Saturday 29 November 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

The trailer.

Well, after a long and intense anticipation, we've seen it. And unfortunately, PPCC readers, we've decided not to review it yet.

We'll give it a good, thoughtful analysis in the next few months - after the DVD comes out - when we can wind down from the hype and the instant legend-ness and the "miracle of film" and give it a cold, calculated study. Right now, we don't think there'd be much merit to adding our own little voice to the cacophony of praise this film is earning. This thing is a phenomenon. Out of 101 reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes meter, 93 have been positive. Our gurus, the critics at the New York Times call it "a gaudy, gorgeous rush of color, sound and motion." America's Famousest Movie Critic, Roger Ebert, has been similarly swept away and predicts its nomination for a Best Picture Academy Award. Now, loyal PPCC readers know that the PPCC tends to toss around the words "sublime" and "transcendental" a lot, perhaps unintentionally undermining their potency. But when a man like Ebert, who watches more films in a year than most people do in a lifetime, calls it "miraculous", a film that "achieves its immediate goals and keeps climbing toward a higher summit," you know that you've got to be talking about something pretty frickin' special.

So with all this momentum, this force, this amazingness, this "behold what the heavens have sent us!", holy moly, what could we possibly say?

Instead of reviewing Slumdog Millionaire (which, in a nutshell, deserves all its praise - even the hyperbolic kind), we'll answer a question Beth, one of our sabse acche blogger colleagues, posed on our Yuvvraaj review:
PPCC, I think you need to do a post on how you have all this pyaar to go around to all your favorite heroes. E.g. what is the source of the infinite pyaar? How is it nourished? Is it possible for it to diminish? Is there a kryptonite that can ruin it? Etc.

"Pyaar" meaning "love" for our less-Hindi-inclined readers.

Beth is talking about our newest admiration for Anil Kapoor, who, like Slumdog Millionaire and Meatlof, has appeared on our radar like a bat out of hell. And, like Slumdog Millionaire, Anil represents a lot. But first, the pyaar:

The buzz has been building around this guy for a long while. He caught our eye during Welcome and Tashan, but we had mostly relegated him to a B-list commercial actor. Hence our delighted surprise when the news started coming in - he reads Oliver Sacks! he's going to be in a Danny Boyle-directed film! apparently he kicks ass! We went in to see Yuvvraaj highly curious and came out in a flush of enthusiasm. Since then we've undergone a mega-hardcore indoctrination of Anil Kapoor that resembles in intensity the famous PPCC Falls In Love With Franz Ferdinand Event of 2004 or the PPCC OMG Arcade Fire Has Released Their Second Album And I Think The Earth Just Moved Event of 2007 - periods when, after discovering something new and amazing, we went through an intense period of eating, drinking, breathing, sleeping and absorbing only that thing, usually lasting around 10 days. We still have our Franz Ferdinand t-shirt, PJs and underwear (yes, really). And we love these flashes of enthusiasm that happen when discovering a new artist; it flushes out your brain, big time. It enlightens you.

We honestly don't understand what it is about Anil that makes us so enthusiastic. But we haven't been so immediately enthusiastic about any of our other heroes: Naseeruddin Shah, Shah Rukh Khan, Om Puri, our beloved Shashi Kapoor. We think it has something to do with the fact that Anil Kapoor seems to have something one-up on all of them. For example: we think Om Puri thrived the most as an actor in his British-Asian comedy-dramas (My Son the Fanatic, East is East, White Teeth) - he suits that genre and that character-type perfectly. But he never really made a blip in the mainstream Bollywood films we had seen him in, and he was often outshone by Naseer in the local Indian arthouse fare (e.g. Aakrosh). Similarly, Naseeruddin Shah's best roles were found in the Parallel Cinema he would eventually dismiss as constrictive: Sparsh, Chakra, Mandi. His attempts to mainstreamify himself - Hero Hiralal, Naajayaz - were OK, but unremarkable.

