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Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Dharavi boy Jamal Malik,server of 'chai',keeper of secrets,is one of the wise. He's learnt his wisdom on the streets,and he uses it to become a millionaire.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | January 22 |
January 22, 2009 9:59:28 am

Cast: Anil Kapoor,Dev Patel,Frieda Pinto,Irrfan Khan,Saurabh Shukla

Director: Danny Boyle

Dharavi boy Jamal Malik,server of ‘chai’,keeper of secrets,is one of the wise. He’s learnt his wisdom on the streets,and he uses it to become a millionaire.

Director Danny Boyle takes the bare bones of Vikas Swarup’s novel,and turns the film into an electric,visceral,kinetic feast,and an all-get-out entertainer. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is ‘Salaam Bombay’ on speed. Only it’s called Mumbai now.

Blood,sweat,tears. And that other bodily fluid—shit— that no one likes to acknowledge,least of all mainstream meisters. Danny Boyle uses these elemental qualities to construct call centre ‘chaipau’ Jamal ( Dev Patel) ,and his ‘bizarrely plausible’ ( in the delightful phrase of one of the characters) world,constantly teetering on the edge of collapse,constantly being shored by the grit and gumption of those who live in it. And gives us an unlikely hero who is a metaphor for our times. Yes,Jamal can.

So can Latika ( Freida Pinto),his childhood sweetheart,who is also a product of the same sewage and lineage that he and his brother Salim come from. Their journey to young adulthood,fraught with many dangers,is not new for those who’ve seen Bollywood’s tryst with slum-homeless kids being blinded and maimed by beggar cartels is one of Hindi cinema’s oldest saddest tales,along with fresh virgins being readied to be deflowered by the highest bidder. Boyle invests old tropes with a welcome matter-of-factness,and is willing to learn on the job : his inordinate glee at showing his young urchin wallowing in human excrement is overtaken by Jamal’s unchecked exuberance – the slumdog conquers both the smell and the moment.

When he first opens his mouth,the UK based ‘desi’ debutant Dev Patel seems all wrong,because of his clipped cadences. But almost immediately he settles into his groove,and,along with the marvellous young kids who play the leads’ younger selves,grows into being the film’s high point : Jamal is vulnerable yet strong,the fragile skin peeling off to reveal the steel underneath. Pinto is real,and keeps him able company. Irrfan Khan and Saurabh Shukla as the hectoring cops,and Mahesh Manjrekar as the brutal ‘bhai’,fit right in. Anil Kapoor,as the devious host of the game-show,turns in one of his most vivid,precise performances. And A R Rahman’s score is a triumph.

The romance and rags-to-riches story of a Mumbai slum dweller comes to India via it’s meteoric sweep of the world,having ratcheted up applause and awards at break-neck speed. ( Last evening,it was nominated for 10 Oscar awards,including three for A R Rahman,one for Resul Pookutty for Best Sound Design,and the three biggies – Best Picture,Best Director,and Best Adapted Screenplay).

The fact that it has a director ( Boyle),screenplay writer ( Simon Beaufoy) and producer (Christian Colson) owing allegiance to the West could have made this is a bloodless,distanced copy of a fun book,but one look at ‘Slumdog Millionaire’,and you know that its spirit and soul is flagrantly,proudly Indian : the Empire has been finally,overwhelmingly trounced.

It’s not about poverty pornography. It’s not about a White guy showing us touchy Brown-skins squatting by the rail-tracks. In the end,it’s just about a film,which sweeps you up and takes you for an exhilarating ride on the wild side. Jai Ho.

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