Posts Tagged ‘Slumdog’

/Film on Slumdog: Poverty Porn?

January 25, 2009

Slumdog has attracted even more attention since its GG award and its premiere in India.  /Film dissects the criticisms of the depiction of India as a stereotypical slum-ridden, sleazy, child-prostituting, gang-infested cesspool of a country.

Despite these critiques, many are upbeat on the film’s financial prospects in India, with director Shekhar Kapur saying that “what’s most important is that Slumdog is the most successful Indian film ever.” Even Sengupta believes that Indians will see the film to see how they are viewed by Westerners. “There is still a fascination with seeing how we are perceived by white Westerners,” said Sengupta. “It’s a kind of voyeurism.”

Where things get complicated is in the film’s depiction of a rags-to-riches story that happens to be set in India, a locale that has its own rich culture, but also a history of very specific types of portrayals in American pop culture. Slumdog, the critics seem to be saying, propogates a sensationalistic, stereotypical, and inaccurate depiction of India that lowers that country’s stature in the eyes of the world. Again, my perspective on this is that this film does the same thing that any artistic work accomplishes while using its setting to great effect.

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Singapore/Malaysia’s Slumdog Millionaire?

January 13, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire grabbed headlines after its Golden Globe wins for best picture, best screenplay, best director and best soundtrack.  The country of India (and all my Indian friends) is staking a claim on the movie, despite its British director, British screenwriter and British production company.  I won’t be surprised if the Indian equivalent of British knighthood is conferred onto director Danny Boyle in the near future.

So is it Indian or not?  It’s a minor technicality that doesn’t warrant discussion – this is a beautiful story laden with universal themes of everlasting love, betrayal and redemption, compassion and justice, etc etc, set in the chaotic yet picturesque landscape of the Indian slums.  Great story + Exotic setting + Just enough English for American audiences to understand = Winner.

Enough good things have been said about the movie, so no point for me to wax lyrical about it.  I’m more interested in the ripple effects of this GG win for the rest of the world – does every country have its own Slumdog Millionaire breakout hit waiting in the wings?  Over the past 1-2 years, I’ve come across quite a bit of Singaporean/Malaysian literature that I can say MIGHT be potential Slumdogs (Slumdog was adapted from the book Q&A).  These are the two that were published fairly recently, and that I can picture being adapted as films:

Breaking The Tongue by Vyvyane Low
Set in pre-WWII Singapore, the story is about the coming-of-age of a naive Chinese boy in an anglophile family who is stirred from his sheltered existence by the threat of Japanese aggression.

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
Set in pre-WWII Penang, the story is about a naive Eurasian boy who discovers aikido, the ancient Japanese martial art, through his mysterious Japanese neighbor, with whom he develops a close relationship.  Their relationship is  called into question when the Japanese army attacks Malaya and the neighbor is revealed to be a Japanese spy.

Some other fiction books based in pre-war colonial Malaya/Singapore, albeit with non-native protagonists:

The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell
Tanamera by Noel Barber

And some non-fiction books with intricate descriptions of pre-war Malaya/Singapore:

Singapore Goes Off The Air by Giles Playfair – Broadcast journalist for the Malayan Broadcasting Corp. details his arrival and evacuation from the island.
Malayan Postscript by Ian Morrison – The Australian war correspondent for The Times details life in Singapore, coining the infamous term “whisky-swilling planters” to describe the excesses of the British colonialists in the Malaya.
Blood On The Golden Sands by Lim Kean Siew – A Penang native’s account of the Japanese occupation in Penang.

Addendum (01/19/09):

Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan slams Slumdog (VarietyAsia):

In his blog, Bachchan actually slams the Golden Globe winner.

“If ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ projects India as Third World dirty underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations,” he posted.

Addendum (01/24/09)

Critics rave over ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ Indian public mixed

The Times of India also gave 4.5 stars, brushing aside questions about whether it was a realistic portrayal of slum life and instead calling it “just a piece of riveting cinema.”

“Forget the Us versus Them debate. Just go for the pure cinema experience,” the newspaper said.