy and you can dance to it.

5. AD - February 23, 2009

Slumdog millionaire is not a great film, in terms of its contribution to film history. its a patchwork of the old stuff trying to make a seemingly new style but failed. its a Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959) + Bollywood Song and Dance(not a great mix).

Audiences nowadays treat films as forms of entertainment and often equate it to television. And this is what the audience want: to be entertained. If there is such a thing as GLOBAL film culture, it must accounted that films must be embodied as an art not just a form of entertainment.

I must say that the weakness of Slumdog lies on its packaging not a piece of art but a commodity: measurable, bounded and monetized. Unlike other films like Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, 1997), Satantango (Tarr, 1994), or Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Yang, 2000), it can be easily consumed by the masses because it appeals to popular beliefs.

6. dodo dayao - February 23, 2009

At the risk of sounding like I’m defending Slumdog too much and with respect and all that . . . entertainment IS art.

And the whole low/high art schism that is brought up when it comes to discourses on cinema is, I always thought, futile and unnecessary.

And no it is not Bela Tarr. It doesn’t want to be. It doesn’t’ need to be. It shouldn’t be. It’s not that kind of movie, really. And that is not its yardstick. It has its weaknesses and flaws ,sure. But that isn’t because it’s not Werckmeister Harmonies. And it isn’t because Bollywood does this sort of thing better.

As for art being mutually exclusive to commodity, tell that to Damien Hirst.

cheers! :)

7. AD - February 23, 2009

To Dodo:

An interesting prospect indeed.

Yes, it is not a Bela Tarr or a Kiarostami, its Slumdog.

I figure:

In terms of being marketable, Slumdog is a plus. Santatango is a minus and so as YI YI or Taste of Cherry.

In terms of reception to critical analysis, every film that i mention has a different set of frameworks, different context and background. hence, cannot be compared to one or another in terms of a single criterion. May it be what Girish Shambu said, “Classicist criterion: composition, cutting, rhythm, color, texture, movement, mood, NARRATIVE and Character.” or other criterion. Cinema is still a self-reflexive medium: audience centered.

In terms of contribution to film history (to answer the questions: does it present a new perspective in cinema? does it contribute to an existing tradition? is it part of a new WAVE?) Slumdog i can’t tell, Satantango – Hungarian New Wave, YI YI – Taiwanese New Wave, Taste of Cherry – Iranian New Wave. or other films. NOTE: This are not boxes but traditions. Each has its own place, own set of criterion. One cannot superimposed to the other.

What i want to establish:

Correlation between the effects of commercialism to cinema (film as a commodity) and film as an aesthetic medium (film as an art) — What makes SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE a different film…

— AD

8. Richard Bolisay - February 24, 2009

I reckon it is not anymore a question of whether the film is good or not – – deservingness is always a characterictic of deadend arguments – – but for sure, with the discussions that came up about the film, may it be from Salman Rushdie or a blogger from India, it raises its significance as a work shaped by the moviegoers. Somehow, and I’m not saying that this is true, the film’s virtues become irrelevant, whereas in the first place these are where all the reaction, violent or otherwise, sprang forth. This I know: Boyle has not envisioned Slumdog to be a Satantango or a Taste of Cherry or a Brighter Summer Day – – because it can’t and it doesn’t need to – – it is us who compare, it is us who make these presumptions, it is us who complicate things. When someone starts mentioning films for comparison, I think it can be both helpful and misleading, and it can only help in a very limited way, like putting different things in a box for convenience.

At that, I believe I am having second thoughts whether films are really easier to analyze than people.

9. Richard Bolisay - February 24, 2009

I am also inclined to believe that while I dislike it, I also recognize why it is being adored by some, especially now that the Hollywood has awarded it as the the year’s best film. Has it contributed something to film history? Like every film in this world is, wherever it comes from – – Somalia, Luxembourg, San Marino (Mars, Martian cinema?) – – in its own way and no matter how much I oblige myself to say otherwise, yes, it has. I am not disqualifying its merits; I am actually appalled by them. Who knows there may be a wave of films coming from foreign directors setting their films on third world countries. Quite funny, but plausible, after winning that statuette.

10. dodo dayao - February 24, 2009

Hindi malayo mangyari yan, Chard. Tarantino making a film about Manila – – which might not be too bad, but please, not Ron Howard,as ABS CBN desperately trumpets. Slumdog is really no different- – -to my mind, at least,and merely in terms of dynamics rather than aesthetics or merits – – – to Scorsese doing Kundun, Mel Gibson doing Apoaclypto or Ang Lee doing Sense & Sensibility or hell, even Michael Arias doing Tekkon Kinkreet.

I am dubious about the whole aspect that’s been brought up of weighing in the contribution to film history. Time usually takes care of that. To answer the question(was there a question even?) right now- – – it probably has, but at this point you could very well same the same thing for The Hottie And The Nottie. Or not. :)

11. Richard Bolisay - February 24, 2009

Ban Ron Howard in the Philippines, please. And could you lend me that Tekkon Kinkreet? The sound of the title is pulling me in. :D

I agree that time takes care of that said contribution, if it really matters. But I’m sure The Dark Knight fans are more vehement in rallying for a Batman monument than the Slumdog fans, aren’t they? But then who cares. All is free.

12. dodo dayao - February 24, 2009

I actually don’t have a copy of Tekkon. I haven’t seen it yet but I love the manga it was based on ‘ – – -Black and White. One of my Desert Island Comics. Pag nakahanap ako, pasa ko sa yo. Magdi-dibidi ako this week. Hehe.

The Dark Knight is a hoax and those rabid fanboys who want to build a religion around it should let it go and get a life or something. I dread the coming summer when the Transformers nerds come out of the woodwork. But tama ka, it’s a free world and yeah, who cares? Ako, nagwa-water water sa Inglorious Basterds at sa susunod na episode ng Lost. To each his own crap.:)

13. AD - February 25, 2009

Happy Ash Wednesday!

Ciao! :-)

14. Richard Bolisay - February 28, 2009

you’ve raised interesting questions AD, which led to a meaningful discussion. thanks and do drop by again. :)

15. AD - February 28, 2009

i like your blog! hehe! :-)

16. AD - February 28, 2009

this is really cool! you have an antoine dionel banner too! weeee!!!! go French Nouvelle vague!

17. Richard Bolisay - February 28, 2009

Hehe, i love yours! Let’s exchange links. ;)

18. AD - February 28, 2009
19. Glen - March 1, 2009

In the middle searching old friends, found your website.Just passing by.By the way, your website have great content! :)

Don’t pay for your electricity any longer…
Instead, the power company will pay YOU!

20. Jayclops - March 3, 2009

Apparently, Rushdie is appalled at Slumdog because it “piles impossibility on impossibility,” out of touch. But by golly! Interestingly, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, which offers another taste of current India, came out and was awarded the Man Booker Prize for 2008.

21. Richard Bolisay - March 3, 2009

Haha, as if his plots do not pile impossibility on impossibility? Interestingly, one of the minor characters in Slumdog is named Aravind. I’m so out of touch with Bollywood. The last one I saw is when I was still in college.

22. dodo dayao - March 3, 2009

I love Rushdie but he’s nitpicking. Looking for the possible/plausible in a movie like Slumdog is like looking for philosophical subtext in You Changed My Life. Hehe.

23. Richard Bolisay - March 3, 2009

Haha, Do, you’re still not over it!

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