Slumdog Millionaire: A Transformative Film- Best Picture Oscar!

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Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Vikas Swarup (Q&A- the novel that the movie is based on)

Cast: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Freida Pinto, Irfan Khan, Mahesh Manjrekar

*Warning: May contain spoilers, although I have attempted to make them cryptic

A caveat: I first saw Slumdog Millionaire five hours after the first terror attacks in Mumbai on the 26th of November. A sense of shock and denial had blanketed me, and the movie managed to transform my mood completely. That’s how powerful and personal it was to me.

Synopsis (courtesy of Fox):

The story of Jamal Malik (Patel), an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika (Pinto), the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions. Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out.

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***

Bombay, to borrow a phrase from Suketu Mehta, is a ‘Maximum City’. It contains in it the entire spectrum of human circumstance, from abject poverty to riches Croesus would envy. It is the most alive city on the planet, bar none. If New York is fast, Bombay is a metropolis on methamphetamines. It is for many an inspiration and a golden songbird; for others a nightmare and a curse. For some, it’s all these aspects existing simultaneously.

Danny Boyle appreciates this multichotomy (word?). He doesn’t shy away from it, instead using it to make his movie irresistible. Below is an excerpt from an interview with him in which he discusses shooting in India.

A director is a controller, you’re a control freak; you bring a crew, look at a bit of life, you stop it in its tracks, and then you recreate it, positioning your technicians around it to capture it, and repeat it endlessly, till you’ve got it just how you want it. You can’t do that in India. It’s uncontrollable. It’s just constantly motion, it’s just constant, and so you just have to go with that. And that means, you’ll end up spending two-thirds of a day and you’ll achieve nothing. But then, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it comes back, suddenly this wave comes back, and you’ve got your film, or your bit of it that way. Something is given back to you. Sounds hippie, sounds just like a load of nonsense, but I’d say that’s the way it works.

He gets how Bombay breathes, and the result is a powerful, touching movie that shakes you with impact. This is one of the finest films I’ve seen in a long time; a visual treat, music that thrills, and a highly entertaining blend of despair, triumph and adventure. The flashback scenes that explain how Jamal knows the answers are bloody brilliant. The acting is stellar. In particular the two sets of child artists are excellent. They have some hilarious dialogues (“Plenty of pussy in Bombay maan”), and some gut-wrenching scenes (Latika’s quiet acceptance of her impending rape is difficult to watch). A.R Rahman hits new heights as a composer; the music is stunning and is a major element of the movie’s appeal, yet is good enough to stand alone as an independent record.

I am not a part of the cinema cognoscenti. My technical knowledge of movie making  is limited. This caveat stated, the most impressive feature of this movie for me is the relationship between the cinematography and the music. They are affectionate playmates in a fierce battle for domination, and the result is a surreal sensory experience. The boys are hustling on the train, scheming, selling and stealing. There is pandemonium, urgency. The camera echoes this; fast and blazing, at comes at you from multiple angles and at various speeds. In defiance, MIA’s ‘Paper Planes’ plays on, creating the sensation that the boys could be relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean.  On occasion, the music and visuals play nice; A.R Rahman’s ‘Oh Saya’ rises in volume and tempo as it chases the camera through a rioting Bombay slum. The camera careens through gullys(alleys) and around sewers, but it can never quite escape. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is the climax of the slum chase; the camera steadily zooms out to give us a birds-eye view of the slum while Rahman’s unique voice reaches a crescendo.

If you nitpick, you can find many flaws in this movie, particularly in the plot. But you won’t be bothered to, because the movie has so much to offer. For instance, one scene shows the boys sleeping in a drain pipe to shield themselves from the rain. Out of nowhere, Latika is seen standing in the downpour. She walks up to them when Jamal calls her over and goes to sleep immediately. Why, how, it ends up not being an issue because the scene is so poignantly shot. One is just glad that Latika is dry.

Watch this movie. Slumdog Millionaire completely captures your imagination. It leaves you feeling more hopeful, more impulsive. You feel like causing mischief; you are compelled to climb atop a train, to sing horribly off-key, and to chase the woman of your dreams. You connect so completely with a city that may have never been yours. You understand Jamal’s shit-plunge because you craved that autograph with your entire being. You experience revulsion for Salim, that gangster, that traitor. You feel adoration for Salim, that big brother, that saviour. You accept Latika for who she is; she is perfect for you and that’s all that matters. You are, throughout the duration of the movie and much beyond, the D’Artagnan to its Three Musketeers. You may not know all the answers, but no matter. It is written.

