SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE: Don't Let It Slip Away
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (drama)
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan
Directed by Danny Boyle
Time: 120 mins
Rating: * * * * (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: Among other things, Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is a happy marriage of two cinematic styles - the gritty British approach and Bollywood melodrama. Adapting from the novel Q&A by Vikus Swarup, director Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy have fashioned a movie that is ghastly as well as gory, brutal as well as beautiful, and unnerving as well as exhilarating. Its story, which has Dickensian undertones (like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield), is packed with energy, romance and enigma.
And if you expect the characters to break out into song and dance a'la Bollywood, just wait for it...
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The title character is Jamal Malik (the teen version played by Dev Patel), a boy from the slums of Mumbai who finds himself on national TV playing the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? His ability to answer a series of questions correctly not only provides him the chance to win 20 million rupees but also gets him into trouble with the police (led by Irrfan Khan of A Mighty Heart fame) who suspect him of cheating. Under interrogation and torture, Jamal explains how and why he was able to answer each of the questions because they somehow related to his past.
HITS & MISSES: Slumdog Millionaire, however, is not just about the TV quiz show. It is a love story, a tale about brotherly love, gangsters, Fagin-like childnappers - and an overview of India as a global village teeming with abject poverty, international call centres, highrises and a powerful media. In one sequence, Jamal, who has just been kicked in the face by his countryman, says to an American tourist couple who have witnessed the assault, “You wanted to see the real face of India? Well, here it is!”
Of course, Boyle couldn't help taking a dig at USA by having the couple react in the most typical American way - by paying the boy with a US$100 note as consolation! An allusion to Washington's policy of throwing money at problems, perhaps?
While trying to encompass so many themes and genres, Boyle has to ride slipshod over a few of them. Thus, the romantic tangle between Jamal and Latika (Freida Pinto) is not properly developed, and the same goes for his relationship with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal). Still, no one can accuse Boyle of lacking in imagination. His sequences zip from hallucinations to dream to nightmare, and even flights of fantasy. If Patel looks a bit out of place for a 'chaiwallah' (tea-boy) brought up in the slums, he makes up for it with his vulnerable-yet-intelligent looks.
The children playing the younger versions of Jamal, Salim and Latika are commendable, considering that they have no acting experience. Boyle, however, has some experience directing movies about boys coming into big money in the 2004 comedy entitled Millions. This time around, he has hit it big with Slumdog Millionaire.
THE LOWDOWN: Whatever you do, don't let Slumdog get away without watching it.