Our beloved Shashi - as commenter Eliza Bennet is always quick to point out - was not the best actor in the world. He may have had noble aspirations to more Raj Kapoor-esque heights of "serious theatre acting", but the fact remains that he did his best work - the work we love him for and he's most remembered for - in the 70s masala movies he churned out economy-size to pay the bills. He may have loved theatre, but his charisma (and good looks!) definitely outweighed his technical talent as an actor. Watch him in Junoon or Vijeta or Kalyug - all three ostensibly serious, art films meant to display his acting chops; yet all three left us feeling unsatisfied. Man, other actors could have been better (but none prettier!). Meanwhile, older brother Raj Kapoor could achieve heights of transcendental performance unseen in any other Indian actor - getting to the dizzying heights of Toshiro Mifune (our all-time favorite actor and the best in the world, wethinks). Awaara, Teesri Kasam, Chori Chori... these are films where Raj's powers are most evident. Yet, as so many of you are well-aware, his was a very lopsided talent. It could tumble too easily into self-indulgence and gratuitousness (and what was up with the constant objectification?!).

So what's so exciting about Anil Kapoor is that he seems like he's more than the sum of all these parts. He's delivered remarkable performances in so many films - remarkable because they're charismatic, earthy and intelligent - and it seems like context has nothing to do with it. The movie can totally suck, but Anil somehow manages not only to not-suck, but to kick ass! The movie can be something offbeat, something terribly mainstream, a zany cult classic - whatever - it's all good, all the time. He's delivered performances on the par with Raj Kapoor in terms of nuance and emotional realism, and he seems - so far - to be much more consistent. When we've gone digging for past reviews of his work, even films where he was a tangential character, the reviewer almost always makes a note of mentioning how good that Anil Kapoor guy was. What's even more exciting is that all this great talent comes in such a seemingly sleazy Pran-like "fabulously creepy" package: porn star moustache, used car salesman vibe, a penchant for appearing in trashy comedies that pander to the lowest common denominator. Gosh, he makes us proud of the trash, so condescendingly dismissed by Western audiences especially - because look what talents it hides! And we're infinitely curious about what was it about Virasat and Taal, the films Danny Boyle apparently watched, which convinced him to bypass all the "standard" exportable Indian actors - Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Irrfan Khan (well, OK, he is in the film - but his part is relatively limited) - and the "standard" Indian mega-stars - Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan - and instead go for... Anil Kapoor?! The moustache guy?!

OK, that was a very long tangent about Anil Kapoor and how he fits into our infinite ocean of Hindi film pyaar. Consider your question answered, Beth.

Now, what can we say about Anil and about Slumdog Millionaire? We have felt an instant and intense attraction to both, because of what they represent and what they've finally done. In our small-scale niche of a "non-Indian blogger of Indian films" way, we feel proud. We're proud that a film has been made about India by a non-Indian... and Indians feel it well-represents their country. We're proud that a composer like A.R. Rahman is given the chance to have his music heard and appreciated worldwide. We're proud that Anil Kapoor, used car salesman and honest worker bee of Hindi cinema, has suddenly been catapulted along with the film towards legendary status.

People have been saying this film is steaming towards legend-ness like Little Miss Sunshine or Juno - but we think it's even better and bigger than that. Those two films are insular, inward-looking films of a particular genre (the American indie film) whereas Slumdog Millionaire is a literally global effort, concerning and destroying "foreignness" in cinema and using one of our favorite places - the maximum city herself - to do it. Vah! Vah! Vah!


Filmi Girl said...

What a great post! I totally agree with your assessment of Anil Kapoor - he's very Pran-like in his acting abilities, na?

And the Slumdog itself was a real international-feeling production in a way that something like Bride & Prejudice tried and failed at.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Definitely answered!

I just flat out think you're wrong re: Shashi's acting abilities, but I don't really know how to argue my point, because at some level (maybe a big one) this is just opinion. If a person isn't moved, she isn't moved. I'll also propose that while some people remember and love him best for masala, I feel like I see quite a few sites that laud him most and love him best for the artsy stuff, Merchant Ivory, etc. OMG when are you going to watch some of his Merchant Ivory movies?!?

Aaah Memsaab please come and aid in the defense! :)

Rum said...

Great explanation of the ANIL pyar going on, I wouldn't say anil's mush is porn-star though, I'd say its very Rum-approved with somethimes curl at the end of it or a thick one of the 90's anil, but 80's Anil mush is thin and sophisticated!

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I have a movie rec for you! I don't know why I didn't think of it before but you'v begun delving into dreck like No Entry, you deserve to have some happiness: Woh 7 Din (Those seven days). Padmini Kolhapure, Naseeer and Anil. Harlequin-ish but OMG! The Naseer-ness of it all is breathtaking and Anil does a good job of it too.

