Thursday, February 19, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Year: 2008
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor

Now here's something you don't get to see all the time: a movie almost destined for a DVD release until someone decided to give it a theatrical run, and now it is vying for a Best Picture Oscar.

Slumdog Millionaire takes place in India, and focuses on a young man named Jamal, a poor tea boy who becomes a contestant on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game show. Shortly after answering the second last question correctly, the police arrest him on suspicion of cheating. The show's host and the police apparently think that a simple tea boy could not possibly know all the answers. As they interrogate him, Jamal tells them his life story and how it relates to all the answers he chose.

His life began in a slum neighborhood, where he lived with his mother and older brother, Salim. He and his brother would spend their time playing cricket and finding ways to earn small change from the people around them. We get a glimpse of Jamal and Salim trying to survive together after their mother is killed during a riot, how they meet a street girl named Latika, how all three of them are recruited by a gang that runs a child begging ring, how they eventually escape from the gang, get separated, grow up and live on the streets and get themselves in trouble with the law.

Jamal is the protagonist, so we get to watch his turbulent relationship with his selfish brother Salim as well as his undying affection for Latika, that never ceases no matter how much time has passed or whatever events that come between them. Eventually we learn how Jamal got himself onto the game show in the first place, and how all his answers take him to his destiny.

Just as I was surprised about David Fincher directing The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, so am I here with Danny Boyle. A tale set in India, with an Indian cast and part of the film in Hindi, directed by Danny Boyle? Yeah, it is amazing. And Boyle brings all the realism that this film requires to the fore. The cruelty, brutality and hardship of reality faced by the poor folk living in the slums are well portrayed here. The violence, the darkness, the frightening world of living a life of crime there is vividly brought to the screen. Added to that the Indian music score by AR Rahman, and the setting is just perfect for a touching yet sometimes sad story.

Dev Patel, who portrays Jamal however, isn't too impressive. He probably only had two expressions throughout the film, but I'll give him some credit for trying. Freida Pinto fares only slightly better as Latika. Madhur Mittal plays Salim with the right amount of venom and selfishness, but sometimes I am left wondering whether he truly cares about Jamal or not, based on his actions. And that hairdo, not right at all. The younger cast that plays the three characters are actually more spot on than their adult counterparts. It is deserving that the kids get paid well for their education after the film was done.

When you get to the end, which by the way is a feel good ending, you'll see that Slumdog Millionaire is a fairytale love story set in the real world. There is a hero, a heroine, a villain, many tragic circumstances thrown in and how all these play in to a fitting finale. Yeah, some of the stuff in this film may seem far fetched despite all the realism present, especially the questions used for the game show, but don't let it throw you. This is a great movie, and you should see it.

I am however not ready to say it deserves the Best Picture Oscar, since I can't decide yet if it's better than The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. I do admit leaning towards Button a little bit, but Slumdog is a gem of its own. Do make time for it. (4/5)

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