Danny Boyle’s new film Slumdog millionaire is made in Mumbai on the sets of the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Based on a novel by Vikas Swarup, the film takes us through the life of a tea delivery boy at a call center, that lives in the slums of Mumbai, and somehow mysteriously, gets all the answers to the show’s questions. The story is about how he knows so much.
An Acceptable premise to hang a narrative on. The neorealist possibilities of the story are tremendous if somewhat wasted on the unfamiliarity of boyle for the subject and its context. The film seems to one like an uncreative rehash of a 2001 Dev Benegal film “Split wide open” complete with its Mahim Dharavi slum visuals and man boy lover Dickensian bad guys, in Modern Mumbai.
Danny Boyle ,famous for his 1996 punk revival piece Trainspotting has recently been something of a scattershot in terms of the themes he has handled. 28 Days Later , a 2002 Zombie revival film about a mind destroying epidemic sweeping the Island , explored the insecurities of a post Sep 11 Britain. It featured an edgy soundtrack (original music composed by John Murphy) Murphy’s frentic sound never looked back on its wild ride which opened with Godspeed you ! Black emperor’s “East Hastings”. At that point it looked like boyle was setting the pace for a punk revival that Trainspotting adumbrated with it’s blend of disparate genres as Bizet’s Carmen and the music of Iggy pop and David Bowie, Lou reed , Elastica and Underworld ‘
It seemed to articulate a coherent musical argument as a truly cool film revival setting out the Muiscal raison d ‘itre for the British punk revolution of the early 80’s , Its sympathies, influences and offshoots, when the world had gone all Nirvana grunge in the last five.
And then it seemed the music died.
Millions was a fable about a little boy finding an Impossibly large amount of money, it featured John Murphy, the composer who did both Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, but the music was now a dreamlike classical and almost arabesque in it’s romantic innocence. The essential driving force behind the Punk revolution is a call for a return to simplicity, But It would be a justifiable claim if one said the revolution was definitely anti romantic. Boyle and his composer could at this point, be accused of selling out . There was no doubt that the quality of music was high but Danny started showing signs here , of the aging punk rocker midlife crisis.
Sunshine was a science fiction film, and featured the pop-techno group Underworld (Boyle and Murphy had used them earlier in Trainspotting) almost felt like classic rock and roll sound (GASP!!) with its cadences drawing from classical techno pop which to the people that lived the raves in the 80’s were almost an alternate Alan parsons project universe.
In Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle moves genres once more to A R Rahman’s Bollywood pop. The soundtrack features M.I.A , A British Srilankan Dancehall artist whose work is definitely the other , to Boyle’s earlier cultural influences, that makes us wonder which musical geography this tourist (Boyle) will dabble in next…Japanese bubblegum pop? A R Rahman’s work in millionaire is authentic and Bollywood classical , with is solid reliance on the synthesizer and movie soundtrack grammar colored with Indian tones and natural scales in orchestra. The focus of the soundtrack is urban and the sound professional, like as if a team of union composers were producing music for a HBO thriller Miniseries.
It seems that there is a conflict of motivations here. The Indian Music and film crew is producing cross over showcases of professional work . Danny Boyle repeatedly finds himself (probably from not knowing any better) needing to accept shorthands and clichés in scripting and musical phrasing. It’s difficult to produce Truly Insightful honest work when you need to rely constantly on your second unit for the truth (The Truth).
And ultimately , this is the letdown when you outsource the revolution. It just don’t feel real .