Slumdog Millionaire - beggars belief
Assault on probabilityI don't often cut out of watching a movie, but I was glad to abandon this one. It's an assault on probability, with a plot that repeatedly asks the audience to believe a long series of totally unlikely events. Latika mysteriously pops up far too frequently. How many boy beggars get $100 dollar notes from tourists? Many movies have at least one coincidence but few take coincidences as the basis of the entire plot. Once they had agreed to the convention of linking the answers to real-life events through flashbacks, the die was cast. What is odd is that the coincidences were truly unbelieveable. They are an artifice to keep the plot moving.
Even worse is the HUGE coincidence that the 'answer incidents' were in exactly the same chronological order as the questions. I found this ridiculous and something that was clearly impossible to 'write out' once they had embarked on the parallel worlds story arc.
There's also one point where it's worse than coincidence, that's the appearance of the small child dressed as the blue Hindu God. Did Hindu iorters really send their young children into the slums dressed like this when they were mudering, raping and burning its inhabitants? That was trite.
I'm not saying that movies can't show improbable events, it's just that these are normally framed as magic realism, fantasy, sci-fi etc. If it was made as a form of magic realism, I'd go with it, but it wasn't. Here we have a hugely unrealistic film that's lauded for its realism.
There's no evidence that Bombay bandits blind beggars.
Danny Boy's Trainispotting was a drug-fuelled, dreamscape, full of starenge episodes and tall tales. It was a trip of sorts. SM seems to follow in its footsteps but where's the rationale for the tall tales in this one? Is it meant to be a ridiculous Mamma Mia feelgood experience where we're expected to abandon all sense of reality? I wasn't sure.
Does it follow some sort of Bollywood conventions? It certainly has the cadence of a musical, as it is regularly interrupted by the music and pzazz of Who wants to be a millionaire?, like musical interludes.Can you really sue the 'this is India, and don't use your western logic' argument. The chances of a slum boy winning a million on Who wants to be a Millionaire? is as likely as India winning the European Song Contest. I don't buy it. If this is a hoage to overly romanticised, rags to riches, Bollywood Cinderella stories, then you can keep them. It's precisly that tale that allows people with money to maintain their position of superiority. If it's a fairy tale, then let's not pretend it has much to say about the real India or real slums.
I just couldn't stick with it as it repeatedly threw me out of the narrative with stupid links between the questions and his supposed experiences as a beggar. I'm not convinced that this was deliberate. Would this story have been better if the writer had come up with more plausible reasons for his knowledge? I think so.
There's another catchall argument that could be used to rescue this script. It's his destiny. You can't argue with this, as it allows anything to happen to anyone, no matter how unlikely, bacause of his...well destiny. This is supernatural tosh. Boys don't escape the slums by appearing on TV and answering questions they are unlikely to know. They stay in the slums. In fact our destiny as viewers was set at the start as the finale was given away at the beginning of the film. To use 'karma' as a plot device is lazy. Now if he had taken the karma concept and used it to explain the none too attractive side of the caste system and Indian inequalities, that would have been interesting. I'd again say that this would have been a better script if this had been avoided (I'm not sure it was really intended). It is written - badly.
The vast majority of people who watch this will never go to India, and of those that do, few will venture into the slums. It's easy to assimilate poverty through a western quiz programme and the lush, warm technicolour. Boyle has ramped up the colour balance and shot this as though the slums were some sort of paradise. This doesn't deal with any of the issues. It simply Bollywood's up poverty for a western audience. There's no real look at the causes of the banditry, police corruption, begging, caste discrimination, religious conflict, dalits.....
Perhaps the most cringe inducing moment of the film is when Jamal says 'Ypu wanted to see the real India' and the US woman, who had just been the subject of a mass theft, hands him a $100 note saying 'Now we'll show you the real America'. Nowe this could ahve been an interesting scene, full of first/third world weirdness, but it was just bad writing and crass.
What's the real message here? With a little (no a whole truckful) of luck, you to can be a Millionaire. That rings hollow, especially in these troubled times. It's ultimately an empty vessel as it poses no problems, solutions, issues, only fantasy over-scripted coincidences.
A 'feelgood' movie on issues that should make us feel bad, even outraged.