LOVE AND MONEY… YOU HAVE MIXED THEM BOTH.
A mass of energy. That’s what screenwriter Simon Beaufoy claims to have picked up from his meetings with street children in India, a journey he made to learn more about their situation before adapting Vikas Swarup’s novel. When Danny Boyle was hired to direct the film one thing was certain – that energy would be turned into visuals. Throughout his career, Boyle has over and over again proven that he can handle all kinds of genres and make the movies look anything but bland.
The film begins in Mumbai, 2006. Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a simple “chai-wallah” at a call center, whose primary task is to serve tea, has just won 10 million rupees on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He’s suspected of cheating and the local police decides to interrogate Jamal; after a failed attempt to torture the young man, the police inspector (Irrfan Khan) begins to listen to Jamal’s story. He grew up together with his brother Salim in the Mumbai slums; they also befriended an orphan girl, Latika. Life was tough for them already at this stage, but everything changed on the day they ended up in Maman’s (Ankur Vikal) company. He was a local, charismatic gangster who knew how to make friends with children and then exploit them in the cruelest way possible.
Jamal and Salim subsequently escaped from Maman, but Salim purposely left Latika behind. Jamal couldn’t forget the girl and found further reason to distance himself from his greedy brother…
Easy to be swept along
Boyle was allegedly hesitant to make this picture because of the connection to the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire concept. I can understand that, but Anil Kapoor’s performance makes a difference; he’s excellent as the host who grew up in the slums but made his way into the big time and now utterly despises anyone who tries to follow his example. The game show is presented here as cynical and vulgar with Jamal as the only point of decency, but it is also intended to symbolize the dream of success; all of India watches the show and roots for the poor call-center worker. They need him to win those millions, because if he can do it, so can they.
Boyle contrasts that opportunity to what might seem like success in the slums; gangsters who make money off of their criminal enterprises. There is no satisfactory economic solution to the problems here, but the filmmakers seem reluctant to address that; they want you to be seduced by the emotional content. That’s OK, it’s easy to be swept along by the passion in the storytelling, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s sunbaked visuals, A.R. Rahman’s pulsating ethno score and the positive outcome of Jamal and Latika’s love story, but I would have loved to see some kind of deeper analysis of the Indian society – and so would more than a few Indian critics.
Still, the story has plenty of interesting ingredients; the real-life street children who portray young Latika and Salim are absolutely perfect, and Salim trying to balance the love for his brother and money is a particularly engaging part. The cast is fine, although it is troubling that Patel and Pinto do not give the most compelling performances of the film.
I found it difficult to come up with the proper rating. It annoys me that the film has become so universally hailed in spite of its flaws… but I also realize that most of my grievances concern ingredients that could have been part of the film instead of what is actually there. I certainly enjoyed the movie, its clever structure and Boyle’s bag of seductive tricks.
Slumdog Millionaire 2008-Britain-U.S. 120 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Christian Colson. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy. Novel: Vikas Swarup (“Q & A”). Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle. Music: A.R. Rahman. Songs: “Jai Ho” (A.R. Rahman, Sampooran Singh Gulzar), “O Saya” (A.R. Rahman, Maya Arulpragasam). Editing: Chris Dickens. Cast: Dev Patel (Jamal Malik), Freida Pinto (Latika), Madhur Mittal (Salim), Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Tanay Hemant Chheda.
Trivia: Loveleen Tandan co-directed the film in India; a campaign was launched to have her recognized for the awards season as equal to Boyle, but she and Colson spoke out against that.
Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Original Score, Original Song (“Jai Ho”), Sound Mixing. BAFTA: Best Film, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Music, Sound. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Director, Screenplay, Original Score. European Film Awards: Best Cinematography.
Last word: “I watched [‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’] on TV. I’m not addicted to it now, but when it first came out in the UK I was addicted to it like everybody. It was like so compulsive. But I thought, ‘I don’t want to make a film about that.’ And the only reason I read [the script] was because the guy’s name who’d adapted it I noticed. I didn’t know him but he’d written ‘The Fully Monty’, which is one of my favorite kind of films really. So I thought, ‘Well, I should really read a bit of it,’ so that when I talk to him, I could ring him up and say I enjoyed the script. I can sort of pretend I’d read it all. But I read it and I was like, that was the first time I knew it was set in India, reading it, and it was an absolutely extraordinary experience. And 10/15 pages in I was lost in the story.” (Boyle, About.com)