Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama,Romance Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

India is the second most populous country in the world, but relatively new to the modern way of life. Despite the continued emergence of industrial growth and an embrace of American popular culture, there is still a lot of poverty and a centuries old class system that makes for a difficult life for those in the slums. The contrast of these segments of India is the backdrop for a vibrant, comic love story, “Slumdog Millionaire”.

Adapted from the novel “Q&A” by Vikas Swarup, screenwriter Simon Beufoy has crafted a crowd-pleasing tale of a boy from the slums who has the chance to win 20 million rupee ($1 million) on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” The movie begins with the boy, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), being interrogated by police. How could a boy from the slums successfully answer questions on the show, they wonder, when many prominent individuals failed? Their only conclusion is he must’ve cheated. Jamal proceeds to reconstruct events from his life that provided him the answers.

Jamal’s adventures as he recounts them could be out of Dickens. There are horrifying moments such as the scene when Jamal witnesses his mother’s murder during the Hindu-Muslim riots in the slums. There are also several nice comic scenes as when Jamal and his brother, Salim, are at the Taj Mahal and steal shoes from tourists who took them off before entering the palace; or the moment when Jamal is mistaken by American tourists as a tour guide so he pretends, Huck Finn-like, to be a guide and makes up stories about the history of the Taj Mahal. Early on Jamal and Salim are hiding in an abandoned building to escape the torrential rain when they spot a young girl, Latika, alone, outside getting soaked. Against his brother’s wishes Jamal motions for Latika to come inside and hide with them. They sit and talk about being like the Three Musketeers. It’s a touching moment that suggests early Chaplin. As the story progresses Salim becomes involved with a local gangster. Latika is captured and turns into a dancer in a brothel so Jamal tries to rescue. The love story isn’t quite satisfying though. We come away wanting Jamal to win on the show but don’t care that much about him winning the girl, probably because Latika is shown as an object of desire instead of as a flesh and blood character.

These events are retold by Jamal so that we are given clues that provide the answers to the game show questions. Intercut within the flashbacks, Boyle shows us the broadcast of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” We see the game show host, Prem Kumar (played superbly by Anil Kapoor) ask the question and reveal the multiple choices that Jamal can choose from for his answer. Boyle cuts to an event in Jamal’s life that reveals how he learns the answers. Boyle does a good job of letting us feel the tension as if we were watching the broadcast live as it happened without overdoing the suspense. It may be contrived but only as a part of the show. Chris Dickens’ editing captures the rhythms perfectly with the techno score.

This is a clever premise that British director Danny Boyle, aided by Indian filmmaker Loveleen Tanden, tells with the kind of vitality and visual flair he used to great effect in “Trainspotting”. The movie has some rough edges but the mixture of charm and light humor counterbalances the parts you may not want to see so that you feel caught up in Jamal’s success. Boyle’s use of music, by A.R. Rahman, brings to mind Bollywood musicals and the concluding musical dance number pays tribute to those movies. The terrific cinematography by Anthony Dodd Mantle is very striking and has the look of a colorful music video. What “Slumdog Millionaire” does best is take us to a world we don’t often see in the movies and draw us into the lives of youth in the slums so that we can sympathize with their predicament and root for them to succeed, while at the same time giving us a much fuller understanding of life there.

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