Posted by: Dr P | January 30, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

There’s something extremely moving about a rags to riches story. Slumdog Millionaire tells the tale of a boy from the worst imaginable ghetto becoming highly successful and achieving the status of icon. A bit like Nat Lofthouse and Bolton …

The tale of Jamal Malik is an extraordinary one. As the film opens, Jamal has successfully answered every question thrown at him on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and is just one correct answer away from scooping the top 20 million rupee jackpot. With the show on an overnight recess, the police have become involved, believing the boy to be cheating. It appears inconceivable to them that a boy from the poorest part of Mumbai – a “Slumdog” – can possibly know the answers without outside assistance.

Under first torture and then slightly kinder interrogation, Jamal begins to tell the story of his life, revealing how each answer that he has given has been ingrained into him by an event from his life. And what a remarkable life! It’s fairly eay to say that it’s been a terrible, tragic and yet heartwarming life. The critics scream that the movie is “the feelgood movie of the decade” and yet we are confronted with such issues as police brutality, torture, orphaning, rape, child cruelty, begging, molestation and the horribly violent death of Jamal’s mother. And yet the movie is uplifting in the extreme.

Jamal is accompanied on his journey from terrible beginnings by his brother Salim. This impetuous child is at first a companion and accomplice, and later a rival for the affections of Latika, Jamal’s true love. Salim then becomes an adversary, and a gangster. His own downfall is as spectacular as Jamal’s rise to glory. The interplay between the two central characters is utterly remarkable, and it’s the scenes played by the “young” child actors which are at once the most harrowing and also most heartwarming. I have rarely been so impressed by child actors – nor so shocked at what the director throws at them!

This is a film which will have you cowering behind your hands at one moment and laughing uproariously the next – often within the same scene. For example, the young Jamal is locked in an outside toilet (effectively a cesspit with a wooden border) and has to dive into the effluent in order to escape and run to meet an arriving film star – which he does covered from head to toe in, well, excrement! It’s utterly repulsive and brilliant!

Anil Kapoor excels as the effervescent – and yet shady – host of Millionaire. He is one of his nation’s biggest stars and at first spurs on Jamal with every answer – then, as he realises he might be upstaged, he feeds the kid a wrong answer and later hands him off to the police! It’s a terrible set of circumstances, and yet completely believable.

Danny Boyle has had many great cinematic moments – some of the high (and low) points of Trainspotting are remarkable, and “Sunshine” was a superbly conceived – if slightly flawed – movie, yet he may never surpass this movie. It’s mesmerising from start to finish. The cinematography is superb – an early scene where the camera jumps out from the shanty town is great, and some of the angles and techniques used to capture some of the key scenes are terrific. The Taj Mahal has never looked finer!

The interplay between all the lead characters is wonderful, and it’s entirely fitting that this should already have receive so many awards and Oscar nominations. The idea to tie quiz question answers to life experiences is so simple, yet superbly done. Go and see this if you are in any way shape or form a movie fan – and if you’re not, go see it anyway. It’s genius.

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