Slumdog Millionaire: Where Bollywood Meets Hollywood

Title: Slumdog Millionaire

Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan, Freida Pinto

Director: Danny Boyle

I found Vikas Swarup’s  book Q&A to be extremely creative and entertaining.  The film Slumdog Millionaire  builds on the main theme of the book, but it veers off to accommodate hordes of “masala” like car chases, sentimental scenes, stunt sequences, gun shots, the typical Bollywood hero and heroine exchanging looks (with romantic music playing in the background) while a train rushes between them, etc. You get the idea.

The script is full of holes and ranges from extreme exaggeration (the jump through feces to pick up Amitabh Bachhan’s autograph!) to utterly senseless (the host of the quiz show played by Anil Kapoor ridiculing the participant instead of putting him at ease).  In short, the film does no justice to the book whatsoever, but was instead focused entirely on its box office elements.

Dev Patel, the lead actor’s British accent, and the policeman, slum dwellers and menacing goons speaking in English all appear completely out of place for a film set in Mumbai. Freida Pinto (the film’s female lead)  might have a good Bollywood career ahead of her, provided she is open to taking some Hindi lessons. The film is essentially like a typical fast-paced Bollywood film  with plenty of the conventional mix of action, drama, melodrama, love and suspense, but all in English. In other words, it is an “out and out masala.” Nevertheless, it is certainly watchable. Could it have been made more authentic and hence more watchable? Sure, but it might not have hit the mainstream like it seems to have done now.

The commercial success of the film in the US and across the world has some very interesting implications for the film business in general. Western filmmakers have been trying hard to enter Bollywood of late (Sony with Saawariya, Disney with Roadside Romeo, Warner Brothers with Chandni Chowk to China, to name a few) but with little success to date. At the same time, Bollywood film makers have been trying to make films targeted at the NRI audience (Karan Johar’s endless string of eye-candies set in the US, Yash Chopra’s feel goodies etc.). Making Bollywood films with an eye on Hollywood has so far been considered too much of a stretch. The success of Slumdog Millionaire changes this mindset on its head. It opens up a thus far unexplored commercial avenue for Bollywood – the true desi masala starring the likes of Shahrukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Kamalhasan, Rajnikanth, Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone etc., made in English by the likes of Mani Ratnam, Shankar, Ashutosh Gawarikar, and so on, but targeted at the western audience (as opposed to just the NRI crowd). Slumdog Millionaire’s success proves that the world universally craves and embraces masala themes. If it is packaged right, a commercial home run is there for the asking, not to mention Golden Globes and possibly Oscars.

The thought of Rajnikanth appearing on screen and American men and women screaming, whistling and throwing dollars and cents at the screen, or the day when Shah Rukh Khan hits the talk show circuit in the US prior to the release of his next bilingual (Hindi and English) blockbuster is no longer far fetched. This will be the true globalization of commercial cinema. The makers of Chak de India and Swades (two movies that come to mind right away) should surely consider releasing their films in English, minus any song and dance…well maybe not, if you consider the commercial success of Mama Mia. Rajnikanth’s next film Endhiran, originally titled Robot, also starring Aishwarya Rai, in the tactful hands of commercial super director Shankar would be another candidate to give an English release a shot.

Bollywood owes director Danny Boyle for setting the stage for Bollywood’s foray into Hollywood. With this film, he has paved the way for bridging the gap between Hollywood and Bollywood. It is up to Bollywood to take the cues and build on it.

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