When I first saw Slumdog Millionaire (SDM), I was surprised, at the very least, with the amount of hype surrounding this picture. I have a lot of mixed feelings (typical of me!). I feel the case of SDM is similar to the one of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. My Chinese friends were utterly surprised why the later was such a craze in the US.
In my view, SDM, at best, is an above-average Bollywood movie. It is full of loop holes in the script and exaggerations (from as simple as the fact that Who Wants to be a Millionaire is never telecast live, to the suddenly English speaking adult Jamal Malik). It is a typical rags-to-riches movie from Bollywood: good brother is hardworking, bad one takes to crime; good one is in love and is willing to do anything for it; bad one ends up saving the good one at most times and dies for him; a villian; and what not.
The good part about SDM is nice (but not special) presentation and the outstanding part is the background score by A.R. Rahman. For once, I felt that this movie made an impact through an effective use of technical components of movie making (I feel Taare Zameen Par failed in this aspect).
As always, a movie that has an impact, typically, is controversial.
In my view, the movie is not trying to say that Indians are slumdogs or anything like that. As is always seen in Western movies, at times, SDM seems to show Indians in a very stereotypical fashion. But, that it is true of every movie anywhere in the world. Indian movies always show Sardarjis or South Indians or foreigners in a stereotypical fashion and exaggerate the nuances to enhance the value of the movie, because I think people want to see that. We could be hypocrites if we said that we like those movies and hate this one for such an exaggeration.
At the same time, it is sad that most people look at such movies and see them as representative of India (I have not met a US person who has seen this movie; so, I am only guessing). But, it is the same as thinking that “Friends” is representative of American. I am sure I could make a rags-to-riches movie in the backdrop of the city of Detroit and it would show the same, and maybe, more, problems.
BTW, I do not think song Jai Ho deserved an Oscar or even a nomination for the best original song in a movie. It is not a part of the movie. It is just forced into the end credits; actors dancing at the busiest train station in Mumbai – it is hard to walk on that station!
And yes, I wish this opens the doors for Indian movies in the US. There are many better (much much better) movies made in India…
To sum up, I have not seen any of the other contenders for best picture at Oscars 2009. But, I am pretty sure that Slumdog Millionaire did not feel like the Best Picture!