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Jai Ho!

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The Oscars last year were, apparently, the worst Oscars ever (Here are John Oliver and Stephen Colbert making fun of the host Jon Stewart for hosting the biggest show that nobody watched). Look at who the nominees were for the best picture last year – Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton and There Will Be Blood. All are movies which would neither set your pulse (hearts?) racing,  nor would they make you sigh in fond nostalgia. The winner ended up being No Country For Old Men which, as I have confessed before, I didn’t quite understand. Yawn!

The nominations this year had all the makings of a proper snorefest. There is the Benjamin Button movie whose concept is as interesting as a new toy is to a toddler; then there’s Frost/Nixon, which is a fairly irrelevant movie about old crooked American politicians who no one really cares about; Milk, which is your customary gay Oscar nomination; and The Reader, which is your customary art movie which no one but the nominators have seen.

Just to tie up loose ends, the Academy left out The Dark Knight from the Best Picture and Best Director noms. But then, probably because there is a God up there who has a soft corner for the Academy, they had the brilliant idea of picking Slumdog Millionaire.

Now let me be clear – I do not wish to imply that SDM is a bad movie; au contraire, it is a fairly well-made, well-edited and well-directed movie with enough stereotypes to appeal to a foreign audience while also containing enough controversy to engage the Indian public (Previous thoughts here). I am very tempted to give the Academy the benefit of doubt on this one – maybe they actually did like the movie. But the fact remains that SDM is not really an obvious Oscar choice. It involves the triumph of hope and destiny over all circumstances, a theme one gets to see in every third Hollywood movie. (Ed: maybe SDM is the ‘Pursuit of Happyness’ of  this year – another movie which I’ve never been sufficiently motivated to watch). I also doubt how much of a clout the film’s Brit-producers had while lobbying for the movie. Also, I do not believe that SDM is a better movie than The Dark Knight, leave aside Kung Fu Panda or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Anyhoo, by giving SDM nominations by the dozen (ten, to be precise), the Oscar-folks have ensured that viewership is not going to be a moot point whatsoever. People will wake up at 6 in the morning if they have to to watch ‘their movie’ win. They will cheer wholeheartedly when Rehman and Gulzar get the nude statues (never quite understood why they are nude, btw) and will be elated because of the belated redemption we will have finally received – it will be ‘the recognition we always deserved but never got’. Lagaan was nominated for Best Foreign Film, and look at the hype it generated. This will happen because –

1. We watch anything on TV as long as there is a possibility of bringing in national pride and honour into the picture. (Actually, we watch anything on TV. If you add ‘India’ and ‘winning against all odds’ to the mix, then we will watch it in droves. Also,

2. We are unapologetically (is that a word?) partial to anything or anyone Indian.

When a billion people think alike, the impact can be quite staggering. It can ensure that the 2003 Cricket World Cup becomes the largest money-spinner for the ICC when the Indian team reached the final against all odds. It is also why a first-round exit for India made the 2007 Cricket World Cup a complete flop – I personally know people who had planned a Caribbean cruise which was to coincide with some of the matches but which they canceled once India crashed out. It ensures why the Miss World/ Miss Universe/ Mrs. World pageants are so successful in India – it almost excuses giving away the crown to someone who doesn’t know that ‘people who live on in my heart’ do not count as people alive, or to someone who goes and marries an arbit prince just to satisfy a childhood fantasy (ok that is probably a wee bit mean). It is the reason why we nostalgically remember Bhanu Athaiya winning the Oscar ages ago for ‘Gandhi’, although less than a handful of us really know what he (she?) has done otherwise in life.

Anyway, remind me to wake up at 6.30 am (IST) on 23-Feb. That’s all I wanted to say, really.


Written by sujaybedekar

February 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Atonement-Slumdog mish-mash

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NB: This post contains spoilers for the book Atonement and for the recent ‘Indian’ movie Slumdog Millionaire. Also, it will most probably not make sense if you haven’t read the former (which I strongly recommend) and seen the latter (which is not a bad choice either).

Atonement‘ by Ian Mckewan has got to be one of the best books I’ve read. It has a wonderful, languid style of describing thoughts and landscapes, and yet manages to keep the story fairly tight. The book is essentially told through the eyes of a twelve-year old girl called Briony, and it describes the epic tale of her sister and her friend/ lover/ neighbour who get caught in a cruel chain of events with the Second World War as an imposing backdrop.

Slumdog Millionaire‘ by Danny Boyle is a decent movie which narrates a tale of love and destiny with the great slums of Mumbai as the primary backdrop. Watching the movie, I got the feeling that it was nothing spectacular, and could had in fact been much better.  and

I can see why the movie has been widely appreciated by a non-Indian audience. It has a lot of astonishing/ striking things which might not seem that odd to someone who has stayed in India all his/ her life but would certainly pique the interest of someone foreign. It’s more or less the same reason why I liked the movie ‘Cidade de Deus’ (City of God) so much. Slumdog, however, is NOT that awesome a movie. It is most certainly NOT the 34-th best movie of all times (at the time of writing) as indicated by the IMDb rankings. Rehman’s music in the movie, while pretty decent without a doubt, is NOT his best by any stretch – (Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, Swades and Taal come to my mind immediately). The acting is ok, but definitely NOT Best-Actor material: the lead actor perpetually oscillates between shock and anguish.

My favourite part in Atonement (and I don’t know whether it’s there in the movie since I haven’t watched it yet) is right at the end, when a now-senile Briony hints (Again: Spoiler Alert!) at the possibility that perhaps, all that she has described in the preceding chapters might not really be accurate – maybe what she has narrated with great conviction might not have happened at all. But she sincerely believes it to be so true and inevitable that she convinces herself that it is, in fact, the truth. And you don’t really care that you’ve just been cheated out of a standard conclusion to a book with all the makings of a classic.

Now imagine if the creators of Slumdog had incorporated this into the ending – Jamal keeps on telling how he was destined to know the answers (which is a roundabout way of saying he was quite lucky), but just before the movie ends – he reveals that maybe the crap which he dishes out to the police officer as explanation might not really be true.

That would had been an awesome movie – maybe not a feel-good awesome one, but a whoa!-awesome one for sure.

Written by sujaybedekar

January 20, 2009 at 5:54 pm