Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why is Slumdog Millionnaire getting so much Oscar love?

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?


Anonymous said...

Aspi, I completely agree with you. I watches Slumdog on a weekday evening after work and at the end of the movie felt like I had become the slumdog. In a lot of way, I am not feeling elated at the end of the movie either, but it a typical bollywood movie that HOLLYWOOD people have made and are now watching. I think you concept of people considering this as history is interesting, because holocaust has gone, what remains is the movies. But, unfortunately for Slumdog, if someone was to ask me is this how the people of the biggest slum in Mumbai live, it is true, I just saw it a year back and that is no history to me.
I do have one question though, what part of the proceed from this movie will go to helping people in India, and I don't mean helping AR Rehman?

Anonymous said...

You echo my thoughts Aspi. Catch my views at

Anonymous said...

Ok so after writing this morning, I decided I should look into this and find out who is getting all these green bills.
Because honestly, I didn't care for Patel or Pinto, their acting wasn't worth the Oscar.
Well, from what I read, the well deserved kids are getting their share of the glory. They have a trust fund set up and will be making a trip to Oscar party. I think that is true form of 'rags to riches' and if Danny Boyle did set this up, well then, kudos for him and the Oscar team because once in a while humanity should get credit over cinematography.

musical said...

Thank you! I watched the movie just when it had released, so I didn't have any expectations. I usually get interested in movies based on books and that's what drove me to the theater. Liked the movie in parts, but this one does take the cake for being overhyped.

Honestly, it felt like watching a Bhandarkar flick, only better shot and with better music. Presence of Mr. Manjrekar in the movie only enhanced that feel :-D.

I wonder what Freida Pinto is going through.....She has shot into limelight for this movie, turned into a media darling and at the same timegot bashed for "not being worthy" of the fame, because she had a miniscule role. Her personal life gets dissected and she's being dissed for being "insensitive".

Sometimes, it makes me thik of the phrase "Luck by Chance" ??

Unknown said...

More than one person I've talked to have said they were in line to be in the movie and really regretted not getting through :) I have a Trickbaby interview coming up where that gets mentioned as well.

But Slumdog has an absolutely fascinating story as a movie itself. I think it was really ballsy of Fox Searchlight to buy the flick for $2.5m and reportedly assign another $25m for publicity.

It must have really touched their hearts because I rarely hear of that kind of a financial outlay by a boutique studio.

musical said...

Oh, and last night on Jay Leno, he had a segment "Leno's Oscars" or some such thing, where he went door to door and had common folk participate in a skit on movies nominated for Oscars. The first one was, ofcourse, Slumdod Millionaire and most of it was quite hilarious, EXCEPT, that in the end he HAD to do the "snake charmers and India" schtick!!

Anonymous said...

The two major events of genocide that resonate with US audiences are the Holocaust and slavery. Both themes come together in this terrifying movie.

I did not see or feel hope in the end. The movie dramatized reality and ended in fantasy. The audience "feels good" at the end out of sheer relief that it's not their life being depicted, and that they can go home.

Unknown said...

Anshu, just for the record - I am not complaining Slumdog got those nominations it did. Its a pretty cool movie actually. But there are lots of those around - I was trying to figure out why it is such Oscar bait.

This isn't unusual. In every year there will always be a bunch of good movies. But the ones that make it to the Oscar aren't necessarily about quality. Although they could well be. (Quality is subjective anyway).

The game, as always, is momentum.

Unknown said...

Mind Rush, great points.

Pitu said...

I can't stand the Oscars. Moron academy that awards Best Pikture to the absolute puke-worthy 'Titanic'! Ewww! And that rubbish about 'No Man's Land' edging out 'Amelie' in the Foreign Category was just bs. I've seen both as well as 'Lagaan' and no way 'No Man's Land' deserved to win. But I guess it made sense to reward a flick made on the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict. Way to assuage American guilt. Meh. I really don't care which movie/person wins, it's hardly about merit :-p

Anonymous said...

Aspi Bhaiya Ko Mubarak on soooo many Oscars for SDM.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

Slumdog was a good movie. Period. Entertaining and somewhat thought provoking with good production values. It kept me on the edge of my seat and was long enuff that I could eat all my popcorn slowly and slurped my big coke to the bottom. So Paisa Vasool.

On all these counts Slumdog was probably better than the competition. I saw pretty much all the competition in the company of someone who was actually voting for movies. So there.

Therefore it won.

I am glad that the very existance of slumdog is allowing desi cultures to start talking about some social democracy and acknowledge this deep frightening divide between the haves and the have nots. That conversation is important. Very important before any social changes come about.

