Slumdog Millionaire

March 8 2009 at 9:03 pm (Cinema reviews)

slumdogJamal (Dev Patel) is about to win the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, but instead of being patted on the back by the show’s producers he is tortured and interrogated. How could a boy who grew up in the slums possibly know the answers to these increasingly difficult questions? By way of explanation, Jamal tells his life story revealing that intelligence is no substitute for experience.


Following the Coen brothers’ sober No Country For Old Men, it’s nice to see an uplifting film win Best Picture at the Oscars. What makes Slumdog Millionaire such a worthy winner (certainly one of the most deserving in recent memory), is the remarkable way that it manages to please everyone – uplifting enough to wow audiences, poignant enough to impress critics and important enough to convince judges.


The word uplifting is thrown around a bit too carelessly, especially with regards to this film. There’s precious little optimism for most of the picture – Jamal’s harrowing story is filled with fire, rain, dust, gunfire, bloodshed, greed, death, poverty and, quite literally, shit. And yet for a film that seldom glorifies life in the slums (Boyle directs with the same kind of relentless courage with which he showed the brutal realities of the life of a junkie), it still elicits smiles throughout. To say the film is uplifting gives away the ending (the title and poster alone do that) is to take away from the fact that it’s about a journey, and not a destination.


In fact, there’s so much to admire that to quibble over the admittedly coincidental nature of the plot (as Salman Rushdie unexpectedly did in an article in The Guardian) is unfair, simply because it’s best viewed as a fantasy about destiny than a drama about poverty. Yes, the answers to each of Jamal’s questions happen to occur chronologically throughout his life; in lesser hands this fact would make this tall tale tediously, but necessarily, episodic. But such is Boyle’s verve that nothing jars, from a wonderful montage atop a series of trains to AR Rahman’s energetic soundtrack to the sneering game show host (played with sinister glee by Anil Kapoor).


But the praise cannot be plonked on Boyle alone. While none of the actors were even nominated this awards season, it really is an impressive ensemble cast picked from the streets of Mumbai. 18-year-old fresh faced Dev Patel (who has only made this film and teen comedy-drama series Skins) might look like a fish out of water but that just gives Jamal an appropriately everyman quality.


Given that the film had trouble getting released and even made, one can forgive the saccharine-sweet finale and Bollywood dance number over which the end credits play. Its status as the little film that could perfectly mirrors its protagonist’s rags to riches tale. The film’s massive success at the Oscars has been hailed as a British triumph, something which has not gone down well in India. But, there is something defiantly British about the film – the original novel Q&A did not feature a specific show, so to infuse it with a hugely popular TV show that originated in Britain gives the film a certain degree of patriotism. Still, whichever country the film belongs to, it remains a well paced and superbly shot fantasy.


Rating: 5/5


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