Dir. Danny Boyle. UK . 2008. 120 mins
Danny Boyle’s bravura command of the film medium elevates the melodramatic Slumdog Millionaire into a dazzling crowd-pleaser teeming with the sights, sounds and sensations of modern India. The intricate tale of a slum orphan turned potential millionaire has all the sweep and emotion of a great novel and should readily connect with both critics and audiences to provide a substantial specialist hit.
The well-worn cliche states that a visit to India is like an assault on the senses. Boyle seems determined to replicate the experience for cinemagoers with a film that displays incredible energy and verve. Deploying quicksilver editing and gorgeous images, Boyle creates a breathless plunge into an alien world where you really can feel the heat and dust, saffron hues, unrelenting pace of life and sheer, unremitting poverty of the country. His characteristically focused approach takes the material by the scruff of the neck and ensures that any reservations about the story or plotting are easily overlooked.
We first encounter 18 year-old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) when he is one question away from scooping the 20 million rupee jackpot on the Indian version of television phenomenon ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” hosted by smarmy, patronising Prem (Amil Kapoor). Nobody can quite believe that a humble tea boy from a call centre can have reached this position without cheating. He is arrested by the police, tortured and interrogated by a sympathetic inspector (Irrfan Khan) but his testimony proves how he legitimately knew the answers. It may appear a slightly contrived story structure but each question and answer then becomes a means of revisiting his earlier life.
Almost like a modern day Oliver Twist or Pip from Great Expectations, Jamal begins life in dire poverty as an orphan on the streets of Mumbai alongside his brother Salim (Azharudin Mohammed Ismail). The young Jamal is played by Ayush Mahesh Khedeker who has the kind of wide-eyed charm and determination that will make audiences instantly take the character to their hearts. We subsequently discover how the boys fall in with the Fagin-like figure Maman who organises gangs of street beggars. They also become opportunistic tour guides at the Taj Mahal before life starts pulling them in different directions; Jamal towards decency and Salim towards crime. Jamal’s attraction to the young Latika (Rubina Ali) becomes one of the most important events as she becomes the lost love of his life and the motivation for all the actions that lead him to the Millionaire hot seat and a deeply romantic, rousing finale.
Unfolding with a perfectly judged pace that balances forward momentum with the ability to elaborate and enhance our understanding of the main characters and what motivates them. There is a strong undercurrent of social commentary and insight that only adds some grit to the more fairytale qualities of the story. Slumdog Millionaire builds into a moving tale of hope and the inspirational power of love to transform even the most humble life. It is a message and movie that audiences should find irresistible.
based on a novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup
Anthony Dod Mantle
A. R. Rahman