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From Slumdog to Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire has been getting a lot of hype lately, and I, for one, think it deserves it.

Set in the slums of Mumbai, Slumdog Millionaire is, simply, a rags-to-riches story of a boy who went from the shit-diving fanboy (watch the movie and you'll understand) to the 20 million-Rupee winner of the local version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire - and gets the girl of his dreams in the process. And to make it truly Bollywood-grade (it's a British film, BTW), there's a dance scene at the end.

While some may say that the story is something we've all seen before countless times over and over again (yes, the premise is THAT overused), that's entirely beside the point. No idea is new, they say, the key lies in the way something is presented, which makes Slumdog Millionaire stand out from all the rest. The cinematography for one, is great, and for a movie that reminded me so much of the slums of our own Payatas, of the congestion of this sprawling metropolis we call Metro Manila, of the way despair has taken a hold of so many of us that we cling to the fortunes of others and devour gameshows the way we eat rice (as well as bet like crazy for the 340-million Super Lotto jackpot), as a way to escape our own troubles, I never once felt that I was watching a slice of life movie.

That last statement needs a bit of explaning. You see, I tend to veer away from Filipino slice of life films simply because I see nothing new in them. Some of them may win accolades abroad - which is expected, as Westerners (and western-minded people used to a Western lifestyle) are enthralled by the poverty and the substories at go on in the little shanties and rural communities in this "quaint" little Third World Country. It's revolutionary, they say, avant garde; but for me, it's real life, and it's far from entertaining. It's a depressing reminder of how much the government lags behind it's duties and countless officials pad their pockets with taxpayers' money while they leave everyone else to suffer in varying degrees. And while I respect these filmmakers' social responsibility - I'm from a supposedly socially responsible school after all - their films aren't something I want to spend two hours of my life watching.

But with Slumdog Millionaire, it's not really about being socially responsible (although there is that element in there, it is not a primary factor in the film, at least in my opinion); it is a straightforward love story of a guy, who, after so many hardships in life, gets to be on top of the food chain for once.

The police inspector says it best, calling Jamal's story "bizzarely plausible". I think it is precisely that element that makes Slumdog Millionaire feel like a fantasy - just one without magic and special effects and wizards waving sissy-looking wands - a fantasy you can afford to lose yourself in. And it's sentimental and just cheesy enough without you having to feel like you're watching one of those formulaic and convoluted telenovelas they have on TV nowadays.

It's not exactly a 'wow' film for me, but it is nevertheless a very good one.


I only wish Filipino cinema could elevate itself to levels like these. So many people complain about the deterioration of Philippine movies throughout the years, but I think there is no one to blame except the people in the film industry. The showbiz industry is brain-damagingly shallow, for one, and revolves around topics like who's gay or not, which starlet is sleeping with which politician, which teen actress is pregnant, celebrity breakups, the responsible third parties, etcetera, etcetera.

I'm also well aware that issues like these abound in Hollywood, but at least people in general have the decency to classify such talk as "sleazy", while here, all that mud is mucked out for all the public to see in all its dirty glory. And here, no one gives a crap about acting (or singing ability) - as long as you have a pretty face, you're going to be a big star.

Another thing about Philippine movies is that it is still, after so many years, terribly formulaic. Action movies top the list, which is why there aren't any being made anymore (which has forced many one-dimensional action stars to run for public office or become TV show hosts instead). No one wants to see something they've already seen in so many Fernando Poe Jr. films - FPJ earned his niche, and filmmakers and other action stars ought to move on and find themselves their own style and signature. The same goes with drama - which is still defined by buckets of tears and / or hysterical screaming. And again, there was a time when that worked and everybody gave standing ovations for those kind of movies, but it's about time we moved on to other things.


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