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Slumdog Millionaire January 23, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Ever wondered what an Indian film made by an international filmmaker would look like? Slumdog Millionaire is a great example of just that. The unlikely story of how an uneducated boy from the slums of Mumbai wins big bucks on a television quiz show has all the elements of a feel good Indian film but is made with more finesse and subtlety and without the duets and manipulation. The rags to riches tale with a happy ending (feels a bit like a sports movie) is primarily a love story. An improbable story where circumstances keep the lovers away till the very end should seem very familiar to Indian audiences.

Like its main protagonist, the film was an underdog too and was almost destined to be a straight-to-DVD release but fate had other plans or as Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Millions) will now say “It is written”.

Adapted from Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, the film has an engrossing screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). But it is director Danny Boyle’s brilliance that really sets this film apart. He makes fantastic use of the film’s setting and that is primarily responsible for elevating this film to another level. The non-linear narrative employed is essential to the impact of the film. Boyle acknowledges casting director Loveleen Tandan’s inputs to the project by giving her a co-director credit and I am guessing she had a great influence in helping him achieve his vision along with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editor Chris Dickens. The film does take cinematic liberties and has its share of contrivances and unbelievable coincidences but it works nonetheless.

As is being portrayed by some, there is nothing for Indians to be particularly proud of or ashamed about due to this film. The setting is real but I don’t see everyone watching this film going “Oh! This is how life in India/Mumbai is”. No, surely we understand that films are works of fiction. And I don’t see a need for us to be ashamed of poverty. This film wasn’t made to glorify or debase India or its culture, so where is the need to look for yourself in there. It is a work of fiction and has to be looked at that way. It was after all based on a book written by an Indian author. And Danny Boyle has many more opportunities to show pain and suffering but he chooses not to.

The cast is uniformly good but forget the newcomers Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto. Forget the popular Indian faces like Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. The most impressive performances come from the kids in this film. Kudos to Boyle and Tandan for extracting the performances they manage to get from these kids. Ayush Khedekar, who plays Jamal at his youngest is brilliant and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail who plays young Salim is also quite good (and both of them apparently live in the slums of Mumbai). They feature in the most memorable scenes in the film including the Amitabh Bachchan autograph scene and the chase scene at the beginning (the slums are beautifully captured in a chase through the gallis reminiscent of Ram Gopal Varma’s films). In comparison, Dev Patel’s Jamal lacks the energy that the kid displays but then I guess it was by design.

The film has already won big at the Golden Globes and is tipped to be a favorite at the Academy Awards. But personally, among the films I’ve seen from 2008, I prefer Wall-E and The Dark Knight (both of which are unfortunately not in the running for the Best Film at the Oscars) over this one.

A R Rahman’s score is splendid but I am a bit surprised by its popularity at the awards (It already won the Golden Globe and has been nominated for the Oscar) because it is louder than the average Hollywood film score (but is still limited when compared to Indian movies and Rahman notes that he had only 17-18 cues compared to a normal figure of about 150). The score works superbly in the film but Rahman surely has composed much better numbers than the catchy Jai Ho which was nominated for Best Original Song at both the Globes and the Oscars. Nevertheless, it is great the his work is being recognized in the West (3 Oscar nominations and a possible win or two ain’t bad).

A lot has been said and written about this film, so a recommendation is unnecessary but I do have a piece of advice. When you go into a movie theater with bloated expectations about a film, it will, more often than not, fall short. So go in with an open mind, understand that this is fiction and prepare to have a good time.


1. Vinita - January 23, 2009

I do not know what propelled the film maker to shoot an Indian film. The storyline is pretty simple and yet it has become the current topic of discussion. Through one of the leading newspapers in Chennai, I learnt that the music was a slavish reproduction with the tune resembling Choli ke Piche Kya he. Is it so ???

2. Priya - January 23, 2009

It is very evident that people these days are starved for good music. Gone are the days when classic musicians were recipients of the Globe and similar awards. Today, there is no good music at all, that people are left with no choice than to nominate guys like A.R. Rahman for prestigious awards. Think it’s time to start composing, who knows someday even I can win the Globe !

3. pooja - January 23, 2009

Wow…. Awesome contest I bet you can’t get all of them correct http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Slumdog-Millionaire-Contest/113261985710?ref=mf

4. Srikanth Srinivasan - January 25, 2009

perfect one. Work of fiction alone. No way close to reality and if you accept this, it is a decent watch.

5. Shujath - January 26, 2009

Bloated expectations or otherwise….I loved this one. It’s the kind of film which relies on the memorable moments it provides than the actual story, acting etc. If not for anything, you have to watch this to see the unlikely blend of gritty realism and cinematic escapism so beautifully done.

The opening slum chase sequence set to Rahman’s “O Saaya” is classic. Also, towards then end when the final question appears on screen the collective sighs which came out of the audience is something I’ll remember for a long time.

Rahman’s score is awesome, I too believe that “Jai Ho” isn’t the best of the lot (probably the predominantly western audience which has been patronizing this hasn’t heard too many Bollywood songs). My pick would be “O Saaya” especially after seeing how it’s been used in the film.

@Vinita – There is one number “Ring Ringa Ringa” which Rahman himself acknowledged that he rehashed the “Choli Ke Peeche” tune. Once you see its placement in the film you’ll understand why. And BTW, a majority of in-film soundtracks in Hollywood reuse or rehash existing songs as they deem fit and acknowledge the original in the end credits or some other place. I guess you had in mind the blatant plagiarism in the Indian Film Industry which probably made you wonder why a certain song was “closely resembling” something.

@Priya – The Golden Globes, Oscars etc… honor musical scores based on their use in film soundtracks. Naturally, any score makes sense only when you watch the film. I seriously wonder if a “classical” score for Slumdog would have had a similar effect. And yes, I am waiting for you to compose and would love to see you win the Globe!

6. Priya - January 27, 2009

Hi Shujath, I was not talking about a classical score, I said classic musicians, referring to musicians who serve as standards.

7. Sai - January 31, 2009

Danny Boyle mentions in the latest Newsweek interview that his favorite films set in Mumbai include Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya and Company and also Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday. I wonder if RGV inspired Boyle for that chase scene…

8. simply61 - February 1, 2009

It has been a good tamasha in India.I have no grouse with the movie except that the word ‘dog’ in the title could have been avoided.

9. vallabh - February 21, 2009

Remember the scene where the grown up brothers meet on that building being constructed and walk to the edge while they talk. I can tell it’s definitely inspired by one of such scenes in RGV’s flicks. Well… I guess so.

A lot was already talked about the movie. I personally loved it, totally. ARR’s music is magnificent but is nothing better than his many other works. If some of his works were properly promoted and if there was no politics, ARR would have won an Oscar a long while ago.

10. vallabh - February 21, 2009

Edit: Oh! It’s just my adoration for ARR I guess. Ofcourse, he wouldn’t have won an OSCAR for his work for Indian films no matter how hard they promote… 🙂 They couldn’t pick him for one just like that. haha… I am still evolving. 🙂 Well his work has always had the potential though.

Way to go Rahman…!

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