Slumdog Millionaire Review
They don’t seem to treat their successful contestants terribly well on the Hindu Indian version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’. Jamal Malik is just one question away from the 20 million rupee prize when the siren agonisingly signals the end of the programme, but instead of the young man’s achievement being celebrated, he’s branded a cheat by the show’s presenter and is carted off to the nearest police station where he is subjected to the kind of interrogation you’d expect to be given to an inmate of Abu Ghraib prison. Hmmm, now why didn’t anyone think of that for Major Charles Ingram...?
There’s a reason why Jamal is treated this way and it’s because he’s a slumdog, having grown up in the poorest slums of Mumbai as an orphan, running around with his brother Salim on the streets, scavenging through the rubbish dumps to survive and getting into trouble with the gangs who operate in the city. The chances of a rags-to-Raja story are slim for anyone growing up in an environment where traditionally the only way out is in a box or into a prison cell. That could be the fate of his brother who has adapted to the hard way of living by throwing in his lot with the city’s top gangster, but Jamal, working as a lowly tea-boy in a call centre, has been given a golden opportunity to escape through an appearance on a popular national television quiz-show. He’s only doing it for one reason however - he’s hoping it will buy him the freedom of his childhood love, Latika, the third musketeer in their little group of adventurers.
That’s about as cheesy a storyline as you could image, but the ever eclectic and capable Danny Boyle brings a winning manner to this charming and uplifting tale that at the same time isn’t queasy about showing us the less glamorous side of growing up poor in Mumbai in a way that recalls his work on Trainspotting, though in a perhaps slightly more colourful way. Structurally, the approach would seem to lack tension, the film clearly settling back early on into a flashback narrative as Jamal explains how he came to know the answers to each of the questions and get to a stage in the competition that even the most educated contestants have failed to reach, but the film compensates for this with the sheer verve and invention with which it depicts the hard-won knowledge Jamal has acquired in the university of life. This is aided considerably by the dynamic cinematography of Dogme-favourite DP Anthony Dod Mantle that never lets-up the pace and a co-directing credit with Loveleen Tandan for the India shooting.
After an entertaining ride through the colourful side of Mumbai, the film slips into a rather more predictable pattern with its romantic drama and crime plot in its second half as the children grow into young adults, but the cheeky charm of the young children and their early misadventures begging on the streets may just be enough to carry it through. Even if Slumdog Millionaire does begin to flag somewhat in the second half, there’s always the tension generation of the quiz-show to shamelessly fall back on, and Danny Boyle handles this, as with much of the film, with an eye on populist crowd-pleasing. For those reasons, and for its freshness and originality - not to mention managing to find a clever way to make the general public watch a film that is one-third subtitled without it barely registering - the film is certainly deserving of all the popular acclaim and awards it has so far received.