The Taser's Edge

International Appeal
January 12, 2009, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday, after posting my review of Slumdog Millionaire, I was happily surprised to receive a comment from a complete stranger, and a native Indian, Anorak of Cinematically Speaking here on WordPress.  He asked me to stop by and read his review of the film, which I did.  And then I went through his comments to find BobbyTalksCinema, another native Indian and WordPress user.  I have read at various times of Bollywood cinema stripping American movies of their plots and even camera angles in totally unauthorized remakes, but Bobby provides an incredible list of 2008’s “Bollycat” films, with Indian titles paired to the names of the Western films which “inspired” them.  You should check it out, because it’s incredibly interesting to see it laid out so clearly.

Highlights of the list for me:

-I just watched Woody Allen’s original Husbands and Wives for the first time last night, and my mind is racing to picture the possibilities of an Indian remake.

-Bobby writes that two 2008 movies stole the plot from Bruce Almighty, but it looks to me (based on the title alone) like the Indian Oh, My God was probably stolen from the John Denver/George Burns 1977 masterpiece Oh, God!

-Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic was apparently inspired by Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and City of Angels.  I would love to see how those three films could make a single one.  A possibility: chipper, singing housekeeper fights off Nazis by pulling an anti-aircraft battery out of her bag and then floats away on umbrella only to have an angel fall in love with her and become a human who plays a one-man-band in the park.  At least it might explain why laughing makes people float up to the ceiling, when angels are already involved.  Of course, this is complicated all the more because City of Angels is a terrible remake of one of my absolute favorites, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.  Did I mention that Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic is filmed in grainy black and white and features a live performance by Nick Cave as Bert?

Slumdog Dickens

No, that’s not an amazing band name.  Or, rather, it is an amazing band name, but that’s not the point of this post.  It’s my understanding of India based on Slumdog Millionaire.  Now note the similarity between these kids:


And these kids: oliver-twist

That’s right: Fig. 1–Jamal, Latika, and Salim; Fig. 2–Oliver and Company.

Watching Slumdog made me think about the many parallels between 19th-century Britain and 21st-century India: rapid industrialization, exploding population, pollution, disease, poverty, tremendous socio-economic class divides, underdeveloped social services for its people.  Think especially of the Dickensian version of the London of that time vs. Slumdog Millionaire’s version of modern Mumbai and Bombay.  Sure the kids are orphaned, taken in by unsavory characters who exploit them for money, likely raping the girls and possibly the boys.  Charles Dickens and Danny Boyle are making very strong social statements with their works, but somehow when you finish reading those books or finishing seeing the movie, you find yourself feeling strangely uplifted and hopeful, especially with (warning: spoilers contained in the link, so click, look away quickly, and then grab a loved one and do your own dance scene until you can see this particular dance scene at the end of the film; use plenty of arms in the air for maximum effect and accuracy) the amazing final dance scene.

To be clear, I’m conflicted.  I love Dickens (not that I’ve actually read him widely or recently) and I adored Slumdog (and am still feasting upon its glorious soundtrack).  I love the energy that Danny Boyle creates and the optimism that you leave the theater feeling.  What I don’t so much like is that nagging feeling inside me that I don’t want to let myself think about the reality of India’s (or the world’s or the US’) hungering, suffering, and impoverished human beings, particularly the children.  It’s not ruining the movie to mention an opening scene in which one of the children grins as he seeks out a celebrity’s autograph while covered from head-to-toe in human waste.  My whole theater, at least, laughed.  My stomach turned.  What was intended by the scene?  I don’t know, and maybe I’m one of those people who is taking it too seriously when I should have just taken as a sight gag.

What was intended by the movie?  I’m sure that there is money involved in the minds of its creators.  But I think Boyle wanted to pack out theaters and get people to see something that we hate knowing about, just as Dickens wanted to sell a whole bunch of books while making people read about human lives that they didn’t want to know about.  Is it possible that there’s a choice to be made between (1) providing me with an immaculately accurate depiction which crushes all my hopes that there can be hope and (2) glossing over some of life’s messiness for the greater good that my optimism might encourage me to do something?

I just tabbed over to the official movie website in hopes that there would be at least some link to a charity or something…and there isn’t.  Even now my cynicism is telling me that no one walks out of Slumdog and starts planning how to help the children of India’s slums.  I neither want to end this post on a complete downer or to insist cheesily on hoping, so I’ll go for the middle road approach.  It’s a big deal if a ton of Americans, a particular set of Americans who use their disposable income to see a movie about India, start thinking about India more.  Because I think those are some of the same Americans who might be able to use some of their other resources to help somebody.

Oh yeah…see Slumdog as soon as possible.