Saturday, January 10, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: A Review

Imagine a Dickens novel (Oliver Twist, for example) directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) as it might be done by Bollywood. There you have Slumdog Millionaire. At its heart it's a love story. But a very imaginative love story.

Two orphaned brothers, Jamal and Salim Malik, grow up in poverty on the streets of Mumbai and hook up with a girl, Latika, with whom Jamal falls in love. We see how the children of Mumbai are exploited. They are, for example, recruited as street singers. But to make them more pathetic, they are blinded. This is the backdrop in front of which Jamal, Malik, and Latika grow up.

Eventually Jamal and Latika are separated. Jamal and Malik travel different paths. As adults Salim (Madhur Mittal) turns to a life of crime and Jamal (Dev Patel) earns a straight but modest living. But he never forgets Latika (Freida Pinto). He comes up with an ingenious way of letting her know where he is. He applies to be a contestant on the Indian version of So You Want to be a Millionaire. He is accepted and to everyone's surprise this "slumdog" knows most of the answers. The host, a brilliantly sleazy Anil Kapoor, doesn't believe it's possible and has Jamal arrested for cheating. And there in lies the ingenuity of the film. As they watch a tape of the program, the police inspector (Irfan Khan) gives Jamal a chance to explain how he knew the answer to each question. And we learn much of what we know about their early lives through his explanations. Each answer is coincidentally tied to a specific incident in Jamal's life. As he gets close to the million, Jamal becomes a national hero and his plan to use his appearance on the show works. Latika recognizes her old friend.

The determination of these three young people to live full lives against the poverty they experienced in Mumbai which is exposed through the framework of So You Want to be a Millionaire make up the most extraordinary film in recent years. Although every year I have an Oscar favorite, but not since Lord of the Rings have I rooted so enthusiastically for one film. The four Slumdog Golden Globes Sunday night (Best Film-Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Score) should be a real boost.

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