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Slumdog Millionaire

Posted on Sunday, Jan 18th 2009

Last night, we saw Slumdog Millionaire, the acclaimed Danny Boyle film. It’s a superbly told tale of a slum kid, Jamal, as he plays the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show, and wins because the questions he is asked are each tied to his life in strange ways, and he knows their answers.

The film is shot in Mumbai and a few other Indian locations, and captures an authentic feel of India, while also using a very well-written, tight-knit screenplay and excellent, excellent editing. It takes a great story set in India, and for $15 million, turns it into a riveting film that since its opening on November 12, has already grossed $50.5 million as of January 18.

The film, of course, is in English, with a combination British and Indian production team and mostly unknown actors. I suspect, the production budget went up to $15 million because of the inclusion of Anil Kapoor in the role of the show host, Prem, and Irfan Khan as the police chief. Otherwise, I suspect, the film could have been completed for less than $7.5 million.

It was hugely satisfying to see the film on many accounts for me, not the least of which is that it uses all the “business” ingredients that I have been writing about in the Vision India 2020 series: low budget, English language, Indian context, great screenplay, great editing, and Indian-international combination production teams.

Well, here we have a great product that will likely make a legitimate run for the Foreign Language Academy Award this year.

I am sure many such films will be made in the upcoming years, and as we go along, that Indian directors, screenwriters, editors, and producers will start getting more savvy about how to leverage the commercial potential of the formula!

Update: By April 2009, and after its successful Oscar run, the film has grossed $326 million worldwide. By all accounts, a successful venture!

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Agree with most part – great film, well told story… But please do not misrepresent by saying that it captures an authentic feel of India. It represents a facet of Indian society – agreed – but India is not all all about slums and slumdogs, poverty, despair, not matter how much you people want to believe.

Sramana, I’d have expected a bit more prudence from you, in what you write on your blog considering its popularity. It is a good movie and that about it. Do not portray what is shown in the movie as an ‘authentic’ image of India. That’d be misleading your readers.

Mav Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 10:59 PM PT

Agree with Mav on his point Sramana

SW Monday, January 19, 2009 at 2:48 AM PT

@Mav
How authentic is the image of ‘India Rising’ ? Dont intend to debate on the definition of authenticity. But I am from India and I know slums are there everywhere and movies like this make us aware of them. If we dont feel great about them – lets do something about them… there is no reason to hide them.

Milton Monday, January 19, 2009 at 5:28 AM PT

I do agree it is an excellent film. However, I question as to whether the film will make it on its own if not for Danny Boyle and other other Western influences in the production, distribution, and marketing processes. If this film was shot, produced, and marketed entirely by the Indian film industry, will it have such wide appeal in the West?

torstarguy Monday, January 19, 2009 at 8:07 AM PT

I think the slum-India is just as authentic as the Samode Palace India. Why pretend that it isn’t?

Sramana Mitra Monday, January 19, 2009 at 9:50 AM PT

Great movie, but old news, Sramana! Lets hope it gets an Oscar. As to authentic or not, the purpose of film or any other art form is to exaggerate in order to make the point. The scene where the young Jamal falls into a heap of shit is probably the best in the film – is it realistic?

Shanker Trivedi Monday, January 19, 2009 at 1:49 PM PT

So what is your point, Shanker? This has not been positioned as a documentary, and we often check reality at the door when we enter a movie theater.

Authencity does not equate to reality.

Sramana Mitra Monday, January 19, 2009 at 7:56 PM PT

So what is your point, Shanker? This has not been positioned as a documentary, and we often check reality at the door when we enter a movie theater.

Authenticity does not equate to reality.

Sramana Mitra Monday, January 19, 2009 at 7:56 PM PT

Even while I was watching the film, your ideas about English language- Indian content films, made profitably, kept coming. I guess, some really smart people are reading your blog! 🙂

Satsheel Monday, January 19, 2009 at 11:44 PM PT

I think there is nothing wrong in calling the image of India being potrayed as authentic. Authentic does not mean – soothing. It means true.

And the true picture is such. Sure you have India Rising and all that jargon, but when u have 45-50% people in India as poor, the portrayal in the movie can be anything but not authentic.

Yuvraj Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 2:16 AM PT

@milton
“India Rising” is not authentic – I know, but that is not the point. And it does not justify misrepresenting country’s image. With that logic you can paint practically any country in a negative shade – including USofA

Mav Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 11:15 AM PT

Sramana and others,

Here’s a review by an Indian blogger.

http://satyameva-jayate.org/2009/01/22/on-slumdog-millionnaire-prejudices-guest-post-by-saurav-basu/

Yes, as a concept – British director, hollywood technicians, Indian actors, India as the setting – it worked; the commercial success proves it.

