Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog MillionaireDirector Danny Boyle got off to a flyer with his first two films, Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996), both being amongst the best British films I have ever seen. However, it was with Slumdog Millionaire that he received global recognition as the film scooped 8 of its 10 Oscar nominations including Best Film and Best Director. I heard a lot about the film when it was first released and Mrs B saw it at the cinema but it’s only now that I have got round to watching it. As with many Oscar-winning films you assume they will be masterpieces but was that the case here?

Slumdog Millionaire is the traditional rags to riches tale of eighteen year old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) who is a contestant on the Indian equivalent of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and finds himself just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees. The show comes to a dramatic end with Jamal forced to wait till the next episode to face the last question but he is suddenly abducted and faces a brutal interrogation with accusations of cheating thrown in. Having grown up in the slums of Mumbai the authorities do not believe Jamal could possibly know all the answers to the quiz. During his interrogation Jamal reveals the story of his life and how separate incidents from his childhood to the present – growing up in the slums of Mumbai, being orphaned with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and meeting the most important girl in his life, Latika (Freida Pinto), who he loves and loses – have all provided him with the answers to the quiz. As Jamal’s story unfolds we are left speculating whether he is telling the truth or whether he has been cheating.

Slumdog Millionaire begins with the brutality of Jamal’s interrogation and provides a telling warning that this is going to be, at times, a gritty film. Having withstood some particularly unpleasant torture, Jamal is shown a recording of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in which he featured and he has to explain his knowledge of each question in turn. The events described, conveniently in chronological order to fit the order of the quiz questions I have to say, are extraordinary to say the least. Jamal and Salim’s early life in the slums of Mumbai sees them earning a meagre living taking a toll for use of a latrine, the facility being a simple hole in a wooden walkway surrounded by a shack. The sight of young Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) covered in excrement after being locked in the latrine and wanting to escape quickly to get an autograph will make some queasy but it also raises a rare smile as the adoring crowd, surrounding a celebrity, creates a nice gap for Jamal to meet the famous Indian actor. The boys grow up in the 1990s where India is still revealed as having many poverty stricken areas and the brothers’ plight isn’t helped when their mother is murdered during the Bombay riots (Dec 1992 – Jan 1993). Living on the streets Jamal invites a girl, Latika, to join him and Salim beneath a shelter and she becomes the third musketeer, a reference to the Alexandre Dumas novel the boys were read at school and crucially the third musketeer, Aramis, is the one of the three that they always forget. The lives of the three remain connected throughout their childhoods and for Jamal in particular, Latika remains an important part of his life, even when they end up separated and in the present he still loves her just the same as when they first met. Jamal is torn between loyalty to his brother and wanting to be with Latika, and inevitably something has to give.

Slumdog Millionaire continues to change between the past and present as Jamal withstands the accusations of cheating and professes sincerity in every statement he makes. It was fascinating to gain insight into India, seeing the rundown streets and heartbreaking poverty faced by the people even today. Inevitably, where poverty reigns there are opportunists out to make money and lure those in need to unpleasant acts, praying on their desperate desire to stay alive. The three children come into the care of a gang leader, Maman (Ankur Vikal), who sweetens children up with food and drink before having them compete to impress him with singing. Salim proves to be woeful at singing but Maman sees potential in the boy and begins paving the road for Salim’s journey into crime. The children that thrive as singers face a sorry fate of being blinded and placed on the street as beggars with sympathetic singing voices. Jamal and Salim escape Maman’s clutches but Salim purposefully leaves Latika behind to her fate. The two brothers continue on getting into many money-making ventures, most amusingly posing as tour guides at the 17th century building, Taj Mahal, and revealing the woman it was built for, Mumtaz Mahal, died in childbirth on her way to the hospital in a car! Eventually Jamal finds himself alone and brings us up to the present, revealing how and why he became a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

When Jamal completes his incredible story we are left with the question of whether he’ll get the chance to win the millions or be imprisoned for cheating. Having watched Jamal suffer so much in the film it is inevitable that there will be a happy ending of sorts. Slumdog Millionaire does have a feel-good conclusion but after the complex events that have led us to this point it all seems to be resolved a bit too easily. The ending is still enjoyable but there are bittersweet moments particularly the outcome of Jamal being reunited with his brother Salim. It’s hard to resist a tale of someone born in poverty enjoying a lucky break and having their life changed forever and that outcome does make Slumdog Millionaire appealing to a wide audience. For me though the strength of the film is in Jamal’s extraordinary story of his life, about the many individuals he meets, often those that help manifest the darkest side of Indian society. Through all his challenges Jamal remains firmly focussed on being reunited with the love of his life, Latika, but how does it all end? You should know by now it’s not for me to tell.

Slumdog Millionaire is an absorbing drama from start to finish, offering an interesting insight into India and in particular the criminal underworld which Jamal and Salim become associated. The majority of people will be familiar with the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? format and it was amusing to see not much has changed from the English version. Jamal’s rags to riches tale is one well worth watching.

Verdict: 9/10

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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