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slumdog millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle & Loveleen Tandan
Cast: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Rajendranath Zutshi, Jeneva Talwar

Joanne Ross

June 2, 2009


Both stateside and abroad in India, controversies surround Danny Boyle’s film Slumdog Millionaire. I won’t comment on them; as a non-Indian it would be disrespectful of me to debate the various reasons many people in India find this film inaccurate and offensive.  Instead I’ll focus on the merits of the film, and with that I can say unequivocally that Slumdog Millionaire is a visual and dramatic masterpiece well deserving of its Best Picture Academy Award win. It tells the story of an impoverished Muslim youth from the slums who becomes a contestant on a nationally televised popular game show.The story is told through two frames, the first involving the game show.
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel as an adult), an uneducated slum child who works as a chai wallah at a call center, has wangled a spot on Indian television’s hit show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  Despite his background – and the odds – Jamal answers the questions correctly. How is this possible?  His nemesis, show host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) isn’t buying it, and after the first night’s broadcast, he has the police haul Jamal off to jail.
At the police station, Jamal is interrogated by the chief inspector (Irrfan Khan). The interrogation scenes serve as the second frame through which, via the use of flashbacks, the audience discovers the ways Jamal has amassed the knowledge he has. Director Danny Boyle employs a clever bit of irony that doesn’t arise until the end of the second night’s broadcast, and which bolsters the film’s theme of the belief in destiny – “It is written”.
We learn of Jamal’s and his brother Salim’s less-than-humble childhood living in the filth and squalor of the slums, of the brutal death of his mother at the hands of Hindu rioters, and of Jamal’s friendship with the pretty Hindu girl Latika (Freida Pinto as an adult). The plucky boys survive by any means necessary -- as thieves, shills, and after being separated from Latika, con artists picking off unsuspecting tourists. Through it all, Jamal is determined to reunite with Latika with whom he is deeply in love. It is Jamal’s unwavering love for Latika which began in childhood that drives the narrative in Slumdog Millionnaire.
Like the TV series Lost and Orson Welles’ masterwork Citizen Kane, Slumdog Millionaire is ambitious in it’s use of flashbacks to tell most of the narrative – the important back story -- as the action taking place in the present has it’s roots in the past.  With each flashback depicting how Jamal gained the knowledge to answer a given question, each segment becomes a vignette, a mini-movie complete in it’s own right, and represents one piece of Jamal’s life history. In truth, Slumdog Millionaire is a movie made up of many movies – much like life itself.
The performances are powerful throughout. Patel’s Jamal is steadfast and earnest. As the adult Latika, Freida Pinto embodies a woman resigned to her fate as the mistress of the abusive gangster Javed (Mahesh Manjrekar), yet still full of love for Jamal and capable of hope.  Particularly impressive are the performances of the young actors playing the younger versions of Jamal, Salim, and Latika. They don’t appear to be acting at all which is amazing. The youngest Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar), in particular, is sweet and dreamy – he’s involved in a hysterically funny scene about the meeting of famous film star, Amitabh Bachchan. However, the standouts among the child actors are the two children who play Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala)  The tougher and the more street smart of the two brothers, Salim as played by these two actors is a shrewd opportunistic survivor, unapologetic about his use of violence to survive. The only disappointment is Madhur Mittal as the adult Salim who doesn’t come across as edgy enough to play the enforcer of a gang lord.
The lotus flower blooms in the mud. So too, does the love of Jamal and Latika which thrives in the filthy mire and the perilous streets of the Mumbai slums. Gritty, exhilarating, and moving, Slumdog Millionaire is an urban fairytale, a rags to riches story about fortitude, survival, and an enduring love that defies all obstacles. My vote: Rent it.*-JR


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