I was mesmerized by the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ I suppose it wasn’t for the same reason everyone else was mesmerized. I love storytelling. I adore a good love story. I enjoy deadpan comedy. I like a bit of mystery. What I kept thinking through the entire movie was how well Regis Philbin had mastered the Indian accent. He looked so authentic in the movie. And the beard was a nice touch.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie. What I saw was probably different than the norm. I saw what the call center looks like that we’ve outsource our customer service to in India. I saw a desperate attempt to emulate a perceived American lifestyle by copying gangster films. I saw the beautiful woman emotionally and physically scarred for life by her previous relationships. I saw what over a billion people watching TV looks like. I saw where Michael Jackson can get some stage dancers for little to no money down.
What I didn’t see were cows. Don’t ask me why, but my stereotype of India involves honoring cattle. Reincarnation is a great thing, but there was no alluding to that belief in the movie. Everyone kept trying to act like Americans
When I see a foreign oriented film, I first prepare myself for subtitles. My brain doesn’t multi-task very well. I can look and listen like most people, but I get off track when I start thinking too much. Subtitles cause that problem for me because now I have to read something and interpret what it means. My technique is to watch DVDs with the English subtitles onscreen. It’s a good prep tool.
‘Slumdog Millionaire’ does this flip-flop of English and (possibly) Punjab. Your eyes keep diverting from the action to read a line in English. It’s a great experiment in Attention Deficit Disorder. They should offer medication at the concession stand. “I’d like some popcorn, nachos, a bottle of water and a couple of Ritalin please.”
What turned my thoughts on this movie was afterwards. My mother-in-law was in town for a week and my job was to pick the movies my wife and I would take her to see. She’s a fine Scottish lass with a wonderful sense of humor. My wife calls her ‘Queen Mum.’ I decided I wouldn’t ask anything about the movie once we left the theater. After we got in the car, the Queen said, “That was terrible!” (It sounds so much better with a Scottish accent.)
The Queen went on about the movie and how little sense it made and the subtitles and the characters and shut up already! She followed her comments with a favorite line, “Don’t mind me,” she started. “I just open my mouth, and let my belly rattle.” She compared ‘Slumdog’ to the Robert De Niro / Dustin Hoffman political thriller, ‘Wag the Dog.’ “Could see what they were doing in that movie.” she said. “We got up and left that movie.” she claimed as she nudged my wife from the back seat. “Yeah Mum.” Personally, I thought ‘Wag the Dog’ was a great movie. That’s how I came to see this movie in a different way – a foreigner showed me the light.
I’m not claiming that I won’t recommend the movie; I really thought it was a great concept. The acting was fine, the story was unique and the scenery was spectacular. It’s a well done flick and deserving of the awards it’s won. The problem I had was that I sat there expecting Indians from India to act like what I thought Indians from India should act like. Instead, the actors were targeting the American movie market by showing how Indians from India perceive how Indians from India would act like Americans.
This cultural perception comes from all those National Geographic films I saw about India when I was younger. I can only imagine what documentary films the Indians from India are watching about Americans. If ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is any indication of how Indians perceive Americans, we have a lot of work to do.
That’s 4.5 out of 5 stars.