Friday, December 26, 2008
"slumdog millionaire" will make you rethink your childhood fantasy of being the orphan who gets taken in by kind strangers. if you haven't seen the pic yet, i expect when you do you'll sit speechless before the vertiginous, often sickening evidence that at the bottom of the great ponzi scheme of world commerce is either hard slavery or soft slavery, the first embracing total control of a human being by another and the second complete economic control. then perhaps, like me, you will be equally mute before the magic, whether of love, loyalty, or beauty, that nevertheless asserts itself the way flowers arise in dung heaps or rainbows arc over a battlefield.
pay close attention to the remaking of bombay into mumbai, and the suave marriage of crime to commerce, which has become the sine qua non of modernizing cities everywhere. the process overtakes the players, too. for instance, we watch how the beautiful girl is made to become a traditional dancer to be a better whore, and then as though lifted from an early suffragette's primer, how, later, the woman in her sleek kitchen in her gated estate is no more than a courtesan, well dressed but still enslaved. the hierarchies in "slumdog" are vicious and deadly, and boys fare only slightly better than girls.
yet hope triumphs. it arises out of a belief in a transcendent future, or an immanence that brings wisdom and beauty to hardship ("it is written"). this is where dance has its say. at the end of the film, as a kind of theatrical coda, bollywood-meets-philly/oakland hip hop is unleashed by the stars and a crowd of young dancers in a train station (metaphor of so many 19th century novels, and fitting for the subcontinent). it is far from the mudras that bring us krishna or shiva, or the numerology that translates into pattern the elements of the universe in indian dance. still this frontal, unison, collective number manages to merge ancient rites with modern eros and liberation. more than english, hip hop is made the universal language, and through this slice of global culture, youth counter the ponzi scheme. together, they are jacked up with a life force so fierce and sweet and fast that, at least in movies, it seems powerful enough to scare even a piratical status quo.