CINEMA: by Anthony BarichNews Weekly
Slumdog Millionaire - Indian orphan tale a box-office hit
, February 7, 2009
Slumdog Millionaire is reviewed by Anthony Barich.The film Slumdog Millionaire (MA), a British-made rags-to-riches drama set and shot in modern-day India, has become a resounding box office success.
But don't look to director Danny Boyle's previous outings, like the iconic Trainspotting
(1996) or 28 Days Later
(2002), to judge how he might tackle his Indian saga, which has Oscar written all over it.Slumdog Millionaire
is based on Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup's novel, Q and A
. Realistic without bludgeoning, heartbreaking while still being hopeful, the story traces the life of a street child from the slums of Mumbai, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel). At age 18, incidents from his life give him all the answers to be on the cusp of winning 20 million rupees (AUS$626,000) on Kaun Banega Crorepati
, the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
The movie opens with Jamal being brutally interrogated by police who can't believe that a penniless orphan, who literally grew up on the streets of Mumbai and who doesn't seem to care that much about money, could possibly answer all the show's questions correctly.Harrowing tale
The story progresses in a series of flashbacks as Jamal tells a jaded police inspector (Irrfan Khan) a riveting but harrowing tale of his life in the slums where he grew up with his older, protective brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) after having witnessed their mother being killed in a Hindu anti-Muslim riot.
This murder — which, like every part of Jamal's story, provides the answer to one of the gameshow questions — turns him and his brother into vulnerable streetkids.
Desperate to survive, the brothers react differently to their brutal environment, and it is this contrast that lifts this production above the average underdog-wins-the-day story. While both do what's necessary to survive, Jamal holds onto his soul despite all the hits he takes, while Salim willingly sells his soul to get out of trouble, then wallows in the pleasures he thereby gains.
Jamal's attitude does not necessarily earn him a better life. In fact, Salim enjoys the pleasures of working for a gangster while Jamal struggles on selling chai lattes. Yet while Jamal continues to work hard to raise his lot in life the honest way, Salim at least prays every night to Allah — the brothers are Muslim — begging for forgiveness.
But Salim's choices are not entirely derived from succumbing to easy pleasures. Being the older brother who saves his younger sibling time and again has left him a tortured soul, easily corrupted by anything that will fill the hole left by their mother's murder.
A deep sense of spirituality and humanity underpins the narrative and its characters. It is not until the very end that Salim is redeemed — an ending which this review won't reveal here. It says something about the love that wells in each of us, despite what we've done.
It is primarily love that drives Jamal, not lust or teen angst. Throughout the account of his earlier life that he recites to the police inspector, and in the "present" as he comes to the final 20-million-rupee question and beyond, his life revolves around searching for the beautiful but vulnerable Latika (Freida Pinto), with whom he has been smitten ever since, when as a boy, he first laid eyes on her.
In a country with a Hindu culture in which women are regarded as lesser beings, Latika, homeless like the two brothers, is susceptible to the prostitution trade. The three are separated when they escape from Maman, a gangster who runs an orphanage as a front for a child begging-ring. The relationship between Maman and the children he takes in under the guise of charity evokes memories of Fagin and his gang of young pickpockets in Dickens's Oliver Twist
From the moment Jamal loses Latika, we fear for her life and the state in which Jamal will find her. Still we know that whatever situation she has been forced into, Jamal will love her unconditionally.
While bursting with dazzling colour and pulsating with Indian composer A.R. Rahman's soundtrack, which modernises familiar traditional Indian Bollywood music, Slumdog
does not hide India's heartbreaking squalor, nor over-sentimentalise the plight of the country's most vulnerable.
Its depiction of life on the streets, filmed as it is with the edgy energy of a street-kid, is chillingly accurate.
However, throughout the film is an undercurrent of hope, because we know that Jamal somehow gets through all his life's trials to end up sitting in the television studio quiz. But is he out of danger yet? And why did he enter himself on the gameshow in the first place?
All will be revealed. But don't expect to just sit there and chew your popcorn. This film will force you to think.— Slumdog Millionaire reviewed by Anthony Barich, a journalist for The Record (Perth).