For that fact alone never mind that its a good movie, Slumdog deserves all it got.

Perhaps now the talent in the south indian (and other regional) film industries will be utilised and acknowledged. Between them .. AR and Resul... they garnered 3 oscars. A fact that is not lost on the Hindi movie industry.

Anonymous said...

i din't watch this film ....everyone around me said it's NOT a feel good movie and that i wouldn't be enjoying one in my family really enjoyed thought why stress myself...

and also, it isn't my fav A R Rahman's work inspite of all the awards and everything.i like a lot of his earlier compositions much more....probabaly hollywood got their first glimpse of him and are just pure overjoyed at what they see:):):)

Anonymous said...

I think you should do an article titled "Why is Slumdog Millionaire getting so much Indian hate?" :-)

IMHO, I think there are a set of Indians, especially among the elite and the well-off, who would like to emphasize and project a more richer (hip?) face of India to their western counterparts. They would rather their friends watched "Dil Chahta Hai" or any of the other mindless Karan Johar / Farhan Akhtar flicks where every one struts about in designer duds, lives in posh digs, drives luxury cars (and in one case uses a helicopter for his daily commute) and mouths off in a fake American accent. Slumdog embarasses them.

In Slumdog, while the relationship between Jamal's experiences and the questions on the quiz were worthy of Manmohan Desai's school of coincidences (and hence completely unrealistic), each of those experiences were *very* realistic. I grew up in India, not very far from a slum and have had the occassion to visit India many times the last couple of years and I can confidently say that the real India is far closer to what you see in Slumdog as opposed to what you find in mainstream Indian films.

I liked Slumdog because the story kept me very engaged; waiting for the back story to be revealed for every question on the quiz was sheer genius and kept me glued to the seat. This is quite an innovative way of story telling and I am not sure if I have seen this done before.

Regarding the music, I found it to be pretty pedestrian, so I don't really understand the hoopla. The acting was passable and not extraordinary either.

Finally a word to Anil Kapoor; at the award ceremonies when your film wins an award, act like you have been there before. Jumping around like a simian doesn't reflect well on, well, us Indians.

-- Texan

Anonymous said...

The question is not what India Looks Like but the movie.
It was just a plain movie and won many awards despite the fact that there have been better movies in India and Hollywood.& even better music by Rehman than SDM
Sudden Love from Mai Baap is difficult to understand.

Sarah said...

My theory is that it was a lot more accessible and Hollywood-ey than your typical indie flick. Also, India-related stuff is just hot right now in the West. I personally am just bummed that if a movie filmed in India was going to finally win, it had to be a damn Western-produced one.

As for the holocaust thing, we were just discussing the same last night and decided that we're going to write a screenplay about ugly gay people in the holocaust. It's sure to win tons of awards.

As a total aside, if I see one more ignorant white person (it's cool, I'm white) on the internet calling Slumdog Millionaire a Bollywood movie, I'm going to scream.

Sarah said...

@Texan, hah - I laughed so much at Anil Kapoor, was just waiting for him to do something hilarious, and he didn't fail me. When they won best picture and the whole rest of the cast and crew came up en masse, Mr. K was already there onstage waiting for everyone when they arrived. Classy!

Unknown said...

I had a lot of fun reading the comments - thanks!

Sarah, I was watching Irfan Khan on the red carpet and in a rather bumbling answer to the question "why has Slumdog connected with so many people" which thankfuly Ryan Seacrest cut short after a few eye rolls, he called Slumdog a 'masala movie'.

Obviously his and my definition of 'masala' differ vastly.

Unknown said...

Are you guys kidding: Anil Kapoor was awesome! He totally played into the stereotype of 'weirdly mannered foreigner who was so thankful to be in America and at the Academy awards that he just couldn't help himself'.

Can you imagine Tom Hanks going "woohoo I made it to the Oscars! Hello to everyone in Concord!"

On the other hand, I did enjoy Danny Boyle playing patriarch to his brood. That man is so enthu and unjaded, all of Hollywood should study him. Especially that dude from Twilight, whatsisname.

musical said...

And i lurved Rahman's "Mere pass Maa hai" statement :).

Btw, you should have seen Anil Kapoor this morning when Meredith Vieira greeted him on the Today Show :). Lately, he looks like a child in a toy-store :).

Don't get me started on the "guy from twilight", me no likey! He always looks sleepy, a bit like the younger Sanjay Dutt!

Oh, and what Ryan Seacrest did while interviewing the SDM kids is unpardonable.

Anonymous said...

Cought a comment from Mama Bachchan on Desi TV.
Congratulations to Slumdog winning Oscars but remember it is not an indian movie and we should not take undue pride in its success.
( all In Hindi )
True Mom !