But there are other angles to the story too, as the blogger who reviewed it says eloquently.

Kumar Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 5:01 AM PT

Hi Kumar,

It’s another perspective, for sure. And an interesting one. I didn’t seek “realistic” in the movie, and surely, the premise of Jamal winning the contest is a highly improbable one. But it did not bother me.

And the anti-Hindu sentiments that the blogger who wrote the essay is so offended by, also did not bother me.

Every story is told from a perspective. This one is told from the perspective of a Muslim boy. And the love story that triumphs in the end is a Hindu girl loving this boy. I could offer counterpoints to Sourav Basu’s points, but again, it doesn’t matter, because that’s his perspective, and he reads the film as anti-Hindu. He has the right to do so.

We see the world as we are, as a dear friend of mine says. I guess I have experienced very little in terms of discrimination and anti-(fill in the gaps) in my life, so I see the power of the story-telling, the editing, and as a businesswoman, I see its commercial success, and more importantly, the success formula.

And I am delighted to see a validation of a formula that I have been advocating myself.

Sramana Mitra Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 1:54 PM PT

Yes, Sramana.Agree with you on the perspective aspect.

The formula, yes, can be done better, and this is probably the beginning.Hopefully this trend will result in better cinema than Slumdog, in future.

Btw, you must’ve heard about the phenomenal success of Hindi movie Ghajini (remake of a Tamil film of the same name); it is an Indianised version of ‘Memento’, and within the first 2 weeks of release, raked in over Rs.200 crore…

Next up, a truly crossover film, one that is a predominantly Indian film (made with Indian sensibilities but a Hollywood finesse)..

Kumar Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 9:32 PM PT

Two points:

First you missed a heavyweight – AR Rahman. Anil Kapoor is not the most expensive ingredient or the most important cause for success.

Second, I agree your business model is exemplified by Slumdog M. However, you must recognize that the Indian movie market is massive and untapped. Piracy is rampant in the ‘developed’ countries along with a waning “saturday movie” culture. In the mid 1990s Miss World and Miss Universe elicited sale of luxury and cosmetic products using Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Lara Dutta etc. Oscar nominations and Golden Globe awards to Slumdog are similar moves. I wonder why the world does not find Indian girls beautiful anymore. Duh, Loreal moved on to other emerging markets.

Tom Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 3:08 AM PT

Yes, I missed Rahman. That must have been very expensive.

Anil Kapoor – I think they should have taken someone else. I don’t think he was very good.

The commercial formula is very different for India. Bollywood does a plenty fine job tapping into that market.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 11:40 AM PT

How does it matter to you how the budget was spent? What juvenile thoughts! Was Anil Kapoor sitting on the movie makers head to give him $15million , or you have authentic information that he got a ‘bhai’ to call them up to cast him? If X wants to give Y his money, why does it bother you? You cinema lovers are always there to justify Anil Kapoor justify his fee, arent you. This film is this and this film is that.

ab Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 5:10 PM PT

No Sraman Mitra, you pinnacle of rudderless communist perfection going around with a Hindu name, anything that abuses Hindu sentiments doe not bother you. Did you realize that the world sees you as a Hindu? If someone painting you as part of a rabid, fanatical creed does not bother you, then who bothers what bothers you? But of course if I make the next film with Jesus christ dressed like a monkey faced joker dancing randomly in filth, it will send shivers up your spine. If you are caught in the next riot amidst a muslim riot, I am sure they will let you off when you tell them any anti hindu stuff does not bother you.

ab Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 5:17 PM PT

Sramana,

I think some of the people who are dropping comments here which is completely un related wouldn’t have much complain about the kid dressed like Rama shown that way, if the main character was not a name like Jamal. In that case it would have been a ‘funny’ event.

I wonder how much people understand about Hinduism and believe that in true sense!

Identity crisis at it’s best!

Its all how one identify himself/herself in the world.

I have seen people identify themselves as part of all the living creature in the world and get depressed when they unknowingly stamp on an any living creature. I am not sure how many books/movies/roads/constructions/movement of people they can ban or how many hours they will spend thinking about what others are doing wrong instead of spending time in doing something good of their own.

Santanu Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 11:36 PM PT

Santanu, Let it pass. If we try to respond to all the display of asininity (that’s probably not a word, but I just made it up), we’d be wasting too much time. Sramana

Sramana Mitra Monday, January 26, 2009 at 4:22 PM PT

Slumdog is a very good film, great to see stuff that is different, and all so real. A very good watch for any move fan.

Investment in Property Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 6:04 PM PT