World Of Movies Loves An Underdog
Saturday January 17, 2009
THAT'S the funny, frustrating, frightening thing about awards of course. While they look grand on the CV or mantelpiece and enhance movie marketing and individual reputations, their true value needs to be measured in terms of who does the awarding.Industry insiders or cold-eyed critics? Peer group prejudice or the feckless public? What's the test for "best" and when does popularity pip quality?British screenwriter Simon Beaufoy chuckles as he considers the vagaries of gongs."You can try to pretend they don't matter and it's hard to read the tea leaves, but they can put things in place that might otherwise be three years or more in development," he says. "You can never be snooty about these things."Earlier this week, Beaufoy picked up a Golden Globe - voted for by Hollywood's Foreign Press Association - for his screen adaptation, Slumdog Millionaire.Indeed, when he accepted the award, Beaufoy said: "We really weren't expecting to be here in America at all one time, so it's just amazing to be here."He can add the Globe to the other nominations and the three wins (Chicago Film Critics, USA National Board of Review, Southeastern Film Critics) the script has already gleaned for him, plus the Austin Film Festival's Audience Award, which was shared with Slumdog director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine).Now Beaufoy has been tipped for an Oscar, 10 years after the nomination for his original scenario about the retrenched Yorkshire steel workers who take up exotic dancing, The Full Monty.If there's one thing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences member voters love, it's an underdog story. After all, Rocky was the 1976 champ, knocking out All the President's Men and Taxi Driver (although at least Paddy Chayefsky's acerbic Network script won victory over Stallone's fable)."Yes, Slumdog is an underdog tale in a fascinating setting but it also has no stars, is a bit grim and half of it is in subtitles - all of which makes Hollywood highly suspicious," says Beaufoy.Slumdog is the story of Mumbai street kid Jamal (Dev Patel), who lands a job as teaboy in a call centre and from there winds up on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?His unlikely success on the program attracts scepticism and outright hostility from the authorities.While there have been reports that despite even a Bollywood-style train station dance number, the scrabble-hard dwellers of Mumbai's slums would be unlikely to watch the film, Beaufoy can understand this."That's why Bollywood is so big - you don't want to see your own life on the screen, you want to see a fantasy of your life," he says."The big challenge was to juggle the time-frame jigsaw between Jamal's past, with its slum life and gangsters, with a romance, the police station interrogation and the suspense of the game show itself."The story came from Q and A, a book by India's deputy high commissioner to South Africa, Vikas Swarup, which was optioned before publication by Tessa Ross, of Channel 4 (Britain). Ms Ross took the manuscript to Beaufoy.