A film review in sepia vision [Slumdog Millionaire]

As an immigrant from the Subcontinent (I was born in Sri Lanka but am now an Australian citizen), I think a little part of me has always wished I was Indian rather than Sri Lankan.  The former always seemed so much more glamorous and full of culture.  Eight of my Top-10 books are Indian (or India-centric) and Bollywood movies have always captured my heart.

Then when Bend It Like Beckham, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake brought The Subcontinent and the migrant experience into the mainstream, I was more than excited.

While lots of the little girls I grew up with could (if they wanted) dream of being a movie star, I never grew up with pretty, brown girls to idolise or could put posters of cute, chocolate boys on Dolly posters up in my room (I had Mulder and Scully; my white boyfriend is probably grateful of this).

But, since those all the aforementioned developments in Hollywood, I know that my children can (if they want to) dream of playing doctors on ER or House, and that’s very comforting.

And now, with Slumdog Millionaire getting Best Picture at the Golden Globes and being up for a bunch of Academy Awards in a couple of weeks, my little brown babies might even be able to dream about getting all dressed up and going to the Oscars(™)!! YAY!!

Because if Obama’s election win means just one thing, it’s that stereotype breakers don’t just break stereotypes — they smash them for all who will come hereafter!  Or maybe not.

Anyway. I very much hope that film wins lots of Oscars, too.  I saw it just after Christmas and I LOVED IT.  It is exciting, poignant, funny, and has a love story in it even though some scenes will break your heart and make your stomach turn — can I call it a tragic romantic action-thriller comedy?

Aside from it being a great movie, I was really impressed by the way it brought the dark side of India (the child slave/sex/beggar trade, poverty and development, race and religious violence, gender relations, corruption and human rights, etc) out into the bright lights of Hollywood.

But reading some of the post-Globes write ups, I could not agree more with this post from Cinemablend.com:

It’s one of the year’s best reviewed films and the reviewers who have praised it justify their love of the film by calling it “upbeat and colorful“, “inspiring“, “a feel good” movie, a “delightful spectacle“, “a rousing celebration of life, love, and hope“, a “fairytale“, and my favorite “joyous“. That’s just a tiny sampling of the intense hyperbole being thrown at the film. You’d think this was Hoosiers with saris. But I’d like to throw another word into the mix. Here it is: Exploitation. …

The movie being described by these critics is not the film that I saw several weeks ago in a darkened movie theater. Instead what I saw was a cynical collection of third-world clichés sold with pretty colors and an uplifting soundtrack.

Almost the exact same adjectives can be found in the Daily Telegraph‘s review.

It seems to me that, just as the mainstream culture-munchers simply Do. Not. Get. the ironic package that is M.I.A., the daughter-of-a-terrorist rapper who was recently listed on Esquire magazine’s “most influential” list, the serious issues at the core of Slumdog have been completely overlooked by the goras seeing this movie through rose-coloured glasses.

Yes, there are bright colours and upbeat music (by the by, I picked up on at least 2 M.I.A. tracks), but, you guys, this movie is dark.  This movie presents a horrible underbelly of India (I cannot say how accurate it really is; that is just the representation I saw).  This movie is not a Disney animation (circa 1930-1990?), as the reviews might suggest.

Regardless of whether the book, or its source, Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, was supposed to be a lighthearted-romp through Mumbai’s slums, I wonder whether any such project is possible without looking at the world from which the text emerged.

And while aspects of the film may be “third-world clichés”, I would be inclined to believe most of it is fair in the sense it’s a fictional, dramatized depiction of what really happens in the so-called “developing-world”.  I can’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve seen some horrible stuff during my trips back to “the motherland”.  You don’t just make this stuff up.

And from those who do live in India, the response is the same: less-than-impressed. While the film is yet to be released there, Mondy Thapar of the Hindustan Times has one question before India’s elite become angered over the depiction of “stereotypes” in the film:

Is someone making a mountain out of a molehill about poverty in this country? … The question is a fair one, except for the fact that slums and poor people for a fictional depiction aren’t concocted out of thin air.

Thapar’s other question is whether Slumdog is just another example of “the West’s voyeuristic obsession with joy amid poverty, vitality among the super-poor”?

If all this critical and commerical success opens “The West’s” mind to the realities of Slumdog‘s world and propels a call to action, that would be one thing.  But from the looks of it, movie-goers and reviewers are happy to leave sorting out that mess to some kind fairy godmother and her magic wand.

The one about running away from your comfort zone [stand up comedy]

So late last year I heard a promo on Triple J calling for entrants for the Raw Comedy heats — a comedy talent search that’s part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for people who’ve never done stand up before but are ego-maniacal enough to give it a go because they have a self-delusional idea that they’re funny.

Or at least that’s what the voices in my head must have told me it was for, because in an unfortunate fit of senility, I signed up.

When I told some guys I worked with last year that I’d signed up for the heats, one of them, who has actually done some stand up himself, pretty much fell on the floor laughing.

Hrm, I wonder, is my signing up itself enough hilarity to get me through to the next round?

Un-effing-likely.

When I got the confirmation of my heat schedule I was feeling a little more sane (sub-text: shit scared) and considered pulling out.