Anonymous said...

In the Bacchan bungalow, the sounds of sobbing are heard. Bahu is sniffling into her hanky, trying not to ruin the mascara.

"Look, sasurji, all the western press can talk about is Frieda, Frieda, Frieda. Look how many photos of her ...look, one even wants to see my film, Gulabi Panther. She's not even won Miss India, let alone Miss World....all my preening and giggling in interviews was in vain, sob..sob"

A familiar baritone responds, " Ro mat bahu, don't weep. We will raise our voice against this injustice. We will confront her immediately. Chalo! AB, tum bhi!!"

AB, AB baby, Bahu arrive at a party where the cast and crew of Slumkutta Crorepati is celebrating. Striding up to them, AB thunders "Hummaarey paas daulat hai, shohrat hai, saara Bollywood humaare pocket mein hai!!! Tumharey paas kya hai?"

A voice pipes up "Humaarey paas Oscar hai..."

Anonymous said...

the previous scenario was from me by the way, I forgot to sign it...carried away by emotion, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Loved the comments on Sas Bahu Scenerio from an arrogant Family.

A word about Failure of "Kala Bandar" would be nice in the comment.

Pitu said...

Rofl at Teddy!

Anonymous said...

Kya I tried so hard to get an Oscar for my family. But kambhakath yeh log ghoos nahi khate! What kind of a world is this?

Priya said...

i totally agree about the point on Freida Pinto.

I felt bad for the kids, and especially for Madhur Mittal. Whatever happened to any mention of the Salim character? It was much more interesting and I thought the youngest one was really quite astounding.

I really wanted all the grown ups to push the kids in the front and applaud them, but Anil Kapoor - what class man. ugh.

Dev Patel carrying the little Latika was far more touching. and appropriate. the only reason this movie was a cut above was because of the child sequences. even the middle level Jamal was an exquisite actor.

oh well.

Jai ho!

(PS: awful Beyonce moment(s) yesterday, but got to love me some Hugh. Although Stewart was missed...)

Unknown said...

Teddy, even when you're anon, its easy to tell when you stop by.

Priya, whenever I see Beyonce I feel like someone just gut-punched me. I can't explain it - but I'm beginning to like it :)

musical said...

Teddy ji, that was howlarious :))).

Anonymous said...

Salman Rushdie's comments on SDM

Sarah said...

Bravo, Teddy, I may have to link people to these comments just for that.

I loved Rahman's "mere paas maa hai" statement too, but then I had to spend 10 minutes explaining it to all the non-desis at my house...

Unknown said...

Rushdie has a point you know - but its just hard to get behind it fully.

I mean the guy liked Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight - both of which underwhelmed me (although I realize I'm in the minority).

musical said...

You actually may not be in minority. Even though i liked The Dark Knight, i slept half way through LOTR!!

Anonymous said...

SDM - It shoud not have won , An edtorial !

Anonymous said...


A Youtube Link of Kids of SDM
Cheers to Aspi !

Unknown said...

AFan, thanks for the link. I'm not disagreeing with an opinion here, but the problem I have with that article is that it assumes there is a published standard of Quality that every movie can be judged on. And apparently the author knows about it - although none of us have seen it yet.

Movies don't win because they are good or bad. Simply because there is no such thing. Ok, well there is Drona, but you get my point?

So the Oscars usually go to (a) movies that can connect with viewers based on current times, voting demographics and the general undercurrent of the zeitgeist (e.g. Shakespeare In Love) or (b) on the backs of just a superbly paced Oscar campaign.

In fact the marketing folks are becoming so good at (b) that you might have noticed the bookies can pretty much guess with unerring accuracy these days on who will win.

Unknown said...

Anon, I can't open that link. Its not a YouTube link for sure because its a JSP page.

Parveen Sibal said...

Great do see comments from diffirent people at this Blog.
Having just finished Shantaram , I can only imagine how Dharawi will be glorified after its release. Gregory livedin Dharavi , a lot is mentioned at Cafe Leopod and Arthur Road Jail.
I recommend the book and a set of 4 interview of the author now on Youtube.

Parveen Sibal said...

Agree with You Aspi .
The same is mentioned in Outlook India's current issue.

Parveen Sibal said...

Aspi the Link is from a Blg Called
Chappaty Mystry !

Parveen Sibal said...

Newpapers in India
Coverage of SDM

Anonymous said...

I feel like i haven't truely enjoyed a movie in ages.

Any half decent movie gets overhyped so much that when I finally end up watching it, i am underwhelmed and think "that's it?" ufff

Anonymous said...

