We here in the United States, who think we're going through tough economic times, need to put Slumdog Millionaire at the top of our movie-watching list.
Laurel and I saw it last night at Salem Cinema. Aside from the film's entertainment value (off the charts!) I came away with a fresh appreciation of how good the lifestyle of most Americans is compared with how Indians live in the Mumbai slums.
Many scenes are incredibly powerful, showing how children and adults alike live perpetually on the edge of existence, eating meal to meal, not being sure whether the bed they sleep in one night will be theirs tomorrow.
And here I am, fretting over whether I should switch to grande vanilla lattes, from venti, in a minimalist money-saving effort.
I've been to India twice, in 1977 and 1998. I didn't travel around much, but I saw enough to realize that Slumdog Millionaire captures both the inward spirit and the outward appearance of the country beautifully.
Watching the movie, I kept wondering how Indians themselves would react to it.
Slumdog Millionaire isn't exactly the India Tourist Bureau's dream. Much of the film shows the gritty, dirty, poverty-stricken, crime-filled side of India. And it definitely makes you want to stay out of the hands of the Mumbai Police Department.
In fact, although Amitabh Bachchan, India's biggest Bollywood star, has blasted Danny Boyle for portraying India in a poor light, most British Asians are relieved that, finally, a slice of the real India is out there on display, warts and all.
Jaspreet Pandohar, 35, a freelance writer, says she feels the film portrayed the city and its people in a truthful, dignified manner. "India's commercial capital may be booming but there's a dark underbelly of crime, deprivation and poverty that is often ignored or misrepresented by Indian cinema and the government."
This evening I talked about Slumdog Millionaire with my daughter, Celeste, who lives in Hollywood and makes her living selling high-priced designer eyewear. She agreed that Americans need to put our current financial difficulities in global perspective.
Celeste said that a friend had just returned from Jamaica and spoke about how people there sometimes wear two different kinds of shoes (shoes, and the lack of them, also come in for quite a bit of attention in Slumdog Millionaire). And children trudge along carrying heavy containers of water.
So, yes, times are tough. But our tough times would be viewed by most of the world's population as extravagant beyond belief.
Let's be grateful for what we have, and generous toward those who have so much less.
Final comment: I loved the final scene, upbeat Bollywoodish and jarringly unlike the rest of the movie that it was. Guess I'm not cut out to be a sophisticated movie reviewer like Anthony Lane of the New Yorker, who said:
There is a mismatch here. Boyle and his team, headed by the director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle, clearly believe that a city like Mumbai, with its shifting skyline and a population of more than fifteen million, is as ripe for storytelling as Dickens’s London, and they may be right; hence the need to get their lenses dirty on its clogged streets.
At the same time, the story they chose is sheer fantasy, not in its glancing details but in its emotional momentum. How else could Boyle get away with assembling his cast for a Bollywood dance number, at a railroad station, over the closing credits? You can either chide the film, at this point, for relinquishing any claim to realism or you can go with the flow—surely the wiser choice. After all, to make an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser is no mean task, requiring both folly and verve; and right now, I suspect, the crowd is ready to be pleased.