And I believe Danny Boyle asked SRK if he'd be interested but got turned down. Quite rightly imo, coz with his having hosted it in real life, it would have cut a little too close to the bone I think. And I don't know how to review this movie either. So now I'm just gonna borrow a page from your book and talk about something else. :)

Anonymous said...

Glad you saw this ppcc and liked it too :-)

I must say that I agree with Beth re: Shashi's acting ability. Of course I think Shammi was capable of a lot more than he got to do as well; I just think that with Hindi films, what we westerners consider "good" acting isn't required or even wanted a great deal of the time. I hate Merchant-Ivory films, but the Shash has been good in those. Plus even in his masala films he has been very natural when required.

Did I do okay, Beth? (Sorry re: M-I hatred, but I can't help it. They are sooooooo seriously EARNEST. Ugh.)

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Yes, that will do nicely :) I've called on Gebruss too.

a ppcc representative said...

Filmi Girl - Ha, totally! He has the insane charisma of Pran coupled with a very wide range, YEEESSSS.

Beth - I know, I know! I'll get onto MerchIv pronto, but my ESP tells me I prob won't be so excited about him there, as I tend to relegate MerchIv to my "bucket o' Orientalism". Plus, Shashi just never went mental enough.

Rum - Haha, all my non-Hindi-film-viewing friends describe it as porn star-esque, and so I had to give them some cred. Secretly (well, not so secretly as I'm posting this on the internet), I'm a big fan of the stache - especially with the rural curls at the end.

Amrita - Thanks! Woh 7 Din is next on my list; you had me at "Naseer-ness"! And thank goodness SRK had the good sense to turn it down (though I would have appreciated the meta).

Temple said...

Hi PPCC - I loved this movie. I don't actually think Anil had much to do with the greatness as his role was rather minor and apart from a couple of scenes, not really part of the action. If you didn't know of KBC and hadn't heard of Anil Kapoor (so true for many western viewers) I don't think it made any difference to the power of the movie to cast him. It was a nice touch for hindi movie fans and NRIs but I can't say it made my day. He was fine in that role but not top of the acting honours IMO. I would say the same for Irrfan Khan - good but not a standout in a very good cast.
I loved the editing, the energy Danny Boyle captured, the casting of all the kids was spot on, the humour, the heart, the anger and the endurance of the characters.
I thought Dev Patel gave a really good performance and I loved the flashes of the sharp determined kid that shone through in some of his answers on the show and at the police station.
The soundtrack worked so well in context of the scenes, and the cheesy end credits sequence was a fitting nod and wink to the home of Bollywood.
I enjoyed Anil's contant references to what sounded like "Who Wants To Be a Milliner", although I doubt that show would rate so well :)
No negatives in this movie for me - The love story was improbable but the actors went in with commitment so I could at least believe that they believed it.
I enjoyed the book, and the changes made in the transition to screenplay worked pretty well, so not even a hint of snark about that.
What a great, uplifting, yet not syrupy story! Please someone, where are more mnovies like this?

grus said...

Hallo there PPCC!
I've been reading your blog for a while and I find it extremely enjoyable. I love your quirky writing style.

Anyway, back to the point. I like Anil Kapoor a lot as well. I've seen him only in "Trimurti" and "Taal" but he was the saving grace of these movies. He's not too well known in Poland (where I live) but now people are pretty excited about "Slumdog Millionaire", so he's finally starting to get the recognition he deserves :)

Here's some nice news:

Anil's a really sweet guy :)

PS. Have you seen the song "Ramta Jogi" from "Taal"? If no, please do so, because Anil's awesome in it :D

a ppcc representative said...

Temple - You are, of course, bilkul correct. I guess it was just the unexpectedness of Anil Kapoor being in a film like this that made me suddenly pay a LOT more attention to him!

grus - Hello to Poland! Thanks for the comment. And gasp - you've only seen two Anil movies? This you must rectify pronto. You promise to do that and I'll promise to get to Taal in the near future! Thanks for the link, too - just another thing to add to the ever-expanding list of ways in which that man impresses me!

katiekateBKLN said...

Looking forward to your review of Slumdog $$ once all the hullaballoo has died down.

As to Anil, has PPCC seen 'Mann' with Aamir Khan, Manisha Koirala, and the slim and saintly Anil Kapoor? So over the top 80s, I'd love to know what you think... Aamir wears the shiniest silver suit ever in the opening picturization with miss micro-mini herself, Rani Mukherjee. It was my first inkling that there might be something to this Anil Kapoor fellow...