Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review of Slumdog Millionaire

Sukhdev Sandhu calls it ‘a hugely important film in contemporary cinema.’ How do I take this film seriously, when in spite of all its merits, it fails utterly when it comes to female casting?

The reviewer Kevin Buist suggests that Danny Boyle couldn't decide whether to ask his actors to be realistic, or overly theatrical, as the film is a homage to Bollywood. It is one of those strange entities, a realistic homage to Bollywood. So I can take it for what it is, enjoy the film, and then dismiss it from my mind. But the thing is, this film is being compared to Charles Dickens novels, and as being in the cusp between art and commerce. So people are taking this film seriously. So I’ve to say, I’m sorry, but would you sit up and take notice of the women? I mean, really look at them, and look at the men.

The entire male cast look realistic. Not one of them could be mistaken for Tom Cruise or Amitabh Bacchan (expect maybe the guy who plays the Beggarmaster). But the female actors? Jamal’s slum-mother looks like she walked off from the cover of a fashion magazine. Well-shaped eyebrows, ethereal beauty and slim frame (which looks achieved by diet, rather than lack of nutrition). Hey, whatdyaknow, she looks like some fashion model turned actor. Jamal’s girlfriend, the slum-girl who becomes a teenage prostitute? She could be the twin of the woman who plays the mother, if the length of their pouts and silkiness of skin are to go by. And their similarity of features, I’m sure, has not occured because of the Oedipal reading the director wants critics to do from the text of the film.

I’m not taking issue with the utter passivity of the female roles in this film. I acknowledge that this is a male-film made in a male-world by men. But this is the west, and we do not live in a pre-feminist world like most of India does, so hey Danny Boyle and gang, please pull your socks up and pay attention. I cannot take the character of Latika seriously in the film because, she is a) a simpering, vapid siren who belongs on a catwalk and b) she has no agency.

I did say I wasn’t taking up the issue of female passivity, but really, I lied. The final scene where Jamal’s brother Salim completely goes out of character and urges Latika to run away, giving her his phone, and immolates himself in a bathtub full of money (!!), really, it was Latika who should have grabbed the car keys, kneed the mafia boss in the groin, and made off with Salim’s phone. Salim was born mean and selfish, and so he should have remained. And if Latika had shown even that little bit of spunk, I’d have forgiven her ethereal looks and general vapidness.

And no, I’m neither a lesbian nor too ugly to get the guys.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Are you from Indias

Are you from India?
You look like someone I know from India.
Not me.
You’re not from India?
Where you from?
Are you from Bangladesh?
You look like Pakistan-Bangladesh. Asian.
I’m not.
Where are you from?
From here?
Oh from here? England?
You study here?
Is this floor one?
No. The third.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Queen Elizabeth Hall
the tiger lillies & justin bond
Thursday 18 December 2008 - Saturday 20 December 2008
Where’s the story?

There were many things to enjoy and appreciate about the performance. The last time I was in Queen Elizabeth hall was for a piano concerto, and before that, a book reading by Salman Rushdie. It felt as though the sacred space (books and classical music, are closest I come to feeling religious) was profaned, and so delightfully. Men in drag are always fun, profanities release you from the dull chains of ‘decency’ in the social sphere, and the music: dark cabaret and operatic falsetto, was brilliant.
The first song set up the scene: Cinderella the crack whore, controlled and pimped by her evil stepmother and Cinderella’s expectation to meet and be rescued by a Prince Charmer, a famous rap artist. The next few songs, tell about Cinderella’s dead mother who was also a whore, more about the evil stepmother, and Cinderrella’s aspirations and dreams and monologues à la vagina. Cinderella also comes and demonstrates to a number of male audience members what her job entails. OK… then what? Then a song titled Evil, about the …er.. stepmother.. and then, lots of cavorting in the aisles and on audience (all male) laps, peruading them call the stepmother ‘evil cunt’. At some point, the stepmother’s skirt and wig unravel and Cinderella exhorts the audience to call her ‘ugly cunt’; this the men do enthusiastically. After the interval, there’s a song called, wait for it…. yes, you’ve guessed it: ‘You’re Evil.’ In Sinderella’s words, one may ask, ‘Where’s the fucking story, you cunts?’
It is mentioned in passing by Cinderella in one of her songs about what a typical crackwhore she is, that Prince Charmer, after few weeks of a-courting Rella, has fallen prey to and died of cancer, just like her mother. Apart from the technical failing of, hmm, going nowhere with the fairytale (nevermind that there was so subversion of the story, there was simply no story, reconstructed or unreconstructed), there are many aspects of this show that I found disturbing. What the audience seemed to enjoy most were the profanities. Every time there was a ‘fucking’ or ‘cunt’ or ‘blowjob’ accompanied by Cinderalla’s ‘interactions’ with the audience (mostly male), there was lots of laughter and clapping. The show was nought but men in drag constructing and donning female psyches, and with the male and some female audience’s help, sundering, eviscerating them. ‘I want to pour poison into your cunt,’ sings Cinderella to her stepmother. Bottomline is, it was drag misogyny masquerading as ‘alternative’ and performed for the entertainment of male and female misogynists. There is such a thing as misogyny among women, and it was exhibited by women in the audience, thankfully, only a few, standing and clapping at key moments of the performance. They might well have been applauding the comedy or the music, or the sheer outrageousness of the show which is refreshing after a year of behaving well and ‘normal’, but I consider it misogyny, even when it isn’t active or passive hatred of women, but the choice to be ignorant of it when it is expressed by someone else.
There was a song sung by the original trio in the group, while Cinderalla stepped out to ‘change’. It was the best five minutes of the performance. They should do more of the dark, operatic songs with unusual pauses and run riot with the melancholic drag queen in surreal setting motif. To sum it up, if you want to retell/reinterpret Cinderella, please get beyond the first act.