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*Notable Goofs:

1. Unlike as shown in the movie, the real ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ has multiple ‘guaranteed winnings points’, so once you cross certain dollar milestones, they are the minimum amount of money you walk away with. The quizmaster in the movie repeatedly warns Jamal that he stands to lose everything if he gets the answers wrong.

2. Alexander Dumas? C’mon!

Hit-o-meter
Plot 6.5 Visual 9.5 Music 10 Acting 8.5 Direction 8.5 Entertainment 9 ‘Feel’ 10 Overall 8.5

Track Listing:   You can dl the OST here

“O… Saya” performed by A. R. Rahman, M.I.A.
“Riots” by A. R. Rahman
“Mausam & Escape” by A. R. Rahman
“Paper Planes”# performed by M.I.A.
“Paper Planes (DFA Remix)” performed by M.I.A.
“Ringa Ringa” by A. R. Rahman featuring Alka Yagnik, Ila Arun
“Liquid Dance” by A. R. Rahman featuring Palakkad Sriram, Madhumitha
“Latika’s Theme” by A. R. Rahman featuring Suzanne D’Mello
“Aaj Ki Raat”#2 performed by Sonu Nigam, Mahalakshmi Iyer, Alisha Chinai
“Millionaire” by A. R. Rahman featuring Madhumitha
“Gangsta Blues” by A. R. Rahman featuring BlaaZe, Tanvi Shah
“Dreams on Fire” by A. R. Rahman featuring Suzanne D’Mello
“Jai Ho” by A. R. Rahman featuring Sukhwinder Singh, Tanvi Shah, Mahalakshmi Iyer

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5 responses to “Slumdog Millionaire: A Transformative Film- Best Picture Oscar!

  1. I loved this movie man, killer. Nice review

  2. really well made but it shows a side of India we like to hide.Things are finally looking up for the country ,We are proud Indians today.I remember my uncle telling me about the days when India was regarded as a poor backward country and he would often not like to disclose his nationality when he represented the multinational he worked in!because then the questions like”do you live on trees blah” would come up!.So anyone who has seen this movie will think of India and think of poverty,dirt,a country of touts,slums,moneyhungry people,mafias and what not!Im not saying that isn a part of what India is but it clearly gives an awful picture of our wonderful country.The only people who might come running will be some NGOs but surely not the expats and the business community.
    So it does bad service to our country!

    • Dude, it doesn’t do bad service to our country at all. You said it yourself, “it shows a side of India we like to hide”. So it’s merely depicting reality. It shows India as Backward, which is true. It shows India as poor and full of exploitative people, which is also true. Don’t get me wrong, the progress we have made in the last 20 years is nothing short of amazing. We have better infrastucture, innovative enterprise, and a lot more happening which has forced the world to revamp their views about India.

      However, the majority of our people still have it bad, and slogans such as ‘India Shining’ and all that are meaningless when 1/3 of our people have to struggle to live. Slumdog Millionaire examines this contrast, and does a stellar job of it. But above all, it celebrates India as a country where dreams are realized in spite of all this, where love matters above all, and where there is a great sense of pride and joy when one of our own achieves something. This is the defining sentiment throughout the movie, and it’s a powerful one.

      Let’s not ‘hide’ anything, instead let’s celebrate the country for its unique contradictions. Jai Ho!

  3. the movie was great and a great review man!

  4. bro there is a good portrayal of some emotions and sentiments…but i still stand by my point…
    so cnn goes last week-
    “the cast of slumdog millionaire return from the oscars to MUMBAI-THE SLUMS”
    so the next time I tell some foreigner i am from India…they are gonna think of the slums,the best they would think of me is living in a condo next to the slums but thats it…thats what my country seems to be.I mean the lifestyle we are beginning to live in our country is at par or even better than the west(im talking about one of the largest lower and upper middle class households) and there is a need to do a better job of promoting the country as the best big thing.as everyone is going to see this movie now
    jai ho!

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