I finally caught up with Slumdog Millionnaire a week or so ago. Interestingly enough just about everyone I spoke to told me that I wouldn't like it simply because expectations were so high! Bullocks! I enjoyed it precisely because everyone's expectations were so high - and I had much fun dissecting what makes Slumdog such a beloved movie.
In any case enough has been said about Slumdog - but the curious thing is although everyone calls it a feel-good film, I squirmed throughout the entire movie - at least once using my personal favorite technique of peering from under my palm. And despite having a generally good time, I can't say I walked out feeling elated.
Yet there is a good reason Slumdog is so popular with the voting members of the film industry here in the US. But I'll get to my phaltu Drift theory in a second.
First, let's get down to exposing one of my stereotypes which is: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the US - which gives out Oscars - hugely favors Holocaust movies. I'm not alone in thinking or verbalizing this - although I'll almost certainly get a dirty look from the Drift Memsaab when I joke about it.
Most famously in recent times Kate Winslet savagely skewered the Academy's fondness for holocaust pictures in an appearance on Ricky Gervais' vastly underrated show Extras. In one episode, Winslet plays a nun in a (fake) Holocaust flick. Gervais commends Winslet for playing the role.
In a bit that had me chuckling for days, Winslet takes off: "We don't really need another film about the Holocaust do we? I mean, how many have there been? We get it. It was grim, move on! I'm doing this because I've noticed if you do a film about the Holocaust...gauranteed an Oscar!"
Later she complains "The whole world has been going - why has Kate not won one (Oscar)? That's why I'm doing it. Schindler's Bloody List, Pianist, Oscars coming out of their ass!"
First, a quick congratulations to the Academy for ignoring Winslet's silly 'For Your Consideration' in the Best Supporting Actress category and instead rewarding her with a deserving nomination in the more prestigious Best Actress category. I am grateful for the Academy's maturity. But Winslet's nomination comes in a Holocaust themed movie - you can smile at the delicious irony later.
Back to Slumdog - that whole movie plays like a Holocaust flick. The story is triggered by a terrible event that has been known to change the course of history (Hindu-Muslim riots). Its a story about enormous human suffering by innocents at the hands of people who are inexplicably evil. And two protagonists, who represent the goodness that is inherent in human beings, truimph by differentiating themselves from their tormentors instead of imitating them or retaliating in kind.
If you understand the demographic of the Academy and its related history, you know why these themes resonate with them. There is nothing wrong with cultural precedence, of course - as long as its accompanied with awareness. Many of Slumdog's themes are also universal and the Academy constantly strives to broaden its understanding of cultures and cinema - they are not always successful, but the fact that they make an effort is notable, especially when compared with the circuses in other parts of the world (I'm looking at you India).
This coming Sunday, Slumdog is a hot favorite to win Best Picture and vault Danny Boyle on the Best Director podium. Whether it wins or not is immaterial. The Academy has already prostrated itself by nominating Slumdog in a staggering 10 categories. And while watching Slumdog, it wasn't hard for me to imagine why.
Also don't miss: Which of this Falls' Oscar-Baiting Holocaust movies is right for you?