Monday, 23 February 2009

The curious case of Slumdog Millionaire by Kaveree Bamzai

Kaveree Bamzai wrote on INDIA TODAY website on why Slumdog Millionaire wins...

The curious case of Slumdog Millionaire
Kaveree Bamzai
February 22, 2009

Will Slumdog Millionaire have its moment under the "neela zareewala aasman"? Well, I've seen all the Best Picture nominees and I can tell you it has every right to have the hype it does. Why? Well take The Reader, Stephen Daldry's movie starring Kate Winslet, or shall I say Kate Winslet's body. Almost three-fourths of the movie where she appears, playing a former Nazi prison guard having an affair with a 15-year-old school boy, she's naked. I know Monster's Ball has set a precedent for women being in the buff receiving an Oscar for Best Actress, but even by those standards, The Reader is extreme.

In fact, Winslet loves to go naked in her movies (ask anyone who has seen her sex scene on the washing machine in Little Children and you'll know what I mean) and has consistently shown her "commitment to her craft" by going without her clothes. Call her fearless or shameless, but she suffers for her art and Oscar loves that. Personally though I thought The Reader was an awful movie. I have moral issues with it (illiteracy is a crime worse than murdering innocent Jews?) and with its treatment (a plodding series of encounters between Winslet and the boy, where she bathes him, he reads to her, and then they fall to it on her bed).

Hmm. Then there's Milk. Now Sean Penn can be trusted to deliver a powerhouse performance as the slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk. Oscar loves movies about gay men. Think Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain. Hollywood particularly loves movies about gay men who suffer. Gus Van Sant's Milk has Penn being pilloried for preferring boys to girls, and there's nothing that the gay mafia in Hollywood would love more. As played by Penn, all mincing manner and little fluttery flirtation, Milk is a tragic character who is inevitably marching to his doom. Its mix of documentary footage with live action recreation is enough to give the movie a historical perspective. Oscar loves to sound intelligent.

Then, there's David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where the beautiful Brad Pitt tries to win points by spending most of the movie looking a. ugly, b. old. It's gimmicky, with Pitt aging in reverse, in a fantastical screenplay adapted from a Fitzgerald short story, but I tend to think of it as the Forrest Gump movie of the year. Smart for its use of special effects and quirky, with a short cameo from Varanasi where Pitt's character is on a journey around the world, but not much else.

Which brings us to Frost/Nixon. A tour de force performance from Frank Langella as Richad Nixon, every pore sweating and ever nerve twitching as the former disgraced president trying to absolve himself in the eyes of the world with a four part television interview with David Frost, considered till then a shallow pretty boy more interested in women than in world affairs. But too intimate and limiting to be The Queen of this year (even though it does feature Michael Sheen again, playing Frost rather than Tony Blair here).

Apart from that, as Ashok Amritraj told me, Wall-E, the wonderfully inventive animated movie, has not been nominated for Best Picture; neither has the grad Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood's self proclaimed final acting performance at 78, nor has The Dark Knight. Perhaps it was far too successful to be nominated and even if the blockbuster status could have been avoided (like James Cameron's Titanic) it can't get away from being a franchise film.

Which is where Slumdog Millionaire wins. One for being original (for them, for us, it's a Salim-Javed potboiler made in English). Two for being at the right place at the right time. Instead of going straight to DVD when its co-producer Warner Independent Pictures shut down, Danny Boyle's film instead got picked by Fox Searchlight President Peter Rice, a wise man who not only has a great relationship with Boyle but also has been responsible for picking up and running with gems such as Juno and Little Miss Sunshine in the past.

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