Slumdog Millionaire

If someone were to tell me in 2007 that my favorite film I’ll see next year is an epic fantasy set in India using their version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” as a framing device I don’t think I would have believed them. But here I am, it’s the beginning of 2009, and I think the best film I saw last year was Danny Boyle’s exhilarating “Slumdog Millionaire”. Here’s a movie that is equal parts classic Hollywood and modern-day Bollywood. It creates a brilliant framing device that, though it hinges on the suspense of a game show, never feels like a cop out. It introduces the world to two young actors who I feel we will see much more of, and it gives it’s director the respect he’s deserved since his darkly comic heroin oddesey “Trainspotting”.

Dev Patel plays Jamal, a young man who has miraculously made it to the final question of “Kaun Banega Crorepati”, the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, or as announced by it’s overzealous host (played pitch perfect by Anil Kapoor) “Who? Wants to be…a Mill-ion-aire!”. The shows time slot doesn’t allow for Jamal to win the 20 Million Rupees on the first episode, so as he walks out of the building to rest for the next day, he is assaulted and tortured on the basis of cheating; after all, how could a poor street kid from Mumbai know all the answers?

From here the film flashes back to each question, and a corresponding passage of his youth is shown, leading up to how he came to be on the show. We soon find out that his life has been as exciting as it has been heartbreaking, and Jamal’s true desire quickly comes into focus. That would be, of course, the indescribably beautiful Latika. Played by Freida Pinto, even a blind gay man would be attracted to her natural beauty. She modeled for two years before landing this role. Along with Dev Patel, she is poised to become one of the biggest stars of her generation in Bollywood. I see no reason why they’re success wouldn’t translate overseas.

Throughout the flashbacks we follow Jamal and his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal, who deserves equal praise) as they befriend the orphan Latika and began their tumultuous lives through the highs and lows of the sprawling urban jungle known as Mumbai. I suspect that many viewers, such as this reviewer, have very little if any knowledge on the living conditions of modern day India. If this film is to be believed, it’s a sprawling metropilis evenly divided between economic prosperity and grossly insufficent slums.

Jamal and Salim are seperated from Latika early on in the film, and it is at this point that the condensed excitement of the narrow slums breaks out into the flourishing terrain and wide open spaces of the upper class India. Set to M.I.A.’s 2008 anthem, “Paper Planes”, the boys travel from train to trian in the kind of montage that either isn’t made anymore or just isn’t made right. They roll down a hill after being thrown off their last train and emerge out of the dust slightly older, and proceed to give tours of the Taj’Mahal on a whim, steal tourist shows and anything in between to eek out a living. In a different film, these juvenille filled middle scenes would likely serve as an adrenaline shot of joy in bleak times; in Slumdog Millionaire they are a momentary relief from the constant movement of Jamal and Salim’s ever expanding world. These charactes don’t take time to pity themselves; not about the loss of their mother or good friends, and either do Boyle and Co. The film, from cast downwards, rushes headfirst towards its goals and just keeps going. By the time a Bollywood inspired dance sequence set to the infectious “Jai Ho” ushers in the credits it almost feels natural.

This is fantasy film based on harsh realities, anchored by great performances, a pulsating score by the wolrd famous A. R. Rahman (imagine a New York nightclub dropped into the Mumbai streets at three in the afternoon), the steady but compulsive eye of cinematographer Anthony Mantle, and a wonderfly imaginative script by Simon Beaufoy.

Director Danny Boyle has made what I believe to be a modern masterpiece, a movie that picks up on every impulse and just runs with it, resulting in a movie unlike any other I have ever seen. How often can you honestly say that?

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~ by rozco on February 4, 2009.

One Response to “Slumdog Millionaire”

  1. […] mistakes and my seemingly never ending praise for “Millionaire” are summed up in my original reviews, I was highly anticipating “Button” and mildly interested in “Millionaire”, those […]

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