But, since that’s only for Catholics (OOOH! BOOM TISH!) — ahem, since my current module in therapy is about not woossing out of things that make me uncomfortable, I decided this is a great chance for me to get up in front of people I’ve never met before (Hi, AbstractG!) and feel the fear and try not to piss my pants (oh, gods, what the fck am I going to wear??? Shit, should I book a hair appointment??)

The poster for Raw Comedy features a headless chook running around, so I don’t have too many expectations on myself, and I’m currently in a state of utter terror yet zen-like coolness about it. I’ve always been a bit of an oxymoron, I guess.

So, if anyone is free, come to the Comedy Lounge @ the Charles Hotel tonight and laugh with me (please, with, not at, thanks) as I make a fool out of myself, all in the name of personal development (but I promise my routine will not be anything like Jeff Hewitt‘s most recent show, about depression — you actually have to be good, AND brave, to pull shit like that off)

The one about guest posting [self-promotion]

My super-plan for being super-fabulous involves using blogging as a platform which showcases my awesomeness.  In theory, people will read my blog and be like, “Wow, this girl is SO AWESOME, I am going to pay her to do whatever she wants” (eg writing for cool publications, hosting The Oscars™, etc).

Obviously this is a Tortoise-paced project because I’m going to start being A Baby Lawyer (as, a young lawyer, not a lawyer that lawyers for.about infants) in just a couple of weeks, so you don’t need look out for me at The Oscars ’til like, 2027.

I still desperately need to get on to doing up my webiste front page and getting business cards.  But I’ve spent the last two weeks looking for a new place to rent and, yikes, it’s tough being a Lady of Leisure, you know.  There’s so much sleeping, DVDs, reading, yoga, etc to do, and yet so little time!

But, writing stuff is relatively easy for me so I’m going to work at building up my profile by writing guest posts for other blogs over the next few months and seeing if that will help introduce new readers to me.

I had a couple of shots at writing for a pretty popular blog (which I’ll leave nameless) but the owner, who was like “oh, cool, yeah I’ll totally use them”, never ended up posting my posts so I didn’t try again for a while.

Then, yesterday, Mike Meloni of Somebody Think Of The Children did a shout out on Twitter for a response to a horrible op-ed in The Australian about why we should trial the “Cleen Feed” internet filter.  I jumped at the chance, and instead of watching 2 episodes of The Wire as I normally would before heading to yoga I whipped up post for him!

Go check it out!

I’ve had encouraging feedback so I’m going to keep at it.  Hopefully I’ll hear back from from people with comments I want to include in my next article for New Matilda, too (here’s my first one) so I’ll keep building up my “portfolio” bit by bit.

Like Rachel Hunter used to say in those Pantene ads, I know it won’t happen overnight, but I’m sure that sooner or later, it will.

The one about reconciliation [indigenous affairs]

There are lots of serious things going on right now.  Like the economy crumbling and @TurnbullMalcolm threatening to take away my Rudd-given right to buy shoes and makeup with my $950 stimulus payment.

But I just wanted to take everyone back to that whole indigenous affairs thing — you know, the blackfellas you avoid at the train station because you don’t want to have to give them $2 if they ask for it.  I know, I know: when shoe-shopping is at stake, there’s less impetus to think about things like human rights and sad chapters in Australian history.  But the current crises doesn’t make these other ones less important.

I don’t know why I feel so strongly about this country’s reconciliation with its indigenous people.  I am not one, and I have barely known any (I grew up in the leafy Western Suburbs of Perth, how could I have known any??).  And I might be an immigrant, but there is no common factor here other than that I’m not white.

I suppose it makes me a bit of a patronising snob that all I’ve ever had to do with this area was through the academic or legal side — stuff about representation in literature and whether the whole “Stolen Generation” was genocide and stuff. Although my mum did work with the Aboriginal Medical Service for a while.  And when we were little my dad used to tell us he was Ernie Dingo’s brother (they do both kinda look alike. Like, you know, they’re both brown).

But I really think that people don’t think enough about what happened to indigenous Australians in the past and how that might affect the way things are these days.  Maybe it’s a remnant of the Howard/Windshuttle black-armband backlash.

As much as I hoped that last year’s Sorry would change everything, I guess I always knew it wouldn’t be that easy… I guess I thought there’d be more concrete stuff happening.

Last week, Professor Mick Dodson was awarded Australian of the Year for his work to “promote  justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians.”  I hope that honour is not another empty, shallow guesture, but I certainly agree that Professor Dodson deserves the accolade (the issue, I guess, is whether the accolate is worthy of Professor Dodson).

I honestly believe that that approach is the most important aspect of the whole debate.  Ignorance breeds hate and laziness and I reckon the only way to counter hate and allow empathy and compassion (the key to solving it all) to flourish is understanding.

The December 08 – Febuary 09 issue of The Monthly, my new favourite magazine, featured an utterly amazing essay by indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu entitled “Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow” that I beg all of you to read and pass on to others.  I can’t do justice in trying to summarise or explain it (or even copy-paste a few quotes) because it must be absorbed and appreciated in its entirety.  It’s long, but please take the time to read it.  And I’d love to hear how you felt when you finished it.

If you felt anything like I did when I’d finished the last paragraph of that epic piece of writing, there might be a crazy mix of emotions — shock, sadness, anger, helplessness, humor, joy, hope… or maybe I’m just weird for feeling so strongly about the issue?

Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow
by Galarrwuy Yunupingu, The Monthly #44.