Good reason for you to make a Movie that is the Best That can be and get all Oscars.

Anonymous said...

If i ever make a movie (which i won't but you never know i could get struck by lightening and then somehow have a creative urge for moviemaking), it ain't gonna be nominated for the oscars yo.. i aint gonna be a part of a circle jerk sry2say..

if somehow it does get a nomination, imma ask them kindly to please remove it from the list

my movie will be a cult classic hehehe

Anonymous said...

Cult Classic ?
Give the insomniacs a story .
Will Aspi given a chance to act as Lead or Unkil ?

Anonymous said...

Megania, Aspi given a chance will discuss your POV of the movie, so far that the movie will never come to being :)

And, Aspi, I am hoping you meant Dorna was the worst in line, because I saw it with my kids, it was horrific!, I wish I had read the reviews instead of getting because Abishek was in it.
But, I agree SDM is not masala, if you want masala see Dostana, it puts Birdcage to shame (BTW, I loved birdcage).

Unknown said...

If anyone is casting a movie - I'll work as "The bhikhari who sings expository songs" for free! Please cast me.

Meg, what did you think of "Nick and Norah's". Charmed the pants off me.

Anonymous said...

Aspi, the bhikhari has to belong to a clut, a music cult. Has to be cast along side of Bipa or Kate W.,
what do you think?

Sujatha Bagal said...

LOVED the movie. The audience in our theather just sat rooted to their seats at the end. No one moved until the last credit rolled. Totally agree with the point about the universal themes of the movie resonating with the Academy.

On the red carpet Pinto cracked a joke about how she and Patel had not been in any movies but Anil Kapoor had been "in a couple". It was a joke, of course, but did not sit well with the man.

Unknown said...

Anon, great idea! Specifically the Bipasha #1 of Dhoom 2 would be awesome.

Sujatha, funny story. Wonder if we have a YouTube clip somewhere of that :)

Anonymous said...

Megania from Iceland / USA / Jullunder
Presents a Cult Movie * ing
Nitin Mukesh & Megan in lead roles along with
Three Musketeers
Asrani / Bowman/Aspi
Music by Lakhvinder Wadali
Dialogues - Javed Akhtar
Guest appearance
Mrs Drona Behl
Freeda Pinto
Amar Singh
Lalu Jadhav
and more to come

Readers contibution to story Line Welcome !

Sujatha Bagal said...

Not very clear unfortunately - the SD actors interview screen becomes small to accomodate the rest of the red carpet arrivals.

Pitu said...

Aspi, see what Jyotish Man has to say abt SM cast ;-)

Unknown said...

I have two predictions of my own.

Jyotish will continue to make predictions. A quarter will come true. A quarter will be indeterminate. Half of them will be false because of bad reporting by Filmfare.

Another one: a sucker will continue to be born every minute.

Pitu said...

We need mo stories abt Tiger maasi! :-D

Unknown said...

Suj, thanks for the link. Its hard to say if Anil is strutting with pride or feeling offended.

But when Frieda called him "The King of Bollywood" it would have been so cool if right at that time the man had broken out into his Ram Lakhan ostrich dance.

Anonymous said...

i ain't gonna be revealing plots or storylines of my movie, it has been said that Hollywood and Bollywood bigwigs frequent this site and i don't want them stealing my ideas...

but it will be one crazy acid trip movie thats for sure teehee..

oh on another note i read somewhere that Mickey Rourke is gonna be in vidhu vinod chopra's new movie... that would be interesting..

Joules said...

I think Slumdog won the same reason Crash won a few years ago. It is a great movie from an unexpected source and an unexpected landscape.

I personally loved the movie as a fairy tale romance and "love" winning over all obstacles. But I would not look any deeper into the subject.

Oscars has always favoured the underdogs (Crash ), the tragic artist (who thought Heath Ledger will not win this year?), minorities depicted as victims (Brokeback, what ever that Halle Berry movie was). Its about making the hollywood community feel good about themselves.

As far as Anil Kapoor, I know he was goofy in a kid stuck in a candy store sort of a way, but I liked it. Frieda being all over the place, come on she is a very beautiful girl and what camera wouldn't want to capture her and she is making the best out of her 15 mins of fame.

Unknown said...

m, after Dev.D the time is right for an acid trip movie. Good luck with financing - although I don't think you'd get a better bhikhari than me.

Joules, you are right - Oscars are given out for lots of reasons. And its because movies are liked for lots of reasons. Take Rock On for example. How tired and retread is that plot? But it resonated with a lot of people - including me. And so it did good by me.

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Anonymous said...
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