At the time of writing this, Slumdog has already won over audiences around the world, snagged a few Golden Globes (and other awards besides) and is widely expected to take home some statuettes on Oscar night. And I’m happy for the cast and crew who made it this far. I really am. But here’s what I cannot get around:
The movie simply did not work for me.
There’s enough to like, believe me. The movie is beautifully structured, the concept is interesting, the performances are quite good, the camerawork is amazing… But at the end of the day, I did not feel emotionally attached to this tale of a ragamuffin from Mumbai surviving a baptism in shit, communal riots, a brother’s betrayal and numerous other setbacks to find love and 20 million rupees in the end.
A big part of that is the writing. Sample this exchange between Jamal and Latika right at the end:
Jamal: I knew you’d be watching.
Latika: I thought we would meet only in death.
Jamal: This is our destiny.
Latika: Kiss me.
If the structuring of the story and the concept are interesting enough to warrant an Oscar nomination, then tripe like the above should warrant a Razzie nomination as well. I agree that dramatic lines like this are an integral part of our own films, but the good ones learn to do it with a modicum of panache. For a movie that’s been feted all over the place, it’s surprising how pedestrian the dialogue is. When Salim tells his brother, “The man with the Colt45 says ‘Shut up!’”, I wanted to barf.
The sad part is, the performances are pretty good but are hamstrung by the dialogue. The kids who play the younger and adolescent Jamal, Salim and Latika are fantastic. Dev Patel is quite good as the older Jamal — I was initially apprehensive about his accent being a distraction, but he managed to hold my attention despite that. The actors who play Salim do a pretty good job. Frieda Pinto looks like a million bucks, but has little to do. She does adequately. Anil Kapoor is suitably supercilious — I doubt a real game show host would be this condescending on live TV, but he makes it work. Irrfan Khan is his usual dependable self.
Three of the Oscar nominations have gone to A. R. Rahman. This is genuinely puzzling, because I can’t think of a single good thing to say about the music. The celebrated Jai Ho is earth-shatteringly nondescript. I sat there listening to the song and thinking, “They love him for this?”
Rahman’s music has brightened my days for the better part of two decades now. But he’s done much better than this. Then again, sometimes the Oscars are about granting overdue recognition. If Judi Dench could win for Shakespeare in Love, then our man certainly deserves a statuette for this score.
Let me leave you with a question that has been on my mind since yesterday. I don’t think the things I have spoken of in this review add up to why the movie didn’t work for me. There was something else missing, maybe a sense of wonder, of seeing something I hadn’t seen before. Is it that I have become desensitized to the poverty I see around me? Would I have loved this movie if it was set in, say, Brazil instead?