problem with Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t
have anything to do with what others have been
criticizing it for – showing Mumbai as one
dark underworld of crime- but that I found it
simply, in one word, unentertaining. And laughable.
And annoying. Wait a minute, that’s three
words. But that sums up Danny Boyle’s ‘masterpiece’
for me. To say, as some muddled Western critics
have been crooning – that this is the best
of Bollywood and Hollywood is insulting both cinemas.
Slumdog is supposed to have the ‘realism’
of Hollywood and the ‘masala’ of Bollywood.
Really? If this is what a movie with the best
of both cinemas looks like, I don’t want
to have anything to do with it. I like my Mani
Ratnam straight, just as I prefer my Martin Scorsese
(or for that matter even Danny Boyle whose Trainspotting
is a genuine masterpiece) straight up –neither
shaken nor stirred.
For twenty or so minutes in the movie the three
slum kids in the movie speak Hindi, and then abruptly
switch to convent English (and also behave like
convent brats). Next the Mumbai police and the
gangsters are talking in Indian
English. The young hero’s accent itself slides
between British English and Indian English. How are
we supposed to ignore this? While we aren’t looking
for realism, even a Bollywood wannabe like Slumdog needs
to follow some ground rules of the masala genre: you
don’t mess with the basic tropes of the genre
such as slum kids speaking like upper class Mumbai children.
An audience around the world (presently cheering the
movie) is blissfully unaware of this, and thinks they’ve
been treated to a genuine Bollywood movie. The movie
itself looks and feels like a foreigner’s idea
of what a Bollywood movie is. But hey, Slumdog isn’t
Bollywood. It isn’t even Hollywood. It’s
the movie where even Irfan Khan gives a bad and boring
performance for the first time-that’s the kind
of movie Slumdog is.
The saving grace here is A.R Rahman’s soundtrack.
This one is worth owning and listening to over and over
again. Rahman’s two Oscar nominations for best
score and best song are richly deserved. In retrospect,
it makes sense that it falls on him to bring home India’s
first Oscar (if you don’t count the Oscar to Satyajit
Ray for lifetime achievement).
My favourite from the album is one not too many people
are talking about (at least not yet): ‘Dreams
on Fire’. ‘Dreams on Fire’, sung flawlessly
by Suzanne. It matches the best work of the best pop
composers today. It is as richly melodious and dreamy
as an Andrew Webber Lloyd tune. And it’s romantic
and moving. The harmony in the chorus is beautiful;
the passionate lyrics are by Wendy Parr and Blaaze.
The tune is present in another version –‘Latika’s
theme’ – hummed by Suzanne.
‘Jai Ho’, sung by Sukwinder, Tanvi Shah,
Mahalaxmi Iyer and Vijay Prakash, is justly celebrated.
It’s inspiring. It doesn’t resemble anything
Rahman has done before, so this marks a new high for
the Mozart of Madras. Parts of the soundtrack feels
derivative and familiar – of Rahman’s own
previous work, and other popular genres. ‘Gangsta
Blues’ sung by Blaaze, for instance, resembles
so many hip hop tunes, while ‘Ringa Ringa’
(Alka Yagnik and Ila Arun) sounds distinctly familiar,
though I can’t recall where I’ve heard it.
The other tracks are not songs but soundtracks. The
catchiest one will undoubtedly be ‘Mausam and
Escape’ which begins gently with guitars and then
turns into a gripping score with a virtuoso sitar and
percussion piece. ‘Liquid Dance’ a jugalbandi
between voice and percussion – Madumitha and and
Palakkad Sriram- sounds like other tracks we’ve
heard before that takes a small bite out of familiar
Hindustani repertoires. I was impressed with a track
titled ‘Riots’, a combination of vocals
(Madumitha) and instruments that feels like a genuine
soundtrack. And the most important thing is that it
doesn’t sound derivative.
The most important bit of information I can pass on
to you is that the CD version released here is missing
two celebrated songs by M.I.A. The song, a hip hop/rap
number which was nominated for a 2007 Grammy is called
Paper Planes and there are two versions of it in the
original soundtrack. Before I say something about this
track, you should (if you don’t) know something
about the South Asian hip hop sensation M.I.A.
Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam is a Sri Lankan Tamil who
grew up in London, taking the name MIA –Missing
In Action. This young, sexy artist writes and composes
hard hitting, subversive and incendiary rap songs with
political overtones. Her albums, Arular and Kala (dedicated
to her father and mother respectively) were listed as
the best records for the years 2005 and 2007 by top
In the Slumdog CD edition available in India, she features
marginally only on one song – O Saya, composed
by Rahman and her for the movie. M.I.A has followed
Rahman’s work closely over the years and felt
inspired enough to record with him in Chennai when working
on Kala. Rahman has described her as a great force in
music. Her hit song Paper Planes (two versions) was
left out of the Indian CD probably because of its controversial
lyrics. If you’re keen on learning more about
MIA, you can check her out on wikipedia; also You Tube
features several of her videos including Paper Planes.
For me Slumdog the movie has simply meant discovering
M.I.A. That’s the only nice thing I can find to
say about it. The movie has been widely seen and admired
(ten Oscar nominations? tsk tsk ) in America. What of
its fate in India though? Can we really embrace it the
way the rest of the world has? I really, really doubt
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