This post is dedicated to Kenny who urged me to quit complaining and write a bit.
Young, mid-twenties, blond haired woman: “Two for Slumdog.” Old white man in his Southern accent: “Hi, I would like four seniors for Slumdog Millionaire please.” I heard old, young, white, black, brown, most people in this long holiday line at an indie theatre in Pasadena chant for the latest “Danny Boyle” flick. What about Slumdog is different, is new, is so catchy that Hollywood is responding in such an unexpectedly devout manner? Is it A) Danny Boyle B) India C) Bollywood D) The new hip thing to do or E) All of the above. I wonder if Jamal Malik would get this answer exactly right.
I saw the film at a Fox sneak preview and was also enlightened by a not so enlightening Anil Kapoor who could only rave about his correct judgment (or rather his son’s correct judgment) of his participation in the film. Let’s just say that any detailed thought was just not within reach of his inspection of the film which, amongst other things, melted a childhood hero in front of my eyes.
During the last month, just silently observing filmmakers, peers in and out of the industry reacting to Slumdog Millionaire, I have been wondering what exactly about the film has translated to the West. I had a couple of control cases, what if some unknown director from India directed the flick; would it be as much of a sensation? Well, maybe they would direct it in Hindi and work with actors who subsequently were more accurate in their dialect and depiction of slum people. It would certainly be more “authentic” but would it be more popular? Clearly, by now you can guess that I think not. Danny Boyle, who I admire to the core as an adventurous filmmaker, clearly has the pull and the built-in fan audience to create the seed audience for the film and clearly his involvement is what has caused the initial snowball to form, the other factors which I will mention later, were in my opinion the grease for the snowball effect.
Hollywood is vastly interested in Bollywood these days. Whether it is Will Smith’s Overbrook investing or Yash Chopra’s Roadside Romeo cooperation with Disney or the Ambani-Spielberg-Dreamworks venture, there is clearly a foresight in the business titans of LA that India has and will be a big player in the movie business owing to the die-heart loyalty of film fans. They thought that Hollywood would probably not replace Bollywood films in India in terms of popularity, so why don’t we stark taking a bite out of the Bollywood industry, whether it is Saawariya or Singh is Kinng or Chandni Chowk to China Town? Smart I say. So the occasional eruption of the Bollywood or Bombay or Mumbai or India or Hindi or Yoga or Ashthram effect is clearly surfacing and resurfacing for the American audience and so here comes a film indulged in just enough authenticity of the “true” Bombay and just enough of a Bollywood style in terms of the love story and the shockingly much appreciated end credit song gag and just enough of logic to make it digestible to a self-taught and more knowledgeable audience, and boom, the volcano erupts, the fireworks are unleashed!
With the right timing, the right ingredients and the proper distribution plan, Slumdog Millionaire is easily this year’s favorite holiday cookie. It might even find itself an Oscar nomination or wow, even a win. Not to say that it is the best movie of the year, but clearly the most popular because by this time all you young ones hopefully know how the world, the industry, politics and its ranks work.
And for the few of us who wished that exhibition dollars aside, the film was in Hindi or Dev Patel worked a bit more on his accent, who cares. It is not about being perfect, it is about delivering at the right time with mostly the right ingredients and you have a happy film cast and crew, a happy studio and a happy American family returning from the theatres chanting, “Wow, I never saw that side of Mumbai, I guess they keep that away from the tourists.” To which I thought, “Taj to the dark limousine to Goa to the dark limousine to spas and yoga and massage to the dark limousine to the airport will certainly make you miss that side of Bombay…but then again, who cares and who is listening anyway!”