Slumdog Millionaire is a journey and a trip down an individual’s memory lane as he recounts the struggles in his life that has ultimately given him his opportunity to win big amidst struggles to do with the fact he is suspected of cheating.
The general consent is that Englishman Danny Boyle’s venture into Bollywood and results in a stirring tale of romance, redemption, and adventure. These themes are indisputably present but represent only the base by which a much more profound and compelling story is narrated. Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle’s eighth feature film, delves deep into pressing modern issues like globalization, social partition, child labor, police brutality, entitlement, and cultural and religious discord-into territory far beyond the aforementioned themes. It’s widely described as a simplistic but well-crafted, “feelgood movie.” This kind of pedestrian summation is an insult to criticism. On the contrary, the intensely serious themes of this film present many decidedly feel bad
moments for which the rest of the film struggles to compensate.
Many viewers will likely be taken aback by the first scenes which graphically portray our 18-year old hero, Jamal Malik, being constrained to excruciating torture. Jamal is a “Slumdog”-a throwaway product of the dark underbelly of Mumbai, destitute in every conceivable sense of the word. Somehow, this inconsequential proletariat manages to land a spot on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and tears through the questions making it further than anyone dreamed he could. In utter disbelief of Jamal’s unlikely success the host, played brilliantly by Anil Kapoor, has him arrested and tortured on suspicions of cheating.
The keys to Jamal’s success are revealed through a series of flashbacks to various times in his childhood which occupies the bulk of the film. These sequences magnificently and powerfully chronicle the gut-wrenching story of a very adult life led by a very young child. Boyle carefully juxtaposes completely different scenes portraying pure, hellish and unabashed joy. The ungodly squalor, greed, hate, and abuse act as foils to the many gems throughout the picture.
Much credit must go to cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle who’s glittering, often-frenetic work behind the camera presents us with a realistic, sometimes troubling, but always gorgeous view of one of the most culturally rich and diverse places on earth. As the story unfolds, it’s quite obvious how things are going to end. The film’s predictability, however, is one of its assets allowing us to absorb the true themes of the picture rather than being bogged down by unnecessary plot twists or gimmicks. The familiar formula settles into a supporting role while the director’s
poignant message of outrage, desperation, warning, caution, and hope takes the main stage.
If Jamal is the soul of the movie, the relationship between Jamal and Latika is the heart. Their relationship is formed under harsh circumstances that become incrementally more brutal as the years go by. They beat down and nearly broken, but they never forget each other. Slumdog Millionaire is not simply a feel-good movie. It’s better than that. We feel good only after we offer our sincerest humanity. And even then, we’re never allowed to forget those crushing moments that didn’t feel so good.
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