#67 Slumdog Millionaire

(2008, Danny Boyle)

“It is destiny”

What is Slumdog Millionaire?
A. A Bollywood movie about the slums.
B. A romance about star-crossed lovers
C. A British movie about the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
D. All of the above

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is the current contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He’s close to winning the grand prize of 20 million rupees, but there’s a problem. He’s accused of cheating due to his status as a “slumdog”, an uneducated kid from the slums who really shouldn’t be clever enough to make it as far as he has. He has to explain himself to the police, and it becomes apparent that the reason he’s gotten this far is because every single question has had some relevance to major events in his life. Told largely through flashbacks, we see Jamal’s childhood in the slums as an orphan, and his relationship with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and childhood friend Latika (Freida Pinto) as they grow and deal with poverty and crime surrounding them.

The framing device of the movie is fairly clever, although it’s a bit strange when you realise much of the movie is a flashback wrapped in a flashback due to Jamal relating back to both the Millionaire filming and events from his past, sometimes at the same time. But it works. Jamal’s life is told in bits, so the Millionaire sequences help put everything into context. What’s more, by using Millionaire as the framing device for much of the movie, it inherits the show’s built-in tension during those sequences. It’s definitely noticeable that Celador, the show’s original production company, helped produce the movie since all the details are present and correct, and this makes the game show portion believable.

Shame then, that much of the rest of the movie is less believable. Truthfully, much of the story feels a little far-fetched, and on greater analysis the happy ending feels a little contrived. It’s particularly noticeable in the fact the characters grow up and switch from speaking Hindi to English without much explanation. While English is an official language in India, the chances of poor uneducated kids from the slums speaking it so suddenly seem slim. The seedy underworld of Mumbai also feels a little over-pronounced, and it’s easy to see why many Indian viewers felt a little offended by it.

And yet, despite all that, the movie manages to be entertaining and allows the viewer to suspend disbelief throughout. Much of this is down to the wonderful performances of the entire cast and clever directing by Boyle. All the child actors are brilliant, especially since they were all real slum children with no prior acting experience. Dev Patel is an especially talented lead, expressing the right level of innocence without seeming too stupid. However, at times his natural English accent does slip through slightly, particularly in the scene where he argues with his brother on a construction site. The only character issue I had was with the Millionaire presenter (Anil Kapoor), who was a downright horrible person, even when he’s supposed to be charming for the cameras. He came across as kind of creepy, a far cry from the jovial Chris Tarrant of the real-life English version.

Also, while Boyle’s direction is as superb as it was in Trainspotting, he does make some odd stylistic choices here. Occasional scenes have a weird frame skipping effect which adds nothing but confusion. The scenes in Hindi have subtitles built into the film, and they leap around the screen rather than staying in the traditional position for subtitles, which is jarring. Also, Boyle felt the need to frequently throw in Dutch angles from time to time. It’s not quite John Travolta/Scientology disaster-fest Battlefield Earth, where the camera was on a permanent slant, but it happens enough to be far too noticeable. Bar these instances though Boyle does a good job at keeping up the pace and helping the viewer suspend their disbelief at some of the more outlandish events we see.

Slumdog Millionaire is certainly a well-made movie, but it’s a flight of fancy masquerading as something more realistic. In the end, it feels more like an extended homage to Indian cinema and not enough of a unique film in its own right. It’s a Danny Boyle movie, so it’s very watchable, but it could have been a little better.

Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor & Irrfan Khan
Written by Vikas Swarup (novel – Q&A) & Simon Beaufoy
Produced by Christian Colson
Music score by A.R. Rahman
Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle
Edited by Chris Dickens

Favourite Scene: Jamal pretending to be a call centre operator, desperately trying to convince the Scottish lady on the other end of the phone that the call centre isn’t based in India.
Scene That Bugged Me: So if Jamal gets the last question wrong, he loses everything? Now, I’ve watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and I’m pretty sure that if the contestant gets the very last question wrong, they still leave with £32,000 due to “checkpoints” along the way. Celador was involved in the production of this, there is no excuse for getting the rules wrong!

Watch it if: You also want to be a millionaire
Avoid it if: You want serious commentary on the life of the poor in India

Originally posted on Blogspot Thursday 15 March 2012

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Posted on April 15, 2012, in 2000s, Drama, Romance. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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