Slumdog Mania

Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail (Salim), Photo: Pathé/Guardian

Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail as Salim Photo: Associated Press/Guardian

So Slumdog seems to be hotly tipped to win the Oscar and while it is quite an involving film (was going to say entertaining but would that be right?) and Boyle directs with his usual breezy authority and how-did-he-do-that visual wizardry. And the gameshow as trigger to episodes in Jamal’s life was quite a clever concept if not original to the film.

There was still much that made me like David Cox at The Guardian hesitate to call it the best film of the year. And were news of the world actually watching the film ‘feelgood film of the year’!? I mean it had a happy ending but acid being poured onto a child’s eyes does not produce a pleasurable all is alright with the world sensation. (Or are you meant to feel good that it’s not you, therein lies the moral haziness, but more on that later).

I can only think that the film studios/marketing execs wanted to falsely lure people in: ‘Hey Boyle people don’t wanna watch a film about poverty, that’s just depressing. Why don’t we make like it’s a nice little comedy?’ In fact the film nearly didn’t get made because of this very reason.

But I digress, many people have told me they found the film ‘amazing’ and I didn’t want to be a sourpuss and give them a breakdown of it’s flaws but well I’ll do it here.

The major problem for me was that the character parts were very underwritten, I found myself liking the cutesy display of the child actors more than anything-else and let’s face it they don’t really need to act to win over an audience they just have to remain cute and small.

Dev Patel’s accent was distractingly bad swinging from Indian to London English within a couple of lines (how hardly any of it’s detractors hasn’t commented on this I don’t know, too busy describing the film as ‘poverty porn’ I guess). Which maybe a minor point to some people but for me ruins what a good film is meant to be all about: immersive and true to the moment.

Patel’s accent took away from the character’s believability. Now Patel’s acting itself was another thing, the fact that this was his first major film really showed. But maybe it was his character, who in the end seemed flat, wet and bland.

As for the part of Latika, all I can say is that she was clearly only there to be the love interest, even if Frieda Pinto is the next Meryl Streep or (to pick a good Indian actress) Nandita Das. She really didn’t get a chance to show it here, spending most of her time looking scared, in love or pretty. That scar on her face is not entirely convincing either but I guess if they made it too real she wouldn’t be pretty enough.

And the plot: guy achieves something to impress girl, takes her way from big bad captor and they live happily ever after.  I found to be the most conventional aspect of the film despite it’s modern visual assault.

It’s as if Boyle and Simon Beaufoy (the screenwriter) wanted to detract people from saying the film was too Western by taking the most cliched aspects of the Bollywood genre.

I will say though that to call the film ‘vile’ and ‘poverty porn’ as Alice Miles did in The Times is not something I buy into. For me it was the scenes in the slums that showed the deprivations of people there, the violence and the high exploitation that lifted the film somewhat from it’s failures.

To have not shown this would’ve been like saying it doesn’t exist and we should live in an ignorant bubble.  Films should always seek to give insights and not gloss over realities and I think this film does go a little way in showing us what it’s like to be poor, as did the Italian neo-realist films,  (heaven forbid anyone call The Bicycle Thieves poverty porn) and later films such as the excellent This Is England, Dirty Pretty Things and Gomorrah.

I do however see that there is a problem in saying that there are only two ways that you can escape this poverty, chance and crime (as demonstrated by his gangster brother).

Maybe it will herald the financing of more independent British films and I shouldn’t complain but really there were better films, Milk for one. Perhaps the fact that he dies wasn’t feelgood enough?

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4 Comments

  1. […] This is the comment piece which I wrote for my course. It expands on a comment I made earlier about Slumdog’s scenes of slumlife being one of the best things in the […]

  2. I do think it was overrated before I hadn’t had a chance to watch this film, but my expectation was wrong. It is really “the FEEL-GOOD film of the DECADE”.

    Patel’s accent was distractingly bad swinging from Indian to London English within a couple of lines . . .

    I think he’s acting, likewise of not a true native tounge of English.

    I will say though that to call the film ‘vile’ and ‘poverty porn’ as Alice Miles did in The Times is not something I buy into. For me it was the scenes in the slums that showed the deprivations of people there, the violence and the high exploitation that lifted the film somewhat from it’s failures.

    I agreed.

  3. yeah i agree about hte ‘poverty porn” not being the problem. i came away thinking i’d rather have seen a more realistic portrayal.The whole concept of introducing the parts of the story through the gameshow questions was irritating. it seemed a really uneccessary and tortuous gimmick, really didn’t work for me. wasn’t really impressed with the acting either.
    I though the subject matter was interesting, but not what they did with it….i’d rather see a different take on it.
    I’m really surprised that it has been generating this level of hype and award nominations.

    • Yeah I dont think Dev Patel is exactly the next Sean Penn 😉 and Frieda Pinto is clearly just eye candy.


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