Monday, December 01, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire - A Film by Danny Boyle

This weekend, Stephan and I went to see Slumdog Millionaire, the latest film from the director of Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, Millions, 28 Days Later and several other, less successful films (the last of which I reviewed on this site about a year ago). Slumdog Millionaire is a wonderfully crafted film, telling a story of everlasting love and triumph over adversity without glossing over its depictions of some of the worst things human beings do to one another. It has my vote for best film of 2008, and may be the best of Boyle's pretty substantial career.


Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight)

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal Malik (British actor Dev Patel), an 18-year-old Muslim from the Juhu slum in Mumbai who inexplicably makes it to the final round of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Barely educated and working as a chaiwallah at a call center, Jamal is an unlikely trivia champion. So unlikely, that the Mumbai police have hauled him in for questioning on the eve of his chance to win 20 million rupees (about US $400K). The investigator, played by the great Indian actor Irrfan Khan, has no sympathy for this young man at first, but comes to realize that Jamal has remained honest and kind despite a life spent as an orphan on the harsh city streets.


Dev Patel and Irrfan Khan in Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight)

Despite his chronic optimism, Jamal is not a Candide, foolishly faithful in the innate goodness of others. Estranged from his only family, brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), he is in single-minded pursuit of his childhood love, Latika, played by newcomer and Mumbai native Freida Pinto. Jamal will stop at nothing to rescue her from the gangsters and thugs who are keeping them apart. Salim and Latika represent the two possible options for poor, orphaned city kids, which Jamal rejects to make his own way. Salim is driven by power, at the expense of his own family. Latika is a fatalist, resigned to a life as the plaything of others. Only Jamal has the vision to exceed society's low expectations of him.


Dev Patel and Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight)

I won't give away the story, because you should really go out and see this remarkable film. It's not yet in wide release, but has hit the biggest markets already and will be opening in smaller cities throughout December. Distributor Fox Searchlight has made a puzzling decision to limit the release of this film despite its wide appeal and substantial buzz -- one which I hope they rethink considering Slumdog Millionaire's strong per-screen box office performance.

The film is particularly poignant in light of last week's horrific attacks in Mumbai, which the perpetrators have disingenuously tried to cast as a righteous response by Indian Muslims to poor treatment within India. Slumdog Millionaire does not shy away from depicting sectarian violence, but it shows convincingly why that argument is bunk. The sequence that deals with the massacre of Muslims during the 1993 Bombay Riots is absolutely gut-wrenching. However, poverty affects Indians of all faiths. Jamal's true love Latika is a Hindu, though this is immaterial to the story. What the film really shows is how the poor are abused and can be manipulated by unscrupulous and greedy gangsters. It makes no difference whether those criminals are motivated by money or by religion -- the quest for power makes monsters.

For those who would ask, India's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was a real phenomenon. Known in Hindi as Kaun Banega Crorepati (कौन बनेगा क्रोरेपति), the show rekindled India's love affair with Amitabh Bachchan in the early 2000s, and fueled a rivalry between the lauded actor and today's top Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. One of the best things about Slumdog Millionaire is how the film shows India today, in all its contradictory glory. TV is everywhere, while ancient traditions still persist. Rampant development is unhampered by planning or organization.

More on this tomorrow, when I will finally share some details of my trip to India in October. Stay tuned.

2 comments:

C. L. DeMedeiros said...

Yes,
is indeed
a wonderful
movie
I love the fact
the young actress
had her first big scream movie
in such a majestic debut.

Her Future is brilliant

Rachete said...

Ck back in with you tomorrow.

http://racheteapaintersdiary.blogspot.com/