Many movies make it to my wishlist but no further. My quota is only three to four movies a year. And this year, after Slumdog Millionaire had its coup at the Oscars, it rose easily to the top of my list. Several people told me that Dev Patel reminded them of me. But when Hema sent me this Annie Leibovitz picture of Patel juxtaposed with a picture she (Hema) had taken of me in 2002, I had no choice.
I finally saw Slumdog this weekend with S who was in Austin with her family.
Its depiction of slum life and the exploitation of children certainly puts the "Dickens" back in "Dickensian". Slumdog made many of my Indian friends cringe. Partly at the exploitation bit, and partly at the image of India that it projected to a world audience.
I for one definitely loved it. The fighting spirit and liveliness of the slum kids kept the exploitation part from getting depressing or dreary. The romance interest wasn't too cheesy. (Compared to Bollywood, at least; are my standards too low?) They told a good story in two hours without dreamy song-n-dance interludes.
I loved the free-flowing English-Hindi dialogues. Most Bollywood movie dialogues stick rabidly to Hindi in a way that's not natural in urban India any more. Everyone speaks a good mix of both languages at home and at work.And the Jai Ho number at the closing titles was a surprising bonus. Everyone in the hall sat through the titles and the song. I suppose no movie depicting India is complete without a song-n-dance number. Though I'm not complaining too loudly... Bollywood has given us some timeless classics through its song-n-dance obsession.
From a social perspective, I think Slumdog did just fine. As my friend Mark pointed out to me, exploitation of children is not unique to India; many countries suffer from it. The movie merely exposes this weakness of Indian society. Such exposure is a necessary prelude to its elimination. The Times of India ran an article today that said Chinese activists are using Slumdog as an indirect press for greater freedom of expression in China to expose their own societal ills.
The biggest bonus of all? I may not look like Shah Rukh or Saif, but finally I've found a movie hero that I can claim to resemble! I can finally be proud of my movie star looks...
Here's the John Stewart interview with Dev Patel on The Daily Show: