Big money blockbusters no doubt shake and rake your pockets for all that they're worth. The hyperbole usually warrants for enough of an argument to make for a viewing but that's never enough to say that it makes for a memorable film.
So, every once in a while a film comes along that somehow is able to re-write the rule book and turn the cinematic fraternity upon its head. It takes a rather special film that can do just that and all the more surprising when it comes in low under the radar and on a modest budget.
Slumdog Millionaire is not only that film, it's one that has torn the rule book to shreds and started over almost afresh. Its success has surprised almost everyone. Why so? Well, when it comes to cinematic output there are clearly two power houses in the world. To coin a phrase from Rudyard Kipling's The Ballad of East and West, "Oh East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet." You've got Hollywood on one side and Bollywood on the other.
Year after year Bollywood produces a ridiculous number of films for a seemingly insatiable Indian appetite. If there was ever going to be a film that might truly set both Asian and Western audiences alight then you would have thought it would have come from the Asian sub-continent. Considering the volume of films that get churned out it would hardly have been surprising for at least one to finally hit the mark?
Not so, Slumdog may have ended up with Twentieth Century Fox but its origins came through London based Film4. With a remarkable tally of eight Oscars to boot, this film upstaged everything else at this years Academy awards and walked away with Best Picture. This British backed effort simply turned the whole world upside down and that's something to be immensely proud of.
What we have in Slumdog is a Western critique to film making coupled with the most authentic of Indian styles. Slumdog not only reaches out to hit the mark, but leaves that mark as a bridge builder. How Danny Boyle managed that I'm not quite sure? Perhaps he possesses some desi chromosomes from somewhere along the line ? Not only is it difficult to keep a lid on the overdose of melodrama so famously attached to Indian cinema but to keep the very rich meaning of life so universally real within it? Hats off to the guy; Mr Boyle I applaud you. This film hits a nerve with the real world India and it hits a nerve with the real world all over; fullstop.
At the crux of it Slumdog is a story that romances with the many virtues of life. When all else fails and you are faced with an impoverished life of adversity, then it's the simple loves of life that keep you going with the utmost bearing. There is no starker and apparent contrast of what the multitude and betrayals of life hold than in India.
India remains a staggeringly secular country but also one that sits uncomfortably easy with itself. Onlookers find it discouragingly harder to accept. You have a pitiful state of poverty co-existing with an opulence of wealth. The two extremes have no right to co-exist so brutally and openly side by side as they do; it really is quite bizarre.
Along with its polarised and secular society, India is also steeped in a caste system that has ingrained its people to accept their station in life. For as long as I can remember the indigenous population has appeared seemingly content to not have an issue with who they are and what they are born into. Across the rest of the world, wealth may have become a great leveller but this is not quite so true in parts of India; money buys you many things but it still doesn't unlock the ability to cross the classes.
Danny Boyle takes the hugely successful concept of 'Who wants to be a Millionaire?' and sets it against an Indian backdrop that still really doesn't know quite what to make of it. The chance of winning a vast fortune is of course a life changer. Although within a culture that doesn't quite yet know how to adapt to rapid cultural change, the value of such wealth can feel intrinsically thin.
D: It is written.
Kismet means fate or destiny and if there's one thing you have to accept in Indian life it's that sometimes fate does take a hold. You are not always the master of your own destiny.
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) and his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) are two orphaned children. They struggle quite disturbingly to stay alive in the slums of Mumbai after their mother is viciously killed. Slumdog charts the early years of both young boys in an Indian territory that many would dare not wish to tread upon. This story could have been set in India, it could have been South America or wherever; a slum is a slum and it matters little I guess?
Danny Boyle intersperses the chapters of the quiz show with a string of enduring and haunting flashbacks for it all to make sense. The Indian story he unfolds is not a rose tinted view of life; it's far too coarse and far too hard hitting but it is one that almost everyone will be able to relate to.
As the two young boys grow up, they live through difficult times and an immensely challenging life. It's a wonder that they stay alive. The film employs a 'no holds barred' approach and proceeds to centre on the child exploitation scams that exist in Mumbai's underworld. There are some seriously disturbing home truths on how ruthless that underworld is or used to be; where the lives of the young and innocent are held as worthless.
Taken into an orphanage type camp by a vile ringleader named Maman (Ankur Vikal) the children feel that they have finally found themselves a new home. Jamal befriends the other children but none more so than a young girl called Latika (Freida Pinto). The friendship that develops is destined to become a love and it's the fruition of it all that becomes so centric to the story.
Whilst both boys are intrinsically of good heart, the life around them is all about survival of the fittest. The standout performances come from all the child actors. Madhur Mittal plays the older brother role of Salim superbly, amply demonstrating how the burden of brotherly responsibility wanes upon such young shoulders. Jamal on the other hand remains the more vigorously conscious of the two but with little appreciation of the fact that his brother is being tainted by fate. Living out a life in the slums has much to do with kismet you see.
All the other actors contribute to the film and there are some notable big ticket Indian actors present amongst them. Mahesh Manjrekar plays the neighbourhood gangster Javed. Irrfan Khan and Saurabh Shukla play the police officers investigating the allegations of cheating levelled at Jamal.
However, it is Anil Kapoor who plays Prem Kumar, the host of the show, who really adds a touch of studio spice and anchorage to it all. Sure, he's no Chris Tarrant but the verve and tenacity with which he asks the questions does little to hide the tinge of jealousy that his eyes and demeanour so evidently always betray.
Without the aspects of the quiz show attached to this film the whole thing wouldn't have worked. The manner in which the film initially breaks up the quiz is then reciprocated much later when the show actually breaks down the film. Charming indeed.
It's the clever use of interjecting flashbacks that ultimately adds some much needed respite to proceedings and raises the whole thing to an altogether higher echelon. The story that is intertwined in between is pure cinema magic. Slumdog Millionaire is a fabulous must see film and it's a real achievement in every sense of the word.
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