Monday, September 28, 2009

Salman Rushdie on “Slumdog Millionaire”

This is rather late, but what the heck, better late than not at all. Slumdog won a lot of appreciation for its provocative content, which were trumped up by a director who didn’t understand his subject and a screenplay writer who probably hadn’t even read the book on which it is based (what explains the glaring mismatch with the book's contents?). Actually it made millionaires and celebrities out of a few people, among them: Danny Boyle, the scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy, Frieda Pinto, etc. If jealousy could have compensated for the loss of my time and movie ticket cost, then I would be a jealous guy. No, I don't need such entertainment, even with a gun pointed at the back of my head. How do I classify such phenomena in rational terms: come out with something which shows the wretchedness of poverty, show a lot of violence, gore and injustice, shock your audience and critics and then disappear into the night with your millions.

This is what Salman Rushdie writes about Danny Boyle and “The Slumdog Millionaire” in The Guardian:

"In an interview conducted at the Telluride film festival last autumn, Boyle, when asked why he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this project was a great opportunity. Listening to him, I imagined an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there. He would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion. But for a first world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away."

Has post colonial attitude to former colonies and their inhabitants been tempered with respect for a people who are no longer serfs but are independent? Having worked with the British in the Persian Gulf I know it hasn’t. The same mindset prevails, whether it is in Newcastle or in New York.

Having seen the film I can vouch that Danny Boyle doesn’t know anything about India, hasn’t read the book, and hasn’t even bothered to have the film vetted by an Indian, least of all the book’s author. He even has the audacity to admit it. For an Indian director this would have been lethal, a case of being torn “limb from limb” as Rushdie mentions above.

My own review of this controversial, yet unbecoming film appears here.


Neha said...

well John, I have not seen the movie myself...when there was a telecast on the tv, i saw it for the first few minutes and the climax, and didn't like it a bit...the book was far better (i had read it couple of years back)...forget any Indian writer saying that he has not been to new york, still he made a film on it...if this was a movie by an Indian writer, then would it have got any oscars?

David Raphael Israel said...


thanks for bringing to light Rushdie's remarks. I think you go a bit far when you suggest that neither the writer nor the director have read the novel on which the film is based; I'd perhaps be willing to make a small bet they both have read the book. :-) That point aside, the statement seems to imply you've read the book yourself and think it superior to the film.

The film is obviously hyper-melodramatic, but I rather enjoyed watching it (on DVD with friends in Bhopal some months ago). No film can be all things to all persons [if this doesn't mangle the cliche too far]; the film is what it is: an amusing melodramatic romp. That it won many awards is probably mainly because it hit a trans-cultural soft spot that has not yet been touched much; as an American co-production [I guess] infused with some elements of Bollywood cinema conventions, the results were move lively than standards Hollywood fare. That it got some things wrong, has been noted. I'm not sure this is the kind of crime it's been made out to be in some quarters. The film itself was overblown; some overblown rhetorical response is perhaps to be expected.


Jai Joshi said...

I haven't seen the film but am very interested to hear Salman Rushdie's thoughts on this. I have a lot of respect for Rushdie's opinion.

I have a feeling that the filmmakers sensationalised a lot of stuff, romantacised a lot of other stuff, and then brought it all to a feel good ending so that people could go away thinking they'd done an altruistic thing in watching the film about the "poor Indian people".

I'll still watch it at some point to see what the fuss is about.


David Raphael Israel said...

there's been some water under the bridge since I saw this film, so I don't have total recall -- but my basic take on it is: it's a romantic comedy crossed with action/suspense. It is traditional with the genre of comedy (going back to Shakespeare) that the happy ending makes everybody feel good. If Americans may misunderstand "poor Indian people," it may equally be true that Indian intellectuals may misunderstand rich Western [was going to say American, but I guess Danny Boyle isn't American] filmmakers. :-) Pardon the attempt at rhetorical symmetry . . .

I'm glad I noted you [rather than John, as I momentarily at first thought] wrote this comment of yours; I was all ready to fly off the handle (if only a little) that somebody who objects to writers & directors not [according to his dubious speculation] reading a novel before adapting it, was now admitting he was critiquing a film without having seen it. Ah, more almost-symmetry; but no cigar.

We now resume regular programming.


John said...

Neha, thanks. An Indian director would have been roundedly ignored if he had made such a film, how true.

Jai, see the film, you will retch and throw up at the wretchedness of it.

David, exactly the mindset I had in mind when I wrote:

"Has post colonial attitude to former colonies and their inhabitants been tempered with respect for a people who are no longer serfs but are independent? Having worked with the British in the Persian Gulf I know it hasn’t. The same mindset prevails, whether it is in Newcastle or in New York."

When i claim that the director or the screenplay writer hasn't read the book I was hinting that the "communal violence between hindus and muslims" was deliberately inveigled into the script to seek the approval and shameful sympathy of western audiences. A cheap trick, really.

Also why is the quizmaster so hostile to the hero, even wanting to fail him deliberately? That isn't explained at all. (Again a stereotypical tendency to show the cussedness of Indian life, apparently, and win the "aah" and "ooh" of western audiences.) The reason is because he hero had worked in his (quizmaster's) residence and had been abused and had a score to settle and even brings a gun with him to kill him on the set of the quiz show. Why has all these been ignored if the director/screenplay writer had read the book?

And yes, David, I have read the book.


Dreamer said...

I saw the movie and was appalled by the utter crappiness (pun intended) of it. Then I read the book and realized that Danny Boyle had just lifted the basic framework from the book and then like a little boy with a paint by numbers picture had just painted it in with what would make western audiences go "whew, thank god we aren't that badly off". The book though no great shakes, itself actually made much more sense and was quite enjoyable. Also not that Boyle had very conveniently committed the pedophile priest thread from the movie altogether. And does not explain why the protagonist's name ends up as Ram Mohamed Thomas.