'Slumdog Millionaire' (2008) 700 Word DVD Review
June 9, 2009 § Leave a comment
Score: 5 out of 5
Slumdog Millionaire is a rather apt title for a film that despite its unknown, low-budget roots has now come to be regarded as a resounding critical and commercial success. Directed by Danny Boyle and with a screenplay adapted by Simon Beaufoy (he of The Full Monty fame) Slumdog Millionaire is about a young “chaiwala” (tea boy) working at a call centre in Mumbai, India, brought up in the slums, who becomes an overnight sensation when he goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and, against all odds, reaches the 20 million rupee question.
It is a movie that the News of the World has found fit to call “the feel-good film of the decade”. Many people – including BBC film reviewer Andrew Collins – have taken issue with this quote and feel that it gives the wrong impression about the film. I don’t. It is a feel-good film, but not in the way you might expect. In order to have a film where the hero triumphs over adversity, there must, at first, be some adversity to overcome. (And, wow, is there a lot of that in Slumdog Millionaire.)
It is a harsh, brutal film, full of suffering and tragedy, but the payoff – and I don’t think I’m spoiling the film by saying this – wouldn’t be so great if it didn’t have this very dark side attached to it. Ultimately, the message of Slumdog Millionaire is “love conquers all” – but would that message be half as poignant if there were nothing to conquer?
Slumdog Millionaire is a fairy tale and, as such, has its fair share of goodies and baddies. Dev Patel makes an unconventional, but fitting, leading man as the eponymous “slumdog”, Jamal, the knight in shining armour, who has come to save his princess, Latika (Freida Pinto), from the clutches of the seedy Mumbai underworld. Madhur Mittal plays his brother, the cruel but kind, Malik – the “Cain” to Jamal’s “Abel”. Filling out the baddies side, we also have Anil Kapoor as the sneering, charming Prem Kumar, fictional host of the world-famous quiz show (and probably my favourite villain of the entire film), as well as Ankur Vikal, a ruthless pimp, who runs a syndicate of beggars and prostitutes. Also of a very well-deserved mention are the child actors who play the young Jamal, Malik and Latika, who do an impeccable job, especially considering that the youngest are actually real-life slumdogs themselves.
While, apparently, influenced by other Bollywood films, Slumdog Millionaire is a movie which has universal appeal in its rags-to-riches, underdog narrative, and there are also many aspects of the film which are reminiscent of scenes from other cinematic greats, such as Cinema Paradiso and Once Upon a Time in America.
Visually, the film is stunning; Slumdog captures much of the claustrophobic, humid, impoverished feel of Mumbai, while, when filming at night, also carrying a sense of thrill, energy and excitement. Certainly, this is due to Boyle’s fantastic direction, but the film just wouldn’t be the same without A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack, which never overplays its presence in the film but works to emphasise and underline the emotions of each scene.
Amongst other reasons, Slumdog Millionaire works because it stays within the bounds of reality while also weaving a thread of the miraculous throughout. In one part of the film, Jamal asks Latika to run away with him. She asks him what they would live on. He responds, “Love.” Now, that is an incredibly cheesy line, but, somehow, when Dev Patel says it, I believe him. I believe him because a) he’s a good actor; and b) those words have meaning within the context of what has gone before.
Overall, Slumdog Millionaire is a brilliant piece of story telling, a fairy tale for the 21st century. Throughout, it never once loses its momentum; it carries some great performances and boasts a script which is, all at once, classical and modern. It is a Greek melodrama remade for the masses, a highly influenced piece of work, but unique in its own right. It is, in short, a remarkable piece of film-making.