Friday, January 16, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire
Directors: Danny Boyle , Loveleen Tandan
(co-director: India)
Writers:Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Vikas Swarup (novel)
Via The story of the life of an impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik, who becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?", wins, and is then suspected of cheating. full summary.

I finally got to see "Slumdog Millionaire", a few weeks back but did not have a chance to put up this "Not A Review". I was curious to see this film as it has been garnering good reviews and an astonishing 135/145 reviewers on rotten tomatoes loved it giving it a 93% "freshness" rating. But that was not my only reason to want to see this movie. It literally came out of left field, making an unexpected run at and winning the 4 Golden Globes that it was nominated for.

I had some idea about the movie, but I had not read any detailed reviews. I enjoyed the movie, but I have seen other movies too this past year that I loved too.. Man on Wire, The Edge of Heaven, The Secret of the Grain, WALL-E , The Visitor and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. There are many more that I have to see. But I digress.

I can think of a number of reasons why this movie has struck a chord with viewers and critics alike, despite being in Hindi (30% of the movie?). Perhaps it is the story of an underdog, and that most of us love to root for one. I think the director, Danny Boyle has done an excellent job of adapting this story in to a movie, it helps that almost everyone knows the show "Who wants to be a millionaire", and the underlying themes transcend cultural and other differences, perhaps also explains it's success.

I do think that the first half of the movie was the stronger one in the sense that it had more of an impact on me, as it dealt with the harsh and very real and at times harrowing lives of these street kids (themes that have been handled well in other movies). The acting by the children playing Jamal, Salim and Latika was amazing, and that extends to the adults playing these and other roles too (The cast has been nominated for ensemble cast - SAG awards)
I think it was hard to work across the language barriers which Boyle did well, but it is perhaps harder to maintain a sense of continuity for the characters when they are played by 3 different actors spanning the different stages of their lives. And I think that came across really well for me.
Other than the obvious known names of Irfan Khan and Anil Kapoor most were not professional actors and it is a credit to the director that he manages to extract these great performances. One other thing that I liked was how the life experiences of Jamal are tied to his knowing the answers on the quiz show and the flashbacks do a wonderful job of setting up the character's evolution to a person that he is. I thought Anil Kapoor's performance was really good too, he does a good job playing the slick and seemingly friendly and jovial game show host while barely being able to contain himself with his not so subtle put downs of the "chai wallah".

I thought Dev Patel (he is British) gives a very strong performance as Jamal. Coming back to the second half of the movie, it was not as strong as the first half, I thought parts of it were a bit contrived or shall we say melodramatic, but I did not go in expecting anything "arthouse" like either. The the use of "D: It has been written" was a nice touch and we all know the desi/Indian thing about fate.

Did the depiction of life in Mumbai bother any of you who may know the city and be familiar with it? It did not bother me, I think movies do have some obligation to depict reality. And (I have not read the book this is based on) the director captures the grinding, stark poverty that is almost inescapable for anyone who lives in Bombay. I found the depiction of the rancid, seedy underbelly of the city to be very real. I think it was a fair portrayal.

I was reading an interview someplace with the director and he mentioned how frenetic the shooting pace was, and also often they did not get permissions to shoot till the last moment and at times none at all. And one could get the sense of how the city could close itself upon you.

I thought the movie in a lot of ways was tragic and funny, the changes of a rapidly globalizing India were well captured. The movie was also in essence a fairy tale on some levels, yet the themes of poverty, religious strife, exploitation and abandonment the characters experience are very real.

It reminded me to some extent of "The Pool" and like Chris Smith, I have to say Danny Boyle has captured the ethos of India and that in life anything is possible, perhaps it needs to be written but it would not happen without some pluck and verve and a dash of luck.

A couple of closing notes....

'Slumdog Millionaire' Hailed and Slammed in India

and the film, which opens in India next week (January 23), was just slammed by 66-year-old Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan on his blog (via The India Times): "If Slumdog Millionaire projects India as Third World dirty underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations."

For a completely contrary view.. Boyle is a poverty pimp with an Avid.

Credits - I see a lot of movies and I don't often see this. No one left the theater till the credits had finished rolling. Maybe the song and dance routine during the credits had something to do with that too.


Lotus Reads said...

Hey Sanjay!

You're so right when you say this movie came out of left field to garner huge success with critics and audiences alike!

I read the book on which the movie was based (Vikas Swarup's "Q & A") ages ago and even then I remembered thinking that it would make a really good Bollywood movie. Bollywood, because it has so many elements that are well suited to that particular genre, so imagine my surprise when I read that Danny Boyle had adapted it. Anyway, I think he does a great job of it and it's plain to see he is an actor's director.

You're also right when you say that the reason why this movie appeals is because it's the story of an underdog. While the performances are brilliant I have to say Dev (the lead role) is rather dull (ofcourse his role demands that he be serious, sincere etc.) but it's all that crazy energy around and about him all the time that really dazzles!

As for that dance number at the end, I will confess that it caught me by surprise...somehow neither Dev nor his love interest seemed like the kind of people who would break into spontaneous singing and dancing, but with hindsight I see that it made for a perfect ending!

Bombay is so brilliantly and realistically portrayed that it actually becomes a very important character in the film. I am certainly not disturbed by Boyle's portrayal of it, infact, I am hoping that this movie spurs us (and our government, NGO's etc.) into taking firmer action against all those people that would hurt children for gain.

Slumdog was also an important movie because it teaches you one very important life lesson: Value and learn from your never know when they might help you hit the jackpot!

Thanks for a great review've done it again!

Asha said...

This movie was inspired by a novel "Q and A" written by Vikas Swarup, a Indian author. Dev patel is very talented indeed and so is Frieda.

I beg to differ with Mr.B!! NO country on this earth has that much of filth and let the kids live on like that and get abused so inhumanely!! May be I am just dumb, don't know much about life but I am ashamed to be a Indian who don't or can't do anything about those slums and slum kids! Shame on me!!

Sanjay said...

Hey Lotus, How are you? :). How neat that you have also read the book that the movie is based on. Interesting that you thought it would make a good Bollywood movie!
You are right in that Danny Boyle did a great job of it and I think he achieved the right mix too, there is certainly enough of Bollywood in the movie. I also think some of that perhaps could be attributed to the assistant director Loveleen Tandon who maybe more familiar with typically desi things no?
I agree Dev Patel probably came across as restrained maybe due to the nature of his role. And yes the dance number at the end was quite a surprise and a huge nod to Bollywood.
I am glad you thought that Bombay was realistically portrayed. The movie is just rolling out in India so the reactions will be interesting to see.
You make a good point about this movie spurring folks to do more for the street kids and for kids in general.
I think perhaps that Salaam Bombay has done more for the street kids of Bombay than slumdog might do. But be happy to be proven wrong. Regardless it still is not enough.
You are so right about the message that the movie sends us.
Thank you for your comment and your kind words. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

This is the one movie out right now that both my husband & I want to see. Thanks for the not-review!

Sanjay said...

@ Asha, thank you for your comment. I agree that Mr.B should take it easy, I think cinema does not always reflect reality and when it does there is no reason to not embrace it.
Perhaps some Indians always look at it thru the lens of a colonial past? Not sure. Just because a country has an ugly underbelly does not and should not take away from all the wonderful things about India (in this instance).

Sanjay said...

@cdm. Welcome. I hope you get to see it and that you enjoy it as well. Thanks.

Id it is said...

It's interesting that you did not feel that Mumbai had been misrepresented in the movie. Many within the Indian community here feel offended by the way Mumbai has been painted by Boyle.

The dance number at the end did come as a surprise, but it was such a catchy number that I ended up enjoying it.

deepsat said...

i am yet to see it. but by the reviews i can look forward to it. the controversies will always be there. some have to say something. strangely for some ppl the zeal of patriotism rises at the wrong time!! :-))

SSQuo said...

Seen the movie. Liked it. Wasnt ga-ga over it.

Agree, the performances by the kids were excellent. I actually think the real stars are the kids. I thought Dev and Frieda were just OK.

You are also spot on on the first half of the movie being better than the second. The first half was real, gritty, sad and funny. But mostly it was 'real' in a lot of ways. I havent walked through/lived in a slum to know the extent of poverty or struggle, but there were many scenes that were all too familiar.

The music which you didn't comment on was stupendous in my opinion, then again I think AR Rahman is a musical genius.

Overall, good movie, but I don't get the whole 'SDM aura and hype' thing going around it, am I missing something? I dont think so.

Good review.

ML said...

Sanjay, are you on facebook by chance?

Mona said...

That is one movie to recon with. It is how two different ppl brought up in same surroundings make two diffrent choices in life. And about how some good ppl make bad choices and bad can make some good too.

The fact that there are no 'professional' actors in it makes it appear more authentic!

How have you been sanjay? I hope good. I am visiting California these days!

Nabeel said...

i think I liked all parts of the movie ... one thing I didn't like was Freida Pinto's acting. It wasn't strong. Anyway, seems like Slumdog and it's actors are always in the news. the latest was some adoption bidding that was later proven false.

You should see "Trainspotting", one of my all time favorite movies, same director.