I am surprised that this movie has been getting all the acclaim it has recently. In fact, this movie started garnering praise when it premiered at Toronto and it hasn’t relented since. At first, I knew nothing about this movie other than its title and judging by that alone, I thought the movie would tank. Slumdog Millionaire just seems a bit clunk and awkward, no?
Then, I read the plot synopsis. A boy who grew up in the slums finds himself at the final question on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. When accused of cheating, he explains how he is able to answer each question from past life experiences; the movie is told in a series of flashbacks. After reading the synopsis, I thought, “Hmm…not what I expected after I heard the title, but it still sounds sort of awkward.”
I had dismissed the movie, but then early December rolled around and it was literally on every single top ten list. Being Indian myself, I decided I should go support this film in the theaters. As I walked out of the theater, I was grinning ear to ear, but I thought to myself “It’s just a feel-good movie. It won’t last and I will forget about it soon.” That was two weeks ago and I can still vividly remember how Jamal was able to answer each of his questions.
I still do not think that the plot is anything unique since it follows the basic epic hero journey archetype. Jamal is the hero, his life goal is Latika’s love and every single entity of his life gets in his way. It is a classic boy meets girl, but boy cannot have girl story typical of every romantic comedy, epic romance and 95% of Bollywood films. Yet, somehow, Slumdog Millionaire managed to distinguish itself. The difference lies within Danny Boyle.
The most lauded aspect of the movie has been the direction and the vibrancy of the storytelling. I must agree with this. The cinematography, the colors, and the score all culminate to make the story jump off the screen and remain indelible in our minds. Boyle’s biggest strength, arguably, is his ease in directing children. He had proved it with Millions before, but the scenes he directed with the youngest Jamal, Salim (Jamal’s older brother) and Latika were so endearing I never wanted the children to grow up, because things could only get worse.
And worse they got. Perhaps one reason why I am not falling into the glut of unequivocal praise for this movie is that it reminded me too much of The Kite Runner (a book which I despised). Think of every horrible contrived thing that could happen to one boy (with a heart of gold, no less) and see if he can still rise up after he has been beaten down repeatedly by each insult. Both The Kite Runner and Slumdog Millionaire worked upon this framework, but the execution in Slumdog saved it from the utterly ridiculous melodrama that was the ending of The Kite Runner.
That’s not to say that the ending of Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t without its share of criticisms. For one, the movie hits us over the head with the theme of destiny, so we already know the ending. I was waiting for some inspired dialogue at the end that would cement the charm of the movie, but this is where the screenplay fails and we are left with an extremely cheesy ending line.
The light at the end of this movie was Freida Pinto, a model/actress who played the oldest Latika. Every time she was on screen, it was luminescent and the chemistry between Pinto and Dev Patel was undeniable. It is strange that Patel is the one receiving all the acting accolades when Ayush Mahesh Khedekar (youngest Jamal), Madhur Mittal (oldest Salim) and Anil Kapoor (show host, Prem Kumar) all gave outstanding performances.
The Oscars are fickle and have strange rules, so I am not sure if the A.R. Rahman score is eligible, but if it is, it must get nominated. The beats and the choice of M.I.A. songs added so much to this movie. It is quite a shame that Pineapple Express came out before Slumdog and pretty much relegated Paper Planes to being a pothead song, because it fits far better in Slumdog. In short, this is a film to check out; just don’t go into it with lofty expectations from all the hype.