How Slumdog Millionaire Differentiates from the Typical Bollywood Movie

With Slumdog Millionaire winning eight of the 10 golden statuettes, India has undoubtedly been the flavor of this Oscar season. Although Indian TV anchors have been wildly rapturous about it, reactions of people outside the newsroom are unequivocally diverse. While some are feeling ecstatic for Slumdog’s Indian connection, some others are arguing that the film was highly overrated. Film critics in India opine Slumdog Millionaire is just like another typical Bollywood movie and that the Oscar awards it won are an indicator of a belated acceptance of Bollywood's archetypal song-and-dance formula. But, I really don’t think so.

India is not just about the Taj Mahal or thick forests or tea plantations, mysticism or yoga retreats, unity in diversity or ancient religion. India is also about overpopulation, suffocating and overwhelming poverty, misinformation and illiteracy, government greed and corruption, helplessness of a commoner, and last but not the least it’s about Hope. Thus, Slumdog Millionaire represents the REAL India, which probably most Bollywood movies fail to do.

Bollywood, the entertainment industry of India, produces nearly 600 movies every year, and most of these movies are very formulaic. They go something like this: the boy and the girl meet accidentally…eventually fall in love…parents don’t approve and there is forced separation…‘hero’ is then beaten up…suddenly, something happens and parents agree…the boy and the girl get together…and the highly emotional drama with a big time song and dance routine comes to a happy end. The actor and actresses are very beautiful, they wear what is latest in the so called “western” fashion, and the filming locations are usually some of the most scenic places from around the world. Now, that’s what a ‘typical’ Bollywood movie all about. There is hardly any portrayal of poverty, prostitution, child abuse, domestic abuse or the dirty politics. A ‘typical’ Bollywood movie thrives solely on its ‘unique’ ability to help Indians somehow break away from the reality of India.

No doubt, the storyline of Slumdog Millionaire is more or less similar to that of a typical Bollywood movie, but what differentiates the former from the latter is the very fact that Director Danny Boyle has taken the formula of typical Bollywood, narrowed it down, and brought it down to ‘reality’. Instead of an eye pleasing movie location, Danny has chosen the dingy slums of Mumbai. The child actors in the movie are the not the ‘cutest’ ones, like the ones seen in Bollywood movies, but are replicas of beggars from India – skinny little, starved bodies and big eyes hauling your clothes begging for some money. Unlike the heart throbbing actors and actresses featured in Bollywood movies, the adult actors in Slumdog Millionaire are the ‘normal’ people you would encounter on your journey to Indian slums…Police, abusers, molesters, backstabbers, and the Mafia.

In short, Slumdog Millionaire, a flashback filled story, adopted an all-embracing theme of love from Bollywood and took it to a horizon where no one really has before!! To make the difference clear, here is a beautiful comparison made by a critic – “a ‘typical’ Bollywood movie is like your favorite cookie, topped with whipped cream and served with vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce-something that you wouldn’t mind having every time possible. Slumdog Millionaire, on the other hand, is like the same cookie, but slightly warmed in a microwave and served with just a glass of cold milk-something that is surely a realistic, everyday, manageable treat.” I prefer the latter; which one would you